dancing horses

dancing horses

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

New Learnings: Lesson Recap (with actual media)

 I've been really enjoying my rides on Carmen these days. I'm feeling excited about riding and that feeling stays after and in between my rides. I've noticed a big upswing in my confidence as well. 

Carmen is progressing as well. Don't get me wrong, she's still, well, Carmen. But I think that I'm being more clear and persistent and she's responding to that. I find that now that I'm really focussing on the outside rein and keeping it there while letting it follow that she comes back to it sooner. I've started to notice that, at a certain point, I want to give up and let go. And that's when she has the freedom to skedaddle. Because I'm not giving up she's figuring that out and comes back to me more quickly. Often with just a little pulse. 

I've also started to notice that Carmen has a 'tell' before things start to fall apart. When she's starting to think that she might want to exit stage left (or right depending on what rein we're on) she gets marginally heavier on the inside rein. That heaviness increases as her tension mounts and my instinct is to take more of the inside rein and loosen the outside. Now I over ride that impulse and take more outside and then ask her to soften to the inside using inside leg and pulsing the inside or opening the inside rein. I have to make sure that, whatever else happens, I make sure that the outside always has a little more pressure. And, miraculously, she softens, drops her head and breathes out and we carry on. Nine times out of ten. Which I'll take. 

But wait, I hear you ask, I thought you said this was a lesson recap? 

You are right, my patient reader, it is. I just wanted to share a little as a precursor. This time for my lesson Julia was watching and took a ton of video and photos. 

Our lesson starts pretty much the same- I recap what's bene happening and what I'm struggling with. Mostly it's about keeping her straight or shoulder fore. Although it's improving. The biggest issue is that when Carmen wants to look outside she actively resists. I can't let her not give to the inside but I have to soften even before she does so there's something to relax to. 


Jane has been helping me feel when Carmen gets fast in front and dragging her front end along (like a slinky toy). She gets me to slow her down and the let her out. It takes a lot of concentration. But as we go along her ears get floppy and she follows the rein to drop her neck. According to Jane I'm getting better at being elastic with my rein so that I'm not holding and then dropping the contact. 


What is also much better is our transitions and gaits.

 It takes a lot of work. Like a lot. But it's working and I really love it. 

There's a lot to love about this photo, even if she's curling behind the vertical. Right after I was told to soften to let her out a bit. 


Jane makes us work hard while making me feel like we can definitely do it. Even when we fail: 

You may notice that I'm back in my dressage saddle. I'm finding that I feel very solid in it. The spanish saddle is still there for me and it's clearly helped me with my position. 


The weather was hot (for October) and poor Carmen was sweaty. But also working. 


At one point she bumped my leg against the rail. It happened to be the board that's split and held up by a fingernail. Of course that became a real threat to Miss Carmen. But no matter- we were to keep riding by it in shoulder in. 
Carmen convinced that we are clearly going to die. 
Spoiler alert: we didn't 

This is giving me tools that I know will work at other situations (like shows). So I love it, even if part of me is inside yelling 'danger danger, red alert. 

It's clearly working

Carmen's go to when she stressed is to throw her haunches in. It's improving but still there. But here is some canter- trot work and I love the lack of flail. It used to be that the right lead canter would throw me to the outside but now that feeling is gone. In the video you can see her haunches wanting to come in but responding to my ask for her to come back. You will also see how quickly she settles into the trot instead of falling endlessly on her forehand. 



We finished with a wee bit of half-pass. It felt really good.



At the end we were both sweaty and tired. But I was so happy. I feel like I want to eat up all the learning and demand more. 

Carmen: I'm pretty happy in the shade.....


Friday, October 8, 2021

What Foul Contraption is This?

 Hello dear friends, Carmen here. I have to share with you my servant's latest torture. 

Let me back track a bit. A few weeks ago she began to tell me that she had ordered a present for me. Would she tell me what it was? 

No. It was supposed to be a surprise.  

I don't take these comments too seriously. Usually it's just a new saddle pad or bonnet. 


literally dying of excitement here

But I will confess that watching her get excited when it was close to delivery I was intrigued. That morning, as I tried to get some bare sustenance from the net she hides my hay in she said don't worry honey. Soon you won't have to deal with that net anymore. 

Finally, I thought, we're getting somewhere. 

Now, let me be honest. I HATE that hay net. It's annoying having to work for my food. What could it be? maybe an feeder that drops hay whenever I'm hungry? That would be cool. 

It arrived one afternoon and I watched her in the barn assembling this thing:




It's called a helix feeder! My servant explained. It's supposed to slow down your hay consumption like the net does but more comfortable because it's on the ground. 

And she added, I can adjust the holes to make them smaller. 

I was shocked. Smaller? Why would I want the holes to be SMALLER?!

Not impressed




Clearly you can see why I'd be upset. Is is fair? Especially when I give her work like this?


I wonder if I can return it and buy a bag of apples?




Friday, October 1, 2021

Back to Schooling

Autumn is my favourite time of year to ride. The air is cool and the bugs are starting to go. So far this season has not disappointed. I'm also feeling good about the rides I've been having on Carmen. It's not that she's transformed into some magical unicorn (although I will always think of her as my magical unicorn). It's that I seem to be adding more tools to my tool box and they are the ones that I was missing. 

love September nights

It's no secret that I've been working hard to up skill over the past few years. Carmen has been very good at teaching me about what I'm lacking. I believe that I've made more progress in my groundwork. Partly because I don't feel at risk which definitely helps with being able to pay attention. In my lessons Jane has been pointing out all the times that I'm not giving Carmen time to respond or recognize her 'tries'. And it's been so helpful. 

Poor Jane- she's been very patient with me and she helps me to get Carmen straight and on the outside rein. I realize that we've been crooked for a long time but it has felt 'normal' to me and now I need to rebuild my feeling. This is definitely helping with the spooking. As soon as I find her tense I correct the straightness and, most of the time, she settles and carries on. 

Yesterday in a lesson Carmen and I were heading down the long side and she was feeling tight. Jane was telling me to use the outside rein. It felt really solid and then Carmen, in a split second, ducked behind the contact and spun left. little bugger I muttered as I brought her around in a small circle and back to the rail. 

well done Jane called. After we schooled through that I told her that I had contact but she ducked and then tried to bolt. Jane agreed and then said something along the lines that while I had contact it wasn't elastic and so she could duck out of it and leave. 


It really crystallized with me about how that could work so the next time down that side when she was tightening I was focusing on keeping the outside rein but elastic so when she went to duck behind it I was with her. I felt her immediately soften and carry on. It was like she said 'oh okay then' 

I find I am taking these new tools in our rides and they are working.  In my lessons I'm beginning to feel the start of a medium trot. She lifting up through her withers and carrying herself. It takes a while and I need to be better but it's there. 

Carmen is so much happier and forward. Which is fun. Today I played with a canter serpentine with simple changes across the centre line. We've played with it before and it's typically been a bit of shit show. But this time she was all 'I know this one!'  and then did it easily and without fuss or flail. We've been playing with counter canter and she's balanced with it. 

Beth trying to drive the tractor. Unfortunately, 
the pedals were too far away for her little legs. 

I've been trying to figure out what is feeling so good these days. And I think it' because I feel like I have tools to get us through any of the shenanigans. I'm feeling the same excitement I get from the groundwork clinics- that I'm learning things that can apply in many situations. I know I'm working on things like shoulder in and leg yields etc but it feels like it's more than just the movements- like a way of going.  My frustration is so much less- when things go crappy (and they often still do) I can think about what is missing here. I did ask Jane because when things go really bad it's hard to know what to correct first. Her answer? Rhythm. So that's what I start with, and straightness. And, oh yes, is my outside rein there and elastic? 

 I clearly need to get some media to see if the difference I'm feeling is there. But in the meantime I'm going to keep working away and seeing how much progress we can achieve before snow shuts us down. 

Friday, September 24, 2021

Wet Saddle Pads

September is beautiful in Nova Scotia

There is an old cowboy saying that 'wet saddle blankets make good horses'. For the longest time I really believed it and worked hard to ride often and, well not 'hard exactly, but I had to talk myself into a ride that was just a walk or walk/trot because it felt like cheating.  

I honestly believed that all and any time in the saddle was time well spent in terms of training. 

Then Carmen entered my life and, although I had many a wet saddle pad it didn't seem to lead to the outcome I wanted (a horse that wasn't going to injure or scare me).  So then I started to work on important things like focus, understanding and our relationship. 

Which was really important and made a huge difference for both of us. But somewhere along the way I had begun to doubt the wisdom of the 'wet saddle pad' theory and dismissed it. 

As you know I've started to lesson with Jane and, let me tell you, those lessons are hard. I am working on changing my riding style and being more clear with my aids. Jane is calling me out on my position flaws. She's definitely doing it constructively and I am very appreciative of the detailed feedback. It helps a lot. I'm finding that turning my shoulders to the right is really hard. I think that there's a lot feeding into that. My work set up for one and the fact that I'm left handed definitely means I'm more oriented to the left. Carmen is more left oriented but so is Irish and, while I know that horses also have one sidedness, I think that the common denominator is me.  So I'm working on my shoulders turning both while mounted and randomly throughout the day. 

Our canter departs and down transitions are so much less 'flail madly' and way more 'balanced and uphill'. In our last lesson we were doing serpentines with a simple change over the center line. Talk about making me stay organized and planful. At first Carmen was 'WTF is this new torture' but then was all 'I got this, look at me'. Then we did a canter across the short diagonal with the aim of doing a counter canter to M but I felt a shift and then we were on the right lead. I brought her back to trot and halt and looked at Jane. 

Me:  Was that a flying change?!

Jane: *smile* no, she did a single trot step. 

Me: oh

As excited as I would have been with a flying change, doing a single trot stride into a new lead also shows how balanced she's becoming. Carmen was all smug you were wrong and so I fixed it. I never get enough credit for that. 

don't worry we get our fun in too

At the end of our lessons both Carmen and I are sweaty and tired. But it feels good too. For both of us. Which is making me re-evaluate the wet saddle pad hypothesis. I don't think wet saddle pads are, in and of themselves, the making of the horse. I think it's the quality of the work that counts. Like you can be sweaty because you're running from a bear or sweaty at the end of an intense workout. Only one of those scenarios will have you feeling fitter and saying that was awesome! 

I've been trying to incorporate this into our rides. We work harder, I ask for more and then we have a break. Carmen is tuning in more and clearly enjoying the work. I'm gaining confidence and even find myself thinking about showing again.  

Seriously, if you ever want to see NS come in September or October


Sunday, September 12, 2021

A Little Push

 I quite enjoyed reviewing the videos of my tests from last weekend's 'show clinic'. Not because I was brilliant but because it enabled me to see things that were good to build on and things to improve. Often my show videos are such a mass of tension that that's all I can see. 

Watching the videos helped me to see when Carmen was pushing from behind and when she was not. In my rides since then I've been trying to work on it, with varying levels of success. However, 'Rome wasn't built in a day and all that'. I realize that I've been accepting Carmen's jog because it felt safe and quiet. However, that wasn't going to get us anywhere, unless I switched to western pleasure (and I'm not ready to do that yet).  

It's been a beautiful late summer

According to Carmen, going faster means she gets to dump on her forehand and how dare I alter the terms of the contract. Fortunately, she doesn't have a lawyer (at least I don't think so, egads can you even imagine?) so we keep pegging away at it. I've also been working on my half-halts and keeping them in the rhythm of the stride, not holding until she gives. That is harder to remember and I often catch myself holding. I'm getting better at recognizing it sooner so that's something. I can definitely feel on it helps balance her. 

On Saturday I had another lesson with Jane and, spoiler alert, it was fabulous. Our ride was earlyish (9:30) and the weather was sunny but windy. The kind of wind that usually has Carmen scooting all over the place. I had her up early and we did a lot of groundwork until she was settled and focussed. By then Jane had arrived and I told her how we'd been doing.  She also spoke to me about the show and said, the way you both were in the ring was really good and I hope you understand that that was not luck. I assured her that I knew that it was more than that. 

In our lesson we worked on getting Carmen to shorten her walk and then lengthen out of it. I wasn't to over use my hands or over push with my legs. Everything was to be gradual. I struggled with that a bit but it began to click together.  

the rainy summer means that the pastures are still lush

Our trot was slow as per usual starting out (although Jane said that it was better than our first trot a couple rides ago). Again I was to encourage her forward in the rhythm of the stride but not nag or kick her. And a lot of our work was on shoulder in. It's getting there but I still let Carmen cheat by bending her neck. The funny thing is that when it's correct, I can feel it right away and it's so smooth. I worked on trying to get that feeling in my bones so I could do it on my own. 

Carmen was definitely up and felt quite ready to zoom off in many directions. But Jane just kept us on track and pushing forward. When I would hold too much (or too long) she'd tell me to 'lighten my arms' which helped me with this idea of softening but not letting the contact go. We had some lovely canter work in there (I really need to figure out how to get some media during our lessons). Our last two canter transitions were lifting up through her whither and our downwards were balanced and into the correct rhythm so there was no flailing of trying to get it corrected. 

no flailing here

Near the end we were doing  a lovely SI to the left and I gave a little too much on the outside rein (like literally an ounce because she was so light already) and the little minx threw in a big spook/spin;  but we were able to circle back and carry on. Jane explained that I had given too much rein and Carmen was able to take advantage of the loose outside rein to spin away. I think she viewed it as good feedback for Carmen to do that because otherwise I would never know I was throwing contact away. Carmen was quite tense in one corner and getting a SI coming out of it felt impossible.  I wasn't getting any movement of shoulders until well past S. 

At the end of the lesson Jane said "now about that corner.." I'm not going to lie, I thought that she was going to tell me that Carmen was nervous and I should go to it gradually and work on getting her confidence. But, nope. It was about me not getting the SI until almost half-way down the long side.  I realized I was doing that because I was believing that her going through the corner was enough, and asking for me was mean (well not that I had it laid out in my head that clearly but that is what I was doing).  Yes, it's part of your compromise- she doesn't run away and you don't ask too much. 

What Jane helped me to understand is that Carmen and I had been stagnating in this compromised state where she stays calm and I don't push (I do hold though) and that I need to get through that to get the work that she's capable of doing. But not push like a fight, but to ask for a little more and a little more until it's there. 

Today I rode early and Carmen was a bit up again. But I stuck to the plan of shoulder fore, shoulder in and forward but not rushing. We rode in every part of the ring and I supported her through the spots that she was unsure of. I practiced coming out of every corner in SI, except for the tricky one. I wanted to make sure that she clearly understood the task. Once it was really consistent at all three other corners and walk and trot (I didn't canter) I then asked her to do it coming out of the bad corner. At first it felt like shoving a big octopus into a small bag- all these parts were going all over the place. I made sure I was correct and just kept repeating. Then she did it and I was so happy I rewarded her. Then I asked again and she was soft coming right out of the corner so I stopped and hopped off. 

Years ago when I rode hunter/jumper in Ontario the owner of the barn I rode at would occasionally give lessons. I did more things with him than any of the others. There was something about the way her taught that made you believe you could do it and so you did. I find it similar with Jane. She has a way of piercing through the noise in my head and getting me to do it. Which gives me confidence that I can do it. When we fail there's no criticism although there might be an analysis that lets me know where I made a mistake. But there's no implied criticism about making the mistake (if that makes any sense). 

I think that this is just the push that we needed. 

my friend brought her French bulldog  puppy for a visit.
Can you even handle the cuteness? 


Monday, September 6, 2021

Slaying of Demons

 In my last post I was feeling unsure about the upcoming show clinic. Truth be told I had these little voices in my head: 

you are not ready

All you've done is toodle around this year

Carmen is not ready for this challenge. 

 Of course I am not the only rider with those voices and I'm quick to tell others that they are wrong.  On friday the clinic was almost cancelled because the clinician, Sue,  had an accident (not  horse related) and was in the hospital. She will be okay but it will take a while.  Paula called me looking for contact info of the organizers. I managed to track down the clinic secretary and let her know. We then brainstormed who could replace her on such short notice. Fortunately, Sue's sister, Jane (yes that Jane) was able to fill in. 

Clearly I could not back out now. Friday my ride was a bit wild. The weather had become cool after the remnants of hurricane Ida dropped a bunch of rain and wind. But it wasn't a terrible ride and things felt okay.

I took this as a positive sign

We headed ut early Saturday morning and the drive was pretty easy. I met Paula there and we unpacked everything. After the 4th or 5th trip I joked 'and in 24 hours we get to do this all again!' It was different doing an event with covid restrictions but there were only 9 people in the clinic so maintaining distance was not hard. There were two adorable little girls in the clinic. I loved watching them with their horses and how excited they were. 

The format of the clinic was: 

Saturday- rider and coach have 30 minutes in the show ring

Sunday- test of choice being judged and scored, then a critique and a short session with judge and then ride the test again. 

I had arranged for Jane to come and give me a lesson on Saturday to help prepare. I was honest and told her that my worry was that Carmen would get tense and I would fall into it as well and we'd do our 'spiral of doom' dance. I didn't care about the test so much as I wanted us to be connected and soft. We started in the warm up ring and then, when it was our time, went into the show ring. It was so helpful to have her there walking me through all the things we had worked on in our last lesson. We worked a lot in shoulder fore and shoulder in to keep her hind leg connected. I confess that I fizzle out on that when Carmen resists but Jane was having none of it so we had to work through it. She also was getting on me for letting Carmen shuffle along in a jog and not ask her to go to the bridle. But gently, not booting her. 

Jane: going slow like that is not going to keep you safer 

Me:  it feels like it will

Jane: ha! 

And I could definitely tell that going forward was the answer. And I knew that, but had forgotten. As well, Carmen is really good at going fast, which is also not the answer. Sigh. Riding is hard. 

Anyway, it was an excellent lesson and Jane said that she could see improvement since our last lesson. I felt a lot more ready.  It was weird having a such an easy day on saturday. Everything was done by 4:00 and I was done by 2:00. Paula and I had time to go to the local tack store (I needed to buy a bucket) and we stopped at the liquor store to pick up a beverage to have back at the barn.  We ended up getting supper early and then back to Paula's. By 9 we were both in bed, like senior citizens. 

Sunday was a lovely day and, by some miracle, Carmen managed to stay clean over night. I had a blanket on her but I was expecting to see manure ground into her neck. I could feel my show nerves coming up. With my breathing exercises and self-talk I managed to keep it at a low simmer. 

Our warm up was pretty good. My friend Tanya came and help me with some good advice (like breathe, soften your elbows). Carmen had some thoughts about a door that had been open but was not closed but we worked through it like normal. Then it was time to enter. We went through the chute and into the ring. I took a deep breath and we started.

Halt at X and Salute

 I had a reader but to be honest didn't listen to her at all. I had the test memorized and I was able to keep my brain on my riding. I tried to be diplomatic in my riding and not pick any fights. As a result we cut some corners and I never pushed the lengthens. Heres' a video if you want to watch it: 


When I watch this I am quite happy with not. Not necessarily from a 'you nailed first level' perspective but how we are working as a team. When I watch this, I see moments of tension -especially the stretchy circle. Because she was really distracted I opted to shorten the reins to keep her with me (the judges comment for that movement was 'smart riding'). In the past I would be concerned about being perfect. This time I managed to keep my focus on being with Carmen. Not that there's not a lot to improve. My marks were a range of 5.5 to 8; most were 6.5-7. I really liked leg yield to the left. I don't know if you can tell but about half-way in I started to smile because I was really enjoying our ride. 


Then it was time for the critique. Jane asked me how I felt about it. I told her that overall I was happy and there were some nice moments and some struggles. She agreed with me and then came down to give me coaching. It was all about using shoulder in, half-halts to balance her and get her into the corners and don't let her cut them. It was a blur but I could feel us getting more and more together as we progressed. Neither of us had time to worry about things. 

Jane: We have time for to ride it one more time. 

At first I thought about saying. nah, we're good and I'm happy'. Which was true but the other part of me was like  you can do this and Carmen will be fine

And she was. 


This felt a lot more cohesive to me. In the end my score was about the same but I loved how I was able to use half-halts effectively and ride her to the letters. 

Leg yield left

I felt that our canter work was a lot more balanced and soft. She could shift more on her hind end but it was a lot better than our first work. If you want a shorter video here's one of just our canter work. Look at her ears and how she's tuning in to me. 


I was so happy that I came to the clinic. I had a lot of demons associated with this ring and it felt like they were all slain. It feels like a validation of the work I've been doing on my relationship with Carmen and on my riding skills.  The voices were wrong, not because everything was going to be fine but because I worked to make it fine and had help. I am profoundly grateful for everyone who has helped and cheered me on. I am not the only one with demons and everyone who was there had goals they wanted to achieve. I believe that everyone had a wonderful time. 

Carmen loaded and we were headed home shortly after lunch. She was so calm and relaxed getting off and not her usual impatient self while I put on her fly boots and mask. As soon as she was out she rolled over and over knocking off all the shine that I worked so hard to put on. But she looked so happy I could only laugh. 

I think that this is the cutest photo I've ever taken of her







Tuesday, August 31, 2021

It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time

 Way back in May I signed up for dressage test riding clinic. It was to replace the dressage show that would normally happen on that weekend. Then it was cancelled because of the third wave of COVID (I am so tired of the pandemic). 

You know how I've been spending my summer- working away but increments and mostly just having fun. Then the clinic was rescheduled for the September long weekend (again in place of a show). And I signed up for it- requesting to do Second Level Test 1. 

I thought we were done with showing....

The format of the clinic is nice: Saturday you have 30 minutes with your coach in the dressage show ring. Sunday you ride your test with a judge. She will give feedback and you ride it again. Both rides are scored with the idea that you will show improvement. 

Now the weekend is looming and I'm becoming mildly panicked. Don't get me wrong- the format is ideal for Carmen and I. It gives us a chance to work in the ring in a low pressure situation. As long as I don't put too much pressure on both of us. 

I plan to ride in my Spanish saddle, since it's not a formal show. I even gave the organizing group a heads up so that there wasn't any last minute issues.  

What is my problem  you ask? 

Well, I'm unsure if I should actually do 2nd level or First Level Test 3. I don't know if we're ready for either but I am not doing training level. Carmen does better if I keep her brain busy, otherwise she finds things to keep her busy. 

Carmen looking for things to worry about

My other worries are more related to performance anxiety and how that will impact on Carmen. It's been a couple years since we've done anything resembling a show. You may recall that Carmen and I have mixed results in that ring. 

Don't worry I am going. I just need to be clear in my goals for the clinic. The best way for me to do that and maintain accountability is to put them in print on my blog: 

1. keep myself and Carmen soft and connected

2. don't worry about the perfect movement but pay attention to setting her up for success. 

3. circle if I need to

4. don't forget everything I've learned about riding: sit up, half-halt, be soft in the aids. Dont' try to look pretty but just ride. 

5. have someone read my test

6. dress for a clinic not a show. I know that this might rub some the wrong way but my plan is to braid Carmen but for me to wear neat and tidy clothes that are comfortable: i.e. a polo shirt and my favourite dark breeches. 

Wish us luck and feel free to share any advice. :) 

whelp