dancing horses

dancing horses

Friday, August 29, 2014

It's too late now....

To back out. I feel much better today- just little to no stamina. However, all my preparations for our big 'Road Trip' are done.

I think.

I'm just sitting here now and trying to not entertain visions of all of the potential disasters or how I will make an idiot of myself.

Part of me knows that I'm over thinking it. The other part does not care about things like logic and reason.

But it's too late. Today I gave Steele a thorough bath, cleaned all the brushes and packed everything on my list. The truck is full. Irish knows that something is up. He's been to enough shows to recognize the signs. He's been keeping a close eye on me as I bustle about. I hope that he doesn't pine too much being alone for the weekend.

The plan is that the hauler I hired arrives early tomorrow to take Steele to grounds. I will follow in my truck. For Saturday and Sunday we will hang about and absorb all the bustle. I hope to lunge and ride him in the warm up and at least walk him in the show ring when it's now being used.  On monday we're in a lesson with the judge. I've done clinics with him in the past and really like his style. I have to keep my goals for this weekend clear in my head:

  1. stay alive
  2. help Steele realize how much showing can be
  3. have quiet(ish) rides on him
  4. do a braid that will stay in for the lesson
  5. not make a fool of myself or let Steele down
Those seem  reasonable. 

I tried  Steele's black bridle on today and it's now too small. So we'll have to ride in his brown schooling one. I hope that it's not too awful that I'll be riding in a brown bridle and black saddle.

no one will be looking at my tack with me to look at!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

A bit of curve ball

Yesterday was another lovely day. Cynthia came out again to join me in riding. When I went to get Steele he gave me a bit of a look but came in easily enough. The weather was once again warm.  I  noticed in the cross ties he was napping. When I got on he was a bit sluggish.
"Don't you think it's too hot?"
"Nope, we'll be fine"
"but it seems that we should just enjoy the sun and, I don't know, have a nap"

After a bit of encouragement he picked up and we could work. I even introduced the concept of leg yield at a trot. It was a baby one but hey, we moved from the quarter line to the fence and he was not worried about it.

After I opened the gate from his back and we headed out to hack around the field. Once again he led Irish. It was funny, this time he noticed stuff that he walked by with no issues yesterday. One was the pile of rail ties- the sun and leaves were creating a dappled shade. But he went by with a bit of encouragement. The other was my trailer. We let Irish go first at this point.

Later Cynthia and I headed to the Petite Riviere Winery. After tasting we each bought a bottle of 'Rissers Breeze". If you can find it, I highly recommend it.

However, later that afternoon I began to feel ill. I went to bed and woke up with the flu. So that meant today I've been laying around feeling sorry for myself. But I have to get better because I have big plans for the weekend:

 On saturday Steele and I are heading to a local dressage show. We're not actually showing, we're just hanging out. I want him to experience a show environment without the stress of competing. I will play it by ear but I hope to ride in the warm up and take him into the ring during the ribbons. On monday the judge is giving a clinic and I signed us up for it. *gulp*.

In preparation I've been working on teaching Steele to load. I even brought Royce out to do a session. Here's a video clip.  In this he'd finished teaching him to load on one side and was getting him to load on the other. You can see Steele is confused by this.

"Okay, I'll get in. 
Wait, you're in my way.
 Um., just move a bit and I'll get right on. 
Hey buddy you're in my way. 
Oh, you want me to go in this side? Why didn't you say so? 

Wish us luck.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Off to a Good Start

Day 1 of the stay-cation was brilliant. The weather was sunny and warm but with a nice breeze. I got up early and went for a run. Then my friend Cynthia came and we tacked up the horses for a ride.

 I wish I could accurately describe how incredibly rideable Steele is. I took off the grab strap last month because I wasn't using it. I find that as long as I stay balanced in my aids and don't over do (which I tend to do) he will find me. Our bending through corners is getting much better and our circles are getting to look like circles. Yesterday I worked on a figure 8 with the goal being to maintain the bend and rhythm and switch. Like all horses there are parts where he wants to bulge out and parts where he wants to fall in but now I'm starting to figure those out and am working on preventing them before they happen. We're doing a lot more cantering too. The right canter is farther along than the left but we're getting there. I find that he's seeking the contact more and more and is very steady in his head (most of the time). And he's just so dang comfortable. When we were done the ride I put the dogs in the barn and we went for a short hack around the edge of the field. Steele led the whole way and was completely calm. I kept a somewhat shorter rein just in case but I didn't need it. In fact I was more concerned that the red head might spook behind us and create an issue. But that didn't happen either.

I could watch them all day. Look how light Steele is getting

After our ride we had a drink on the deck (cranberry and ginger ale- I highly recommend it). I ran into town for a few chores and then took the dogs to the lake for a swim. I sat outside under the oak tree and read a book and then it was time for supper and evening chores. The light was golden so before I went to work I grabbed the camera for a photo shoot.  I finished up watching a movie on netflix and eating chips.

By the time I hit my bed I was like a kid after a long day at camp: exhausted but happy. I know that I'm fifty but some days I feel like I'm 12. Well inside anyway. My joints and muscles seem to delight in telling me how old I am.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014


Today I started a short vacation and I'm spending it at home. I love these stay-cations- letting each day decide itself.

Not that I don't have plans. I am continuing to progress with the 'couch to 5 km' program I started. I am so close to the 5 km goal that I should achieve it this week. I no longer feel like a lumbering bear, more like a uncoordinated lab puppy.  I want to tackle tack cleaning and cleaning of the tack room.

And ride. I plan to ride every day. Yes- every day.

What could be better?
I understand why you would be excited, but EVERY day? 
And I have a huge plans for the weekend. Steele and I are going on a road trip.

Sunday, August 24, 2014


“I'm not upset that you lied to me, I'm upset that from now on I can't believe you.” 
― Friedrich Nietzsche
 Unless you have been unplugged from the internet for the past few weeks you are aware of the Ice Bucket Challenge that is going on. The basic idea (as I understand it) is that a person is dared to either donate $100 to ALS or pour a bucket of ice water over their head (in some versions you donate $10 if you pour the bucket). If you pour the bucket of water you post it on social media and dare three other people to do the same. While it may be silly, it has raised an unprecedented amount of money for ALS research and that is a very good thing.

Which leads to what I saw on FB this morning. It was a shared youtube video of young girl sitting bareback on a horse. She then pours the bucket over her head completely startling her horse who bolts away. As she tries to get him under control, the horse dumps her in the grass. As he should. I'm not posting the video here because I don't want to promote further views of what was an incredibly stupid stunt (you can always google it, I'm sure terms like 'idiot, horse,  ice bucket'  should do it). Obviously the girl and her friends thought that it was funny. I believe the term they used was 'epic'.

I didn't find it funny. It actually made me angry. I actually hope that this young girl was hurt. Not seriously but enough for her to stop and think again. But I'm not angry because she could have been hurt. I'm angry because of the damage that she did to her relationship with her horse.

Riding a horse is not 'natural'. From a horse's perspective it's actually dangerous to them- that's what large predators do to bring them down. So in training we ask a horse to trust us while we do all sorts of things that should cause them to flee. I have been spending the past two years with Steele building our relationship. I can't imagine what would happen if I were to deliberately violate that.

I'm sure that the person in the video did not mean to scare her horse and I'm willing to bet she's not worried about what she's done to her relationship. But she should be. For the poor horse in the video- how can he ever trust someone on his back again? And why should he?

At its finest, rider and horse are joined not by tack, but by trust. Each is totally reliant upon the other. Each is the selfless guardian of the other's very well-being.
Author Unknown

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Delicate Art of Mounting

One of the things that I love about Steele (one of many) is how rock solid he is for mounting.

He was definitely showing off last week with his audience. Since he seems to pretty much know what he was doing he asked if he could show you what it's all about.

Step 1: Make sure that the photographer is paying attention.Line your body up with the  mounting block. Humans have short legs so you need be close. Even though the grass is right there you shouldn't eat it. Your human will want to pat around make some noise. Just ignore her- if you move she does more of it.  

Step 2: This is the most critical step. As your human gets on make sure that you do not move a muscle. If you move she may fall off and get hurt. If she's hurt you may not get any carrots while she's laid up. Note how attentive my ears are. 

 Step 3: Once she's on, breathe a sigh of relief that she didn't fall off over the other side. Check that the photographer captured the moment while your human basks in your fabulousness. 

Step 4: Try to remain patient while she fiddles around up there. Even though you know that you there's stuff to do, you might as well relax and enjoy the ear scratch. 

Monday, August 18, 2014

quiet on the set

Last week two friends came by to see how Steele and I were coming along. Cindy brought her camera and took some photos for me. She also took some video.  I spliced a few together to give you a glimpse of how we're doing.

I really appreciate that they took the time to do this for me. It will allow me to track our progress.

So if you are really bored here we are (please don't judge us too harshly- we're both trying our best)

Saturday, August 16, 2014


In my job as a Manager in Health Care I take many courses on conflict, teaming, communication etc. I enjoy them and often walk away with something new. In one course the instructor started talking about emotions and how they impact job performance and how we need to be sensitive to that. I made the comment that "while feelings are important they are not always relevant". That earned me a look from the instructor and some comments.

Perhaps the comment was blunter than I meant it to be (I can be fairly direct) but I think I was misunderstood- I'm not a cold person. But sometimes how you 'feel' about something isn't going to change the task. I certainly did not enjoy nor want to hol down my 2 year old daughter while the doctor put stitches in her head. But how I felt wasn't relevant- it had to be done. Or perhaps I am a cold person. Whatever. (that was a joke).

By now you may be asking how this relates to himself.
can you get to the point? 
As a young horse early in his training he is not always keen on doing some things. As you may recall, my ring is surrounded by tall grass trees and bushes. When it's windy they wave and rustle and generally are a distraction. Steele is not too keen on this. The last few days have been windy. And Steele was very reluctant to approach those areas that were particularly dense and, if he did so had no intention of bending to the inside.

 I completely understood how he felt. The riding is new so it heightens his level of awareness, he was separated from Irish and he was honestly wary of the waving  greenery.

However, it was completely irrelevant.

The truth is that he was not worried about it when I was doing my groundwork, he would stand there just fine and if he was loose he would be right there grazing in it without a care in the world. He needed to figure out that he would work with these distractions and it really was no big deal. And even if it was a big deal, it was my worry not his. In the show ring I will have no control over distractions outside of the ring. So rather then allow him to avoid those spots  or drive him to these spots I completely ignored them and carried on with my schooling as though we were in a bubble.

This bubble thing is tricky. I can't override, or let him do what he wants,  I just have to ride like it's all fine. So I had to make sure that legs, hands and weight were right where they needed to be if it was all perfect despite how he was behaving.  My tendency is to over do an aid if it doesn't work- as a result I end up leaning too far to taking too much rein or I can do the opposite and give too much away. I decided to let him figure out where the comfort zone was. For example as we travelled down the long side and he tried to pop out his inside shoulder and gawk suspiciously as the grass I simply kept my inside leg on and my reins/hands stayed where they should be. This caused him discomfort but I ignored it all and let him find me. Which he did. And then he lost me. And then found me again. Wash, rinse, repeat. Each time it was a little quicker.

 Once when we trotting down that side he gave a spook by planting his hind legs and doing a pretty good turn on the haunches to the inside. Because I was balanced in the saddle I simply went with him. We stood there at a 45 degree angle and 4 feet from the fence. "oh" I said. "this is not where I wanted to be"  and without any drama or emotion I simply asked for a turn on the haunches back to the rail, walked 2 strides and then carried on with the trot. I could feel him thinking about all of this.

By keeping my emotions away from my bubble and letting him figure out that his 'feelings' about the distractions were not the most important thing we took what could have been a disastrous ride and turned it around.
Were we perfect at the end? Nope. But we were better. Much better. And both of us have more confidence in each other.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Retail Therapy

Last week I was away visiting my sister and her family. It was a lot of fun. One of our activities was to head to a Greenhawk Harness and Equestrian supplies. I know we have one here but it's over an hour away and I never seem to get to it.

I love the smell of tack shops. It's fun just to browse. I wasn't looking for anything in particular but I wanted to try on some breeches and check out the saddle pads. I found these breeches:
I've wanted a pair of these for ages- I love the idea of riding in denim. They seemed to fit well so I bought them. I figured that I might as well reward myself for the weight loss.

I found a couple tops on sale that I couldn't resist. Then it was time to check out the saddle pads. I love thin cotton pads. I think that they breathe well with the horse. Plus all my saddle pads were bought to go with Irish's colouring and I wanted to try some colours on Steele. I found this one:

I loved it so I bought it.

I also bought a few presents for my nieces. When we returned home Ed looks at my bags and says "do you have enough room in the suitcase?" Ha. He thinks he's funny. I showed him my purchases. He looked at the saddle pad.
"I thought that you had a lot of saddle pads already"
"well......can you really have too many?" (I realize that I actually might have a saddle pad problem but, hey it could be worse).
One of my nephews overheard this conversation.
"Aunt Teresa, how many saddle pads do you have?"
"Ummm" I said
"She has at least 10" says Ed.
"10? Do you really have 10 saddle pads?"
I thought quickly.
"Let's go with 10" I say
"what do you mean, 'let's go with 10'?" asks Ed suspiciously.
"10 is a good number"I say as I head up upstairs to put my purchases away.

Besides, check the pad out on Steele- doesn't it look fabulous?

he looks a little porky from this angle but he really isn't that big. honest. 

I think that the colours really suit him.

I rode in the breeches today. They were fabulously comfortable. I think that they are my new favourite breeches.

Do you have a tack shop 'problem' too?

Monday, August 4, 2014

The Ride After

...Continued from my previous post.

In the middle of the night I woke up convinced that I had been pinching Steele with my thighs during my ride and that caused the problem. To clarify pinching with my thighs is an old riding vice that I worked very hard to get rid of years ago. I know that during my ride I worked hard to ensure my legs were soft but at 3 a.m. the world looks very different and your mind can go into free association.

Whether that conviction reflected reality or not I did know that my next ride had to be very very good. That's because I was going away and Steele was going to have the week off. Horses have excellent memories so I wanted to ensure that his memory was of a good session not a bad one.

When I came home from work I gave myself some time to relax and for the temperature to cool before going out. I realized that I had actual butterflies. Not that I was scared of coming off but I was nervous that I would screw it up. However, faint heart and all that.

I brought both horses in and then got Steele ready. I used the thinner saddle pad this time just in case that was contributing (next time I will bring up two saddle pads and try them during the ride to see).  I made sure that our lunge work focussed on three things:
1. forward- no sluggish ambles, half-hearted trots or lazy canters allowed
2. obedience-Steele had to be prompt. I was okay with a couple strides to sort out the trot-canter transition but not with a "just a minute" response.
3. tuning in-I wanted at least one ear on me at all times.

Once I was satisfied with the ground work I mounted.  I took up a light contact and walked some figures while making sure that my legs were stretched out and soft and my hand was following and my seat was soft and under me. I didn't let him decide which way we were going but made sure that we changed directions many times. Once I was sure our walk was forward I asked for a trot. And off we went. Again we did lots of figures, bending and changes of directions. I worked on trot-walk-trot transitions on straight aways, circles, and figure 8s. There was a slight hesitation right at the beginning on the far side but I made sure that my legs encouraged forward without clamping. We had breaks and then returned to work. I made sure that I was clear in my praise of what I wanted. Near the end I could feel him slowing up. Normally I would stop but this time I decided that he couldn't be THAT tired and we needed to work just a bit more. So I asked for a forward trot. And got it. After a few circles I stopped, dismounted and we were done.

I felt pleased with him and myself. Neither one of us will be reflecting on a bad ride during our break.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Give an Inch....

Walter Zettl writes about the danger of the good ride. He says that if you have a really productive ride one day you need to be careful because you will expect it the second day. However, from the horse's point of view the next day is a whole new ball game. Perhaps they are sore from the work yesterday, perhaps they just are not in the mood and, most likely, perhaps the rider is riding with more tension because they want to continue to proceed. We need to approach each ride, he says, with no expectations. the horse in the warm up will tell you what they need that day.

Walter is a very wise man.

So on Thursday I was excited to ride Steele again. It was late afternoon (around supper time). His regular pad was dirty so I grabbed another pad. I like it- it's all cotton but more bulky than our usual one. I let Irish stay out in the field.

I started, as always with my ground work. It was a hot day and Steele was a bit sluggish but basically obedient so after a few minutes I got on. We started at the walk. He was looking around a bit but things were pretty good. Then I asked for the trot. We were trotting around for a few minutes when he started to balk.
what the?
I went back to walk to regroup. Picked up the trot and we were going well when he balked more severely. Again I walked. After the third time I stopped.
Where on earth was this resistance coming from? 
Now I don't subscribe to the theory that if the horse resists it always the rider but I do believe that needs to be the first check. I made sure that I was sitting up in the saddle and not pinching. I made sure that I wasn't grabbing him in the mouth when I wanted to go forward (sending mixed messages). The same thing was happening-trotting along fine and then bam.  The dogs were hanging around and Belle kept popping in and out of the tall grass. I thought that maybe he was not happy about that. But I also decided that he needed to get over it because he knows the dogs and they are well, dogs. There could be far more surprising things at a show.

After a few minutes of no success and some escalation I realized that I needed a different approach. I also realized that I was alone. So I halted and dismounted. Steele looked happy at that. I put the lunge back on and we went to work. And I mean work. After all there was no reason that I should be the only one sweating.  After a few minutes of me installing 'forward' and 'now' he began to sharpen up and become more responsive.
okay okay
I worked him more
I give, I give!
almost there.
fine. what do you want?
Yes. So got back on.  We went along and it hit me- he was only resisting when we turned away from the gate and Irish. I tested it a few time. Yup. Trotting to the gate or towards Irish- fine and forward. Away from the gate and/or Irish and it was 'nope. not gonna.' 

Now that I had a reason I could work on it. I realized that our ground work was not fine that I was letting him set the pace and he was convincing me that I was happy with it. He wasn't being 'bad'. I had taught him that it was okay to make decisions. sigh.

So I went to work on this issue. The goal was that we would have a nice forward trot no matter where we were in the ring. Period. We were going alone the long side (far away from the gate) when he gave a big spook at the dog.
WOLF!!! Flee! 
OMG. Seriously? This is embarrassing. You are an Andalusian. 
Well I'd expect this from Irish, but your breed was used in war and bullfighting. It's not like you're a thoroughbred. 
Well I was really really scared. 
Yeah. right. Suck it up princess, you are making a fool of yourself. 

After that there were no more problems. I made sure that I confirmed my lesson and then stopped. I checked his back after- no soreness no problems. His sweat pattern was perfectly symmetrical. Perhaps the bulky saddle pad contributed but it wasn't a huge factor.

To be continued....