dancing horses

dancing horses

Thursday, May 19, 2022

What's Happening with Team Carmen?

 I am sorry for the absence.  I have no big excuse, just the usual ones- busy, tired at end of the day, etc., you know. Adulting is hard.  Rather than try to catch up in a bunch of posts and falling impossibly behind I 'll share some brief updates. 

I love these May mornings

1. I won a bursary! 

Our provincial equestrian association (NSEF) gives out Long Term Equestrian Development bursaries every year. It's nice to see that older AAs can qualify for things. This year I decided to apply. To apply you need to fill out a form, get a letter from a certified coach and write a short essay explaining how you would use the funds. I asked Jane if she would write a letter for me and she did. It was lovely to read and I am going to quote a section of Jane's letter:

"Teresa is always on a mission to learn and improve. Although her mare has challenged her ability and her spirit, Teresa tenaciously seeks the information and skills that will move them forward. Teresa’s ability to focus and replace old habits with the new skills are changing their partnership and performance.

It is my belief that Teresa will use the LTED bursary to evolve as a rider and a competitor. As evidenced in her blog - https://journeywithadancinghorse.blogspot.com-  Teresa’s journey will inspire a myriad of riders facing similar challenges in this formidable sport." 

I don't about being inspirational but I always strive to be honest. 

I sent in my essay and form and then waited, not really expecting anything. So I was excited to receive the email that I was successful. Like I said, the amount is not a lot but everything helps. When I told Ed he said 'well that should pay for gas to go to the show!'. With the prices of gas he is not wrong. 

Everyone here is working hard. At least 2 of us love it. 

2. Steady Improvements 

Carmen and I continue to make our steady improvements. She is much more balanced and rhythmical these days. I am getting better at feeling it sooner. 

With the horse's transitioning to the grass paddocks I have noticed an increase in Carmen's reactivity. I attribute it to increased sugars in the grass this time of year. I've been trying to help her funnel that energy forward rather than sideways. It helps that I (finally) made the conncction between the grass and her energy. In the past we've always had an escalation of behaviour in the spring and I was never really sure why. 

Most of the time it's not that bad, just more tension and a little jumpy. Sometimes she surprises me. Like below. We were schooling by ourselves and she was a bit tense at the far end but not too bad then....


If you have the volume on you will hear me scolding her a bit. I do not apologize for that. :) I am happy with how my seat stayed in the saddle. 

We worked through that and then later had some lovely work:


3. I love my Pivo!

It has helped my riding so much. I can watch my entire lesson and gain insights. One thing I've noticed is that how it feels is often not how it looks. Sometimes she feels like a powder keg but in the video she looks fairly relaxed. Which is true? Can both be true? 

However, it does help me see things. I use it often in my schooling rides too. I try to make sure I say something  like 'good' so I can find that later and look at it to be sure (Karen's idea and it's brilliant). What was helpful for the spook video above is that I can see that she was not on the outside rein at all and was able to duck out pretty quickly (honestly, maybe she could do barrels?). 

Sometimes it loses me and then sees Guinness and follows for a bit. I do wish that they would develop a blue tooth system for the remote so that it could track that. But most of the time it's fine as long as it is in the middle of the ring and I don't get too close. 

Pivo decided to love on Guinness


4. I signed up for show. 

I am both excited and nervous about it. It is in a couple weeks. I spoke with Jane and we agreed that I will do First Level again. While I am very bored with First, I feel that we've just started filling in some holes and that we're not ready for Second. So we'll see what happens. It will be fun to reconnect with my horse show people. 


So we're plugging along and I am enjoying the spring weather. Even if it means that the blackflies are out. I want to finish with a quote from my essay: 

"I am often asked not only why I ride but why I (at my age) continue to pay for lessons. After all, I should know how to ride by now. My answer is always the same: I feel at home when I sit in the saddle. It’s where I belong. And I take lessons because I am constantly striving to improve- for myself and for my horse. Our horses did not volunteer for their role as our partners. I believe that it is our job to ensure that we are the best rider we can be." 








Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Keeping Time

 In my lessons with Jane she has continually reminded me of the importance of rhythm and how often Carmen loses it. In full disclosure, while I believed her, it often didn't feel like the most important thing happening in the moment. So when Carmen spooked and Jane told me she lost rhythm I felt that I needed to focus on dealing with spook, not the loss of rhythm. I think in my head I figured that the key thing was the relaxation. 

like, I know this and yet I ignored it

 I was sure that as other things fell into place it would just magically be there. I wasn't seeing it as a means to get those 'other things'.  But at my last lesson, it finally bubbled up to me as, you know, maybe something I should focus on. 

not thinking about rhythm here at all

So for the next two weeks I put establishing and keeping a rhythm in the forefront of my mind.  

And, yeah, that was eye opening. I became truly aware of how often the tempo of her gaits shift. And because I've been accepting it for so long, it is not something that will change quickly. If you follow learning theory, I have moved from 'conscious incompetence' (you don't know what you don't know) to 'conscious incompetence' (I realize I'm not doing it). I do hate being incompetent.  In the past this would have really frustrated me and lead to not very good rides as I tried to fix it right now.  


I've been working on not always lunging before my ride. I will take my stuff up in case I need it. I haven't had to use it yet. But I also pay attention to how she is before we go up to the ring. 

How we walk off from the mounting block these days
(unless Irish gets his ass bit by the fence)

But now I know enough about learning theory to know that this is a very positive step and will lead me to improve. The problem hadn't changed, but now that I was becoming more aware, I could take steps towards competency.  

***Carmen: sorry guys, she does like to nerd out. Honestly, does she have to think quite so much?***

It felt like I was making progress and that Carmen was responding to it. I had a lesson booked for early Sunday and I was curious to know if Jane would find an improvement. The weather was clear but cold enough that I had to dig out my winter riding togs.  I shared with Jane what we had been doing for our homework and we went to work. 

It was an awesome lesson. Carmen was right with me and we were able to get to work. Jane noted an improvement in my inside hand (yay). Carmen was not sure about forward so Jane had me ask and then release so that Carmen could carry herself. At first Carmen just kept dropping out of the gait as soon as I took my leg off. Jane told me that was because I was doing all the work and Carmen didn't have to be responsible. 

Carmen: why must you be so mean?

Once we had that we had some really nice trot and canter work. Jane was getting after me for my leg slipping back, rather than staying at the girth. I finally had the realization that putting my leg on at the girth helped with our lengthens. So that was cool. Once I realized it our work became much more consistent and she actually lengthened her stride instead of going faster. 


Better. I love her ears

I also love her ears here- listening so carefully

You may notice Jane has a JRT in a carrier on her body. It is the cutest thing- she just hangs out and enjoys herself. Guinness has zero idea of what to make of this. 


Jane has been working on getting our transitions more balanced and uphill. Which means I need to change how I do them. Carmen has feelings about the change, which is totally fair. But in this lesson I could feel her start to understand. Our transitions are feeling much less flail-ly than in the past. 



By keeping the rhythm steady our transitions improved and so did Carmen's relaxation. Here's some canter video- it is our right lead (which is our worst one and often felt very unbalanced). I love how she's able to keep a steady rhythm through it. 


I am seeing on working on something as 'simple' as a steady tempo leads to her feeling better in her body and softer. And happier. It makes her less unbalanced and able to focus more on my requests. At the end of lesson I was pretty sweaty. It was hard work but all three of us were feeling pretty pleased with the results (four if you count Dottie the JRT). 

It's almost like rhythm is foundational, or something.  





Sunday, April 24, 2022

Farm Chronicles

 Things have been busy here on the farm. 

Everyone appears to be shedding. The air is full of dog hair, horse hair and chicken feathers.  I honestly never knew how much a shepherd could shed. Our rug upstairs looks like a stuffed animal exploded.  

Ed has been busy taking down the old shed in getting ready for the new, bigger one. When I saw this going down I had to run out and take a video. The guys were disappointed that it didn't fall apart. I was shocked to see that it had a floor. I thought it was dirt. But that shed had been there for decades so was pretty sturdy. 


Riding is going really well. Every one seems to consolidate things a little more. Even those that don't start all that good. 



The chickens are moulting so egg laying is pretty scant and they are a bit grumpy. I found them today hovering under Irish's stall leaping on his feed. 


Seems only fair, because it seems that Carmen has developed a taste for chicken feed. There have been a couple times when I have found Carmen out in the barn when I come in to do night feed. I always figured that I left her door unlatched. I'm pretty careful at night but a couple mornings ago I came in to find her loose in the barn. She looked at me and then went over to the container I have the chicken feed in (I have it in the barn until we rebuild the shed). Using her nose she flipped it up and grabbed a little. I was worried but I saw that she had just a little. I put her in and fed her breakfast. I then made sure that I put the feed in a different, inaccessible place. 

Last night Ed and I were going out to dinner which makes it later when I do the night feed. So I gave them extra hay, checked her latch 3 times and then left. When I came home later I could hear hoofbeats in the barn. 

oh oh.  

Yup, she was loose in the barn. Clearly someone has figured out to open her stall. 

Carmen: You were LATE. And I was STARVING. Sometimes a girl has to help herself. 

The chicken feed was secure but there was a mess in the hay. It looked like she sampled each bale and emptied the wheelbarrow of hay. It wasn't a huge mess so I decided that cleaning was a tomorrow problem. 


I fed the horses and then used some rope to tie her stall closed until I could fix it the next day. 

This should work

It's nice that everyone is working to keep me busy and entertained. 


Monday, April 18, 2022

It's Not Where You Start

 My weekend away got me all inspired to ride more. I had some really good rides last week (in between the rain). Every good ride feels like a nice little check in my confidence column.  With the weather looking to be good for Saturday so I made plans for a morning lesson. Unfortunately I was unable to ride Wednesday and Thursday (god, will it ever stop raining?). Normally I would be worried about that but I wan't really. Julia's sister, Dominique came to watch and then to ride Irish after. 

Carmen was a bit tight getting ready but we worked through it with our groundwork. When I mounted I looked over and saw Irish sleeping in the paddock but his hind end was dangerously close to the fence. I always sit for a about 30-60 seconds before walking off. I just turned away with a plan to ask Dominique to shoo him away from the fence when he must have hit it. I say that because there was a big kerfuffle in the paddock behind us and Carmen spooked. 

screen grab from my pivo video

got her back and we turned around. Irish was looking around wildly, 
Irish: something bit me on my butt!'
Carmen: oh my god do you see it? 
Irish: no, it must be hiding around here! 

So of course Carmen was convinced that there was a monster lurking up by C. Normally I would have dismounted done more ground work and while having the sinking feeling that my lesson was going to be a disaster.  But I knew I had tools and so I decided to keep riding and work her through it. And she did okay. 

When Jane came we talked about our past rides and how today started. Jane had us just walking around and getting her to slow down. When Carmen gets tight she will walk with fast, short, choppy strides. I was to slow down the front end and ask the hind end to step under more. This has been hard for Carmen and I. She wants to go faster and I feel like that is better so we both think we're right. Turns out we're wrong. 

But the three of us worked together and things began to get better. 



The biggest issue with this is that when Carmen gets worried like this I get overly reliant on the inside hand. It's a very hard habit to break. Mostly because I'm not in control of it- the part of my brain that is responsible for self-preservation takes over and it does not really want to listen to other arguments. I tell you this so you don't feel the need to write to me about how I need to cut off my left hand- trust me I know. 
evidence of rogue left hand

We moved into trot and it was, predictably, not great. 
but pretty horse, right? 


Again, we were fast and choppy. Putting my leg on without capturing the front just leads to fastness, not throughness. Jane had us do this really cool exercise- shoulder in, straighten and then lengthen stride. It required some carefulness with my aids. Of course when I straightened and asked for lengthen I ended up pushing her on the forehand and faster. 


So then Jane told me to lengthen in 'slow motion' which really helped me to conceptualise it. Bit by bit we kept getting better and more and more in sync. Here's some video if you like. 

*Side note: I'm loving my Pivo for capturing every moment of my lesson. It's working really well and it's really helping me to see things. But going through it for clips and photos takes some time. 




I honestly would have been happy with ending it there but of course we did not. Jane had us come down to A and put us through our paces with canter. Jane wants the canter cue to be very subtle  and I'm tanking it. Carmen is confused by it and ends up going faster. But we work through it and we will get it. 

My dependence on my inside hand really reared it's ugly head here. I just couldn't let it go. Even when I thought I was, when I look at the video I see that I am not. Sigh. Why is riding so hard? Anyway, we were going up and down and then Jane said 'put both reins in your outside hand'.  And without even hesitating I did.  

And it was like a light went off. Without my inside hand I could focus on using my seat and leg to direct where we went. And Carmen instantly went 'THANK YOU'.  After a few circles and we came back to trot I was beaming. Then I could keep the hand but Jane said every time you think she's not listening to the inside rein soften it'. 

If you want to see a video here you go: 

We ended with some really positive canter work. It was the most relaxed and easy. I can see I'm not as tense or bouncy on her. So it's progress. 

I know I've said this before, but I really am enjoying my lessons. I am being pushed and pushed and sometimes I wonder if I even know how to ride at all. But I kept progressing.  I end up exhausted and wanting more at the same time.  

I love this photo and comparing it to the beginning of the lesson:

I could look a this photo all day


It's not where you start, it's where you finish that matters. 







Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Team Building

 Last weekend Carmen and I went on a little getaway to visit Karen and Stacie. Karen and I were itching to have a horse weekend, we just had to wait for the weather to cooperate. This is becoming a tradition- I did the same thing last year.  

This was our weather the Monday/Tuesday before we left. 



Fortunately, after the crap weather on Monday things got better. Albeit muddier. 

Carmen was fully embracing her inner pig

There used to be a time that Carmen rarely was muddy. As she becomes more relaxed she's much more likely to roll. Everything is a trade off I guess. 

Funny story about Carmen being more relaxed:  I was loading the trailer and Guinness was bugging me to throw his toy. I finally did but my throw went wild I watched helplessly as it sailed towards Carmen's butt in the field. 
uh oh I thought. 
However, it landed right beside her with a thump. She gave a big jump and, instead of taking off like I expected, she looked at the toy beside her and then looked around questioningly. Guinness and I adopted our most innocent expressions. She shrugged and went back to eating. 
Guinness looked at me 'I'm not going to get that'. 
So I walked in and got the toy. I also may have told Carmen that it was Guinness' fault.....


When it was time to load Carmen she was a bit wound up about it (I follow the same routine so she knew what was coming). But she loaded easily and we were off. When we arrived she was very calm and walked into her stall all relaxed. 

Stacie has a little cat colony (all fixed) and I am so jealous. They are all so cute. 



waiting for me to hitch up the horses

I was going for a fun weekend but I also had a goal in mind. I am good at taking Carmen places and making sure she feels okay. This time I wanted to take her somewhere with the idea that I didn't have to coddle her but instead we could work. And for me I didn't want to spiral or just be a passenger. 

After I settled her in and got organized I took her out and rode. It was a good ride. She challenged me a bit with one corner after a little while but I just rode through it and it became a non-issue. I feel that we are slowly peeling away the spooking habit. 

On Saturday I had booked a lesson with Jane at the stable. I figured she would definitely make us work in case I wanted to let things slide. We booked it for the afternoon which meant we were able to have a leisurely morning. 

My lesson did not disappoint. Carmen was probably better than she was at home in terms of behaviour (but not by a lot). Jane noted that I was doing better with my inside hand. At times I was giving it away too much. Carmen was also much more forward than in our first lesson, although that still took some work. 

Of course I overthought a lot of things which interfered with being effective with the aids.  It was a simple ride but it felt really good and I was very  happy with Carmen. Even at the end when she was getting tired she was trying to do it rather than trying to get out of work. 

I like how she's reaching for my contact and my arms are not tight


Our trot work is coming

Here are some brief videos of our work. While there is a lot to improve (when won't there be) I love how we're just working. Not trying to deal with behavior. 





I was so happy with our work. And so was Carmen. After she was quite happy to go outside and hang out in a paddock. 

I rode sunday morning but it was short and I really just focused on her stretching and relaxing. I was super happy with her all weekend. She stayed with me. I even played with some liberty work and she was right there. 

Coming home she loaded like a doll and travelled easily. 

All in all it was a wonderful weekend. Having my horses home is great but I don't get to ride and talk horses with others and I miss that. Jim made some wonderful meals and every night I went to bed tired and full. I love my conversations with Karen even though I often don't really remember them after. It's just the easy conversation of friends. I got to schmooze with Kalimo again and play with my fabulous god-horse Leza. 

this is so me


I know I say this every spring but she feels different this year.  I probably say it because it's true. Each year she gets a little better. This year she feels like a real partner. 

definitely want to make this an annual thing

Sunday, April 3, 2022

A Fool for April

Well it's April and signs of spring are starting to show. Every morning when I go out to feed the horses the birds are singing with abandon. That and having actual light outside warms my heart. 

Which is good because spring is a fickle creature in Canada. 


I have so many layers out that it's ridiculous. Same for the horses. I am going between them being naked, to a rain sheet or a light blanket. While I'm complaining, I am still feeling better. I am getting more opportunities to ride. 

Some of them even when I don't think it's going to happen. Julia and I made plans to ride one day but when she arrived it was pouring. So we brought the horses in and gave them a great grooming. Just as we were done the rain stopped so we quickly threw tack on and managed a 30 minute ride. 

Yesterday it wasn't raining but it was brutally windy. I wasn't sure we'd be able to ride (or, frankly, even if I wanted to). That morning I did a bunch of work up in the ring- levelling out some low spots and then dragging it a couple times. I have some sand on order and will work that in when it arrives. 

I love my ring. The sun looks nice but that wind was wild

In the end neither Julia nor I chickened out so we got ready. Irish and Carmen were not super impressed with this development. I lunged her first but she didn't seem to be too silly. When I get on I don't coddle her anymore. By that I mean that we walk around the ring and do our warm up. If she tightens and gets spooky I put my leg on and keep the outside rein. It's amazing how much that works to get her settled. Especially since I don't give up. With the birds flitting about the trees beside the ring Carmen can get a bit distracted.  

Anyway, we're trotting around warming up heading down the long side towards the mounting block (coming at us on the left side of the photo) when Carmen slammed on the brakes, deked left and leapt across the middle of the ring. As she launched I put my leg on and started laughing. We landed, I put my leg on and we trotted around in a circle while I giggled away. 
'oh Carmen, so many feelings'.  We circled a few times and then carried on with the ride. Before, this move would have unseated me and I would have been frightened about coming off.  That would make me react defensively and piss me off. Instead I'm working on embracing Carmen in all her moods. Having my seat improved with lessons also helps quite a bit. Anyway, after that we carried on with just a couple little glitches. 

Carmen: you're not fun anymore


Today was a sweet April day: cool in the morning but the sun was shining and the wind was light. Perfect for riding. I am wanting to get away from having to lunge at the start of every ride so today I didn't put on her halter once tacked up. Instead, we did a little ground work with the bridle on and I hopped on.  There were a few corners causing some concern but nothing major. I've been working on her understanding the turn on the forehand and then moving that into our work on a circle. I think we're getting it (I'll find out for sure in our next lesson).

 I'm finding my consistency of expectations and not reacting is making her happier in our work. Our discussions are shorter and she's enjoying time with me. We worked for a solid 35 minutes and then I asked her to go to the gate so I could open it. Clearly she had not forgotten that work. Then Julia and I and the ponies headed for our first hack of the year. 

my version of Sunday church


It was awesome. I started with a rather short rein but by the end we were on a long rein (except for when we headed home. I'm not stupid). Carmen likes to stop a few times and just relax. I let her because I think it's sweet. And because I also like to stop and just breathe in the woods so I get it. 

It was a beautiful day. Which is good because we're expecting snow tomorrow. I'm hoping that the snow won't stick around because I have some plans for Carmen and I next weekend.


Thursday, March 24, 2022

In the Zone: Lesson Recap

 Since Carmen had recovered from her surgery back in November, I've been trying to book a lesson. Unfortunately, either timing or weather interfered and it never happened. Then winter hit and I gave it up. 

But now it's March and things have thawed and I've been itching to get a lesson. I wanted to wait until we had a few rides under our belt but not too long to let bad habits get solidified. Finally the stars aligned: I had a vacation day this week,  the weather was supposed to be nice and Jane was available. 

Phew- that's a lot of logistics to fall into place. So I was worried when, in the morning, it was cloudy and windy. Prime conditions to create a fire breathing dragon. I was tempted to cancel but decided that I should go ahead and deal with whatever happened. 

A windy March day

By the time the lesson was due to start it was still breezy but the sun had come out. The thing about March is that how warm it feels depends on whether the sun is out. I got dressed and then got Carmen. She was actually pretty calm during our ground work. I set up my Pivo to record the lesson. Let me say I'm really loving it so far. 

I was a little more thorough in my ground work this time making sure I did liberty work as well. Then when things looked really good I mounted. We were walking around when Jane pulled in. Carmen's ears went up and we watched her get out of the car. 

Carmen: oh, I know what's happening now. 

I told Jane about how great Carmen's been but I was struggling with the forward. 

We went to work on the circle. Jane was having me do an exercise of putting Carmen's haunches out on the circle as we went around. Think of it like doing a turn on the forehand while you're walking

I'm not gonna lie, it was hard to wrap our heads around that one. Jane was very patient. I know the idea is to get her using her hind legs active and stepping under. 

Carmen: do I look like a pretzel? This exercise is ridiculous

As always my left hand is dominant and does.not.want.to.let.go. The problem with that is that Carmen also depends on that and will look for it when I try to relax it. Which is fine when it's the outside hand but not when it's inside. I can see looking at the video why Jane kept telling me to let go of the inside and let her stretch. I really worked at it and I could feel her responding. I'm going to try to pay particular attention to that over the next few weeks (Or months. Or years. Whatever, riding is hard). 

After practicing the exercise at a walk Jane asked us to trot. And it was pretty much as I expected: shuffle, shuffle, shuffle.  After watching us for a few seconds Jane told me to get her to lengthen (fortunately she didn't just hop in her car and leave). I'm pretty sure she was NOT expecting a lengthen but was just trying to get Carmen's motor going. It was a lot of leg but no kicking. 

Photo of not impressed Carmen

Carmen had feelings about this, mostly expressed by ear pinning and shooting me glares over her shoulder.  But I kept at it. Then she picked up a canter. 
Sure, that's fine said Jane, just canter on.  
So we did and I did the same thing of pushing her towards my hand and not holding the reins tight. 
Go for a gallop!  said Jane with way more enthusiasm than either Carmen or I were feeling. 

Carmen: do I look like Secretariat?

But things got better and then we did a transition back to trot. Carmen was much more free after that canter and we were able to get a good working trot. 



With forward installed we went back to that exercise of putting the haunches out on the circle. I'm not gonna lie- this exercise was hard and we kept working on it. I could feel how it helped but, even when I got it, it definitely felt precarious- not too hard but definitely challenging us and one lesson was not going to get it solidified for us. 



ignore the gaping mouth and see how she's stepping under beautifully







We might actually be figuring out this dressage thing. Here's a short video clip:


At one point Carmen did a fake spook at the gate of all places. It was because she was getting tired. But we let the canter go on and I could feel her thinking 'that didn't work out like I planned'. After trot work we had a break. Carmen immediately wanted to head into the middle to get her praise from Jane. She clearly believes that all this progress is because of her and I am merely the passenger. 

Then we did some canter work. And the same exercise with her haunches. Which is even harder because she likes to throw her haunches in at the canter and so getting them out is really hard. But neither of us had a melt down and we worked at it. 

After another break we went back to the right rein and did some trot. By then Carmen and I were a little over it. Not that I was wanting to stop because I was loving the work we were getting and I felt totally in the zone. But my body was telling me that I was tired.  After some really good trot work Jane said 'half halt and then canter'  

Carmen:  is she serious?

me: I think she is!

Carmen: we could say no you know

me: c'mon darling, we can do it

Carmen: *sigh* fine

And we cantered. 


When it was time to stop both Carmen and I said 'oh thank god'

As a first lesson of the year I was thrilled. Carmen's mind was right with me. And even when she had feelings there was no fighting. Jane told me that she was pleased where we were starting off. 

I got some good exercises and it will help to guide my schooling rides before our next lesson. 

After we dismounted I stood with Jane and debriefed the ride. I then realised how cold the wind had become. I said let's go down to the barn and out of the wind. I then realised something. 

was the wind like that for the whole ride? 

Jane:  yes

Me: wow. I never even noticed.