dancing horses

dancing horses

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

2015- Year in Review

I'm still battling this virus and becoming very bored with the lack of energy. Carmen is making it known that she is not appreciating my lack of attention either. However, there's nothing to be done but rest, drink lots of fluids and binge watch TV.

It does give me time to think about my year. It has been a big one as far as personal stuff goes.

That was a tough month and as I struggled to come to terms with my loss and decide what to do next. To be honest it's a bit of blur. However, I learned to enjoy being in the barn again and Lexie was a sweet horse to help ground me.
She was the perfect horse for Irish at the time he needed her. I think she enjoyed the extra attention as well.

Winter hit with a vengeance. Atlantic Canada was pounded by storm after storm. Roofs collapsed, fences disappeared and my barn was literally encased in ice.

Later in the month I got on a plane to try out three potential horses. 
In the end I found Charlante and, while it seemed surreal, I bought her. 

I worked on a plan to bring Charlante home. It turned out to be quite complicated and I was sure I was going to have a nervous breakdown. However, she finally arrived. 
Gotcha Day

The snow finally melted and life could return to normal. In conversations with Ed we decided on 'Carmen' as a barn name for Charlante. It suits her and it makes Ed happy so it's all good. I rode her for the first time since she was mine. It became apparent that I was going to have to up my game if I wanted a relationship with her. 

This was a big month for us. We had some lessons from a trainer from Spain- Johanna Beattie Batista. It was perfect timing as she helped me to understand what Carmen needed from me. It was the start of shift in our relationship
I also got her saddle fitted so we could start under saddle work. I also realized that I was going to need regular instruction if I wanted to ride this mare properly. 

I also submitted my first article for a local horse magazine. I was asked to submit some of my humorous stories. That was a real leap- from blogger to writer. It was an interesting process and I found that it help me really hone on my editing skills. 
I began the search for an instructor and a way to have regular lessons. 
I tried one avenue but the door was slammed on that one. As I searched I kept persisting with Carmen trying to figure out what she needed and what I needed. At the time I was getting frustrated but looking back I realize it really helped me to develop ground work skills that were sorely needed. I don't think I ever really appreciated how much ground work contributes to successes under saddle. 

I also dusted off my camera and started taking photos again. Irish and Carmen made great subjects cavorting in the field.

July & August
I found Roz Mozkowitz to come and help Carmen and I. I really liked her teaching style and she was able to stay calm even when Carmen was a bit tense.  I also took Irish and Carmen and Cynthia over to Karens for a weekend away. It was fun and both horses were terrific. 

My sister and her family came to visit. My niece, Caelan loves horses like I do and she and Irish had a lot of fun together.

Irish quite enjoyed playing with her as well. I loved having them visit- it's hard when your family lives so far away. 

I also was learning far more then I ever wanted about mare heats and their impact on behaviour. I decided to try PRE MARE:
I wasn't sure if it would work but it seemed to make a real difference with her. I will be using it again next year. 

Irish started head shaking and required a UV fly mask. I was happy though that that worked. 
Sept  & Oct
I kept on with the riding. I was able to ride 4-6 times per week most weeks which was good. I came to realize that I needed to stop trying to change her and instead work with her. While that realization seemed small, it changed how I approached everything with her. The riding and training progressed at a snails pace with small breakthroughs. But I celebrated each one. I learned that I need to clear in what I want and determined that she needs to focus on what we're doing. Not on the million things that may kill us. 
what horse training is really like
In November we all headed to Karen's again for another weekend away. It was not only a terrific time with friends but Carmen and I learned a few things as well. Back at home we kept on our path and slowly began to conquer the ring. The transition from schooling the ring to schooling in the ring was huge. For anyone watching from the outside it was probably like watching cement dry. But that's okay. 

Irish's head shaking also disappeared which was good. 

In December the riding had to decrease due to weather. It was too bad because I was loving the work. I also came off for the first time in December. And it was fine- no one died and now I can say that that's out of the way.  And it showed me our next project- keeping cool in the face of scary, flapping things. 

I am not sure if I was able to capture the year very well at all. It has been quite the Journey with Carmen and it has been good for me- she refused to let me wallow or to baby me. It was just what I needed even when I really wanted a bit of babying. 

Carmen has grown physically (I swear she's taller) and in confidence. At times she shows a playful side that is fun to watch. I believe that she's content becoming a Canadian. 

So the year that started so horribly ended up in a good place after all. I have plans for next year with Carmen and our riding. 
Carmen: plans? what plans?
Irish: you probably don't want to know

Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Attack of Snow Fence

I found the secret to not gaining weight over Christmas- just have the flu. I couldn't even drink wine! However, the family all pitched in and I 'directed' the cooking of Christmas dinner from my chair. It worked out well and dinner was delicious. It was very hard to look at the beautiful weather on Christmas day and not be able to ride. I've always loved riding on Christmas day but haven't been able to for the past few years. In the grand scheme of things it's not that big a deal. But still. Darn.

I'm finally feeling better. Just in time for a snowfall warning. So yay. This fall I bought a roll of snow fencing - I thought that if I ran it above the barn it would help lessen the drifting up against the barn doors and limit any shovelling/plowing in the small paddock. It's a hypothesis at this point. I hemmed and hawed yesterday because I still wasn't feeling great but after I brought the horses in I decided to put it up. I wrestled it on to hung it on temp fence posts. I left an opening for the horses and the idea is to put a section across the gate when there's going to be a major storm. That way I can keep open the gate after the storm.

This morning I opened their doors to the paddock to let them out.
Irish boggled.
Irish' Holy Crap! That wasn't there before!'
Carmen: 'Oh my god. Is it dangerous?'
Irish '*snort* I don't know. It looks dangerous'
Carmen "let me in your stall!'

Irish leapt out of his stall after which much milling about ensued. Heads were high, nostrils were flared they were getting into a tizzy.

Sighing I put down the water bucket and calmly walked out to the gate and stood on the other side. With a speed he hasn't shown in years Irish streaked by me. His tail stood up and he pranced about.
Irish 'oh.oh.oh. It almost touched me!'

I stood there calmly. Looking at me and then Irish Carmen came trotting out breaking into a gallop as she came through the gate. I'm thinking she has eventing potential....
Carmen 'are we safe?'
Me 'yes of course you are safe'
She lowered her head and started to crop at the little bits of grass that are left.
I carried on with the scrubbing of water buckets. When I looked out they were inspecting the snow fence like an elderly couple at a penny auction.

I filled up the bird feeders and headed out of the barn. Carmen was watching me on the other side of the snow fence. I stopped.
Carmen 'I'm being very brave. See.'
Me: 'yes I see that. Good for you. If you want hay you can cross the gate and get it. 
Carmen 'are you sure?'
Me 'very sure'

With that she walked down through the gate to the hay net. Where she started to eat. So not too bad a start to the day really.

(from last March)
I'm hoping we don't get too much of this! 

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays

It Christmas eve and I woke up with the flu. I'm laying low in the hopes that I feel better tomorrow.

So I'm sharing some of the photos from my critters Christmas shoot. I have this Santa hat and in the past have placed it on the animals to get some cute shots. Last year I didn't feel like it but this year I wanted to.

I enlisted the help of Cynthia as my photo assistant.

First the out takes:
but why? 

where did the cats go?

can I have more of the wreath? 

what's that Martin?
Something all self-respecting kitties reject

is it that time of year again?

But in the end I get a shot of all of them and then compile into a card:

So Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from Oakfield Farm to you.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Operation Brave

I had originally called this 'operation flappy-things-won't-kill-you' but there were it was a bit too amusing for my FB friends and caused commenting  like 'maybe you should wear a bra when you ride' and 'fix it in time for bare arms seasons'. I have such hilarious friends. 

So I went a different way.

maybe some day

After the unplanned dismount the other day I realized that I needed to directly target sacking out Carmen. I have done this sort of thing before but she sometimes has an explosive reaction at times so I want to do some research. I found this video by Warwick Schiller and really liked it: 

I liked the idea that you have the horse follow the bag because they are more brave when they are chasing rather than being chased. After watching it I drew up my plan and was able to try it today. The weather was warmer and there was no wind. I took a plastic bag, dressage whip and duct tape to create the torture training device: 

I started with our usual lunging. Once I was sure that I had her attention I put down the lunge whip and picked up my 'bag on a stick'. I started by walking away waiving it a bit. She followed nicely for a half the ring but then I got a bit too enthused with my waving and she freaked out. I lowered the stick and let her canter around me a few times until she settled. I then went back to walking with it held out in front of me. She was obviously not impressed but she followed. 

When she seemed very calm I stopped and let her look at it. When she looked I hid it behind me. I repeated this for what seemed like a long time. As we played peek-a-boo with the bag I fought all desire to move it closer. I needed her to approach it- not the other way around. Gradually she started to stretch out her neck towards it. After we did this for a while I walked off with her following again. This time she was much more willing to follow along. I stopped again. After a few more trials of her looking she went up and gently put her nose on it. 

And I stopped it right there. We walked out of the ring and she followed the bag. :) Before we got to the barn I dropped it - I didn't want Irish freaking out and undoing my work. 

It was a good start. I think I will spend this winter really sacking her out so that she's much more confident about things. 

I wore the hat, what more do you want from me?
Trust me, it will save both our lives. 

Sunday, December 20, 2015

In Which I Come Off Carmen for the First Time

*****Spoiler Alert*******
No one was injured or died from the following incident

Saturday was sunny but very windy day. I was not sure that I even wanted to ride with the cold wind. But I realized that I won't have too many more riding days in this winter and that I would regret not riding. So after waiting in the futile hope that the wind would go away I bundled up and brought the horses in.

Carmen was looking a bit worried in the cross ties but I told that we would just see how everything went. We carried on and she followed me up to the ring and went to work willingly enough. I was pleased with how well she was handling the blowing grass and trees. She was looking but not freaking out. What she didn't like was when the wind gusted so hard that it was blowing the lunge line around. It was making it rattle the bit which she didn't appreciate. I did my best to keep it tense enough to stop that from happening but was not terribly successful. As a result I kept the work on the lunge a bit short.

She was perfect when I mounted and waited for me to indicate that it was time to walk off. Her walk was a bit tense so I worked on getting her to stretch out over her back and relax. It would come and go. We headed up the long side towards R. She ducked away from the rail- not quickly like a spook, she kept her walk pace but moved off. I circled her around and keeping my inside leg on and giving her room with the reins asked her to walk up the long side.

Suddenly we were launched sideways. Remember this photo:
Like that- only add the 90 degree spin in first. When we landed I was behind the motion, had only the buckle of the reins and lost my right stirrup.  It was the landing that did me in. I pulled to the right to stop her from bolting on but that was all I could do. My thoughts were like this:
I think I can stick this
I can't stick this
So I didn't fight the coming off. I landed on my feet holding the rein (I still don't know how I do that but I'm grateful).  As I landed Carmen tried to take off again and stepped on my foot before dragging me with her. I held on and tried to get in front (at this point I was at her haunches). I believe that for a second she went to kick at what was stopping her but realized it was me. She spun around to face me and started backing and I kept up with her until she stopped.
I spoke soothingly as I approached and gently touched her neck. She was breathing hard and wide eyed. I still had no idea what had caused this but I led her back to where the lunging equipment was and hooked it back up. I asked to go forward and she did until she hit R again at which point she freaked out and tried to take off.
honey you're going to hurt yourself I said and I just stood there quietly and she stopped. I turned and walked up the side looking carefully (which is what I should have done in the first place) and spied the danger.

Every so many posts in my ring is set in concrete in a sonotube. These are made of paper and slowly disintegrate over time. A large piece of the paper had come loose and was flapping in the tall grass.

I picked it up.
Carmen snorted and backed up. I stood quietly. She then watched in horror as I shook it and it fell completely apart into small bits of confetti.  I think she now sees me as Buffy the Vampire Slayer (best.show.ever).

We lunged a bit more and then I got back on. This time I kept a bit more of a hold on the reins so that she could feel the contact. She decked a couple times but I was able to stop it quickly. I rode her until she relaxed and was blowing in the work. I then called it a day.

I could see the foot prints of the launch- and if I read them right she turned left at R and landed at I (in the middle of the ring). My mistake was that I didn't realize that she was as tense as she was because a) I was still on the high from the last 3 rides and b) her base level of tenseness is so much less that's it not as alerting as it was.  I should have a shorter contact so that she had my support. But the truth is I will occasionally get it wrong (probably more than 'on occasion'). What was interesting was that I was completely not afraid through this whole thing. I had an adrenaline rush when I landed of course but I was not upset, angry, frightened or frustrated. I was simply calm and wanting to help her find her calm. Which we did. After the ride she was happy in the cross ties and hung out with me in the barn while I did my chores. So she was okay as well.

I think this winter I will work on the flapping bag/paper thing. I have temp fence posts and I'm thinking I may attach plastic bags and stick them out in the field. What do you think?

Saturday, December 19, 2015


I want to tell you about my last 3 rides on Carmen. I promise to not do excruciating detail but I want to share some highlights.

Last weekend was a hard one for me and I was not sure that I even wanted to ride. But I decided that I would anyway. I rode on Saturday and Sunday. For both rides Carmen was very tuned in to me. It's not that she wasn't looking around but it was peeks and she would return to work. There have been no trolls the last three days. While she will hesitate in the far corner she will go and not be super stiff. Each time we successfully navigate an area I can feel her relax and settle more and more.

This means that I can focus on actual dressage-y type stuff. We've been working on leg yields. Those are coming along but now that she's not freaking out about going over to a specific spot the conversation has changed from:
go over
NO! it's dangerous.
It's fine. 
you are obviously deluded

Let's go over
um. are you sure?
oops too much shoulder
but that's easier
let's try to fix it

So now I'm figuring out how to get us doing it accurately rather than just doing it.

It's awesome. Last Sunday she was a bit sluggish but I worked on coaxing her through. I think I allowed it to on too long but I'm trying to find the balance between her rushing and not going forward. Anyway, we took a walk break but when I asked her to trot she said an emphatic 'no'. I asked  again and got the same response. So I gave her a bop with the crop. She sprung forward, pinned her ears and gave a buck. She does NOT like being tapped. But after that the discussion was over and we flowed forward.

I have to be careful with my hands and seat- she's very sensitive. To keep the forward feeling hands I've been visualizing pouring water out of my hands down the reins. That seems to be working. And the ball imagery continues to work very well for me as well.

I am able to give her walks on a long rein without worrying that we're suddenly going to be fleeing in the opposite direction. To give an illustration of this is how she's being about opening the gate from horseback. I introduced the idea  a couple rides ago with just sliding the board across and letting it fall and then walking off. Sunday I walked up to it- grabbed it and slid it out of the bracket on the other side and let it fall. She never moved. I walked forward and then came back around where I grabbed the end that was sticking up and pulled it back and tipped it up so we could go through. She stood there unconcerned about it all. We then walked out and down to the barn.

Last week was a busy one with work so I couldn't do anything with her until Friday. I got her ready and I could see immediately that she was settled and ready to work. We did some work on the ground but I only do it until I'm 100% sure that she's with me. It took about 5 minutes and I probably didn't even need that. In the meantime a cherry picker truck pulled up at the end of our driveway to work on the pole across the street. We had a clear view from the mounting block. I let her look at it and then mounted. She never moved. During our ride she did peek at it and was a bit wary (especially when the guy got in and it went up) but it was really no big deal.

We are riding all over the ring, across the diagonals, doing serpentines, figure 8's and such. It's so much fun I don't even know how long I'm riding. She tells me when I get it ride and I have learned to listen. Yesterday near the end of our ride I collected her trot a wee bit on the short side and then asked her lengthen down the long side a few strides. I could feel her stretch out under me and lengthen through her whole frame. I was ecstatic and said so. I heard Cynthia say to Irish  'yes I heard that too. I don't know what happened but she seems pretty happy'.

I love that she can have 4 days off and be so very sensible. She's starting to mature into the horse that I was sure was in there (although some days I doubted it).

After our ride I had Cynthia help me with my Christmas photo shoot with the animals. These are two out takes from Carmen's shoot. I love them because they illustrate the character that she's showing us.
This one is when we brought her out and Cynthia was putting the hat on. Look at how soft her eye is
I'm not sure why you want me to wear a hat but okay

And then she spied the horse head wreath I had on the barn door. 
turns out that pine is yummy

Carmen is starting to remind me of her dam who had a very quiet presence. She's not necessarily quiet and she can be a bit dramatic but she's so much more calm and settled.

Sunday, December 13, 2015


On December 14 it will be one year since Steele died. I have been writing this post in fits and starts because it's still just so damn hard. When you live to your 50s experiencing sad and terrible things is not a surprise.-that is the cost of life. There are people who have experienced far worse things than me. I  know that. But do you know what? It's not a competition. I  was really messed up by Steele's death. I couldn't even appreciate how messed up I was until a few months had passed.

I don't believe that 'everything happens for a reason' but I do believe that I have choices. I read a post on grieving that really resonated with me. It said something along the lines of 'you don't 'get over' a devastating loss. You just learn to carry it.' I have been learning to carry his death. As part of that I've learned a whole lot more about myself. The sun continues to rise and life carries on. That just happens. But I had to choose how I was going to spend those days.

the day he came to live with us

I bought Steele when he was 16 months old. I was so excited about it that I decided to start a blog about it. It was a fun way to keep a record of our progress together. I had a few followers through blogger and on FB. The day he had to be put down- a day that started so wonderfully and ended in pain and fear I was so full of pain that I didn't know how to cope. I took all that pain and poured it into my blog. That post went 'viral'. It was had over 10,000 views. The post was shared all over FB so many times that I couldn't keep track. Its was overwhelming.

It also brought out the 'trolls'. People who wrote some very horrible things to me. I didn't really understand what was happening  at first but once I did I put on the moderating feature. Without an audience they disappeared.

But even more than the trolls I was also incredibly moved by how many people reached out to me with kindness. Rosie did a painting and sent to me. It was stunning.She was someone that I had sold a saddle to years ago and knew from an internet BB.
it hangs in my dining room and  I see it everyday
I received cards in the mail, emails, fb messages and phone calls. I want to apologize to anyone that I didn't acknowledge and thank for their expression of sympathy. I tried to, but I really was not operating on my best I probably missed some. I am sorry for that. I lost all tolerance for drama or pettiness. I simply withdraw from it now where before I might have wanted to address it. I don't have the energy for it.

I learned a lot about grief and grieving in this. I know that he 'just a horse' and there are probably some people who think that I was/am overreacting. But here's what I learned- grief doesn't discriminate and doesn't operate on different time lines depending on 'what' you're grieving. I loved that horse with my whole heart and it was broken when he died. What I found extremely touching was that people who had also experienced heartbreaking loss reached out me with kindness, not judgement or pointing out that their loss was so much greater than mine. One woman who had lost her daughter simply reached out and let me know that she understood my pain without judgement. It was a hand reaching out in the dark to another person. Ed was amazing through this whole thing. He was grieving as well and I'm sure that he often felt helpless with me. Some days I would just curl up on the couch on him and he wouldn't move, even though I'm sure he was stiff or had 'things to do'.  I still remember that he offered to sell the property if I couldn't stay and that he told me to 'go to Spain' when I couldn't find similar bloodlines to Steele for sale.

What I also learned this year is that anxiety is a beast that lies in wait for events to free it from whatever cage I had it in. I know that I often appear calm and relaxed but the truth is that I worry about things far more than most people realize. With the horrible chain of events that happened I had trouble sleeping and I couldn't drive by where it all happened. I gradually got through that but to this day I hate leaving the horses outside when we're both away. I actually force myself to stay at work and as I drive home it's all I can do to not speed. I'm convinced that I will come home and find them gone, dead, injured whatever. I know it's stupid but the beast inside does not care and it whispers to me all the time.

What happened was traumatic and horrible. And it hasn't let go of me yet. There was an incident about a week ago that really threw me for a loop:
The weather has been very similar to last years which is also I think making things a bit more 'real'. Cynthia and I had finished riding and turned the horses out while we had a coffee inside. When she went to leave I went out with her and all I saw was Irish running frantically up and down the fence line screaming. I couldn't see Carmen. This was exactly what I saw almost a year ago when I went outside. Instantly I was back to a year ago and I was overwhelmed with panic. I screamed 'where's the mare' and ran to the field. To be honest I couldn't even think of her name in the moment. My heart was in my throat and I could barely breathe. I saw her grazing calmly in the field while Irish was running up and down the line (turns out a horse and rider had just gone down the road and he always gets silly over that).
'are you all right?' Cynthia asked. The answer was no. I wasn't. I couldn't deal with the crash of emotions - it was like a tidal wave and I was actually shaking. I managed to get myself under control and said goodbye. But I was still not okay and couldn't stop the feelings. It was surreal, I knew it wasn't a year ago but it also felt like I was. I was two places at once. I went into the barn and began to sweep. The rhythm of that settled me down and I could return to the house and finish my chores. It took a long time to feel normal again. Based on internet reserch- that was a flashback triggered by similar events and time. Since then I have recurring nightmares of broken fences and the horses being loose. I should probably do something about that but it would probably require talking about what happened and I don't talk about it. Not since I wrote it out, have I spoken about the events. People tell me how sorry they are and I thank them. I then say "I don't talk about it". I don't want to get into it because I just can't.

he always amused me

but I loved that face

Which brings me to Carmen.

She actually is related to Steele distantly. I believe that I was meant to own this horse. I also believe that we both needed each other. Sitting on her made my heart sing for the first time since Steele died- he also made my heart sing. I don't think I would have found her without the help of my friend Karen. She even travelled down with me to help me look at the horses. Time I'm sure that she didn't have.

If you ask me if I want Steele back my answer is 'yes'.
If you ask me do I want Carmen, my answer is 'yes'.
And no, I don't see the contradiction in that. I have Carmen because of Steele and while I know I have her a result of his death I bought her not because he died but because he lived. And I can't explain it any more than that.

He was a great horse and we had a lot of fun together. I will never forget him.

Add caption
I can't forget that Irish grieved too. He still hangs out down by the grave

I used to watch him in the field and marvel and how I came to own such a beautiful creature.

I do not think that I will write about Steele's death again but I will speak of his life from time to time.

One last thing that I learned about grief- it doesn't stop you from being happy. I would describe myself as happy. Not all the time (that would be weird) but I am happy. Happiness does not depend on an absence of pain or on the actions of others- it is entirely up to me and I choose it.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

On Second Thought....

If you read many of my posts you will know that I'm big on manners in horses. Any horse I own must respect my space and listen to me. I work hard to be consistent in my expectations. I am not perfect by any means and sometimes miss things that I shouldn't.

Sometimes though you need the circumstances to show you the holes. A week or so ago I was leading Carmen up to the ring and Irish was in the small paddock. There's a little alley between the front and back paddocks and there's a small corridor connecting the two with gates. When Carmen and I were in this corridor Irish charged the fence. He was not happy to be left. Carmen bolted away, ignoring my 'whoa!' and in the course of it whacked into me and it was only because I reacted quickly that I was not hurt or that she didn't get away. I immediately sent her working around me in a small circle and then we walked back and forth through that area until I was sure that she knew to not barge despite Irish's hissy fit. 

Last week Cynthia and I finished our rides and I untacked Carmen in her stall. I was starting to put her blanket on when Cynthia hit the wall with Irish's blanket as she was putting it on. Carmen startled into my space. I smacked her to get her out but she ignored me and pushed into me with her butt. I got out of the way so I wouldn't be hurt and then went out of the stall and grabbed a crop. 

I headed back in and asked her to move over, she ignored me and I smacked her so she moved over. I then put on her blanket and then asked Cynthia to make noise again. Carmen again swung her but into me in her startling. 
I hit her as hard as I could on her butt. It was through the blanket so was noisier more than painful but to be honest I was okay with it hurting. She needed to figure out that barging into a person's space is a definite no. What if she hurt Ed our horse sitter? 
She stopped and then swung into me again. 

This time she leapt away and was facing me. 
good girl
I had Cynthia do a few more scary (but not terrifying things) until Carmen would just look at me and not try to run me over. 

I then left it. Since then there have been no issues but I wasn't sure if she really had learned it or not. 

Last night I was cleaning out her stall after giving her her night hay. She was eating like the poor starving creature she was but she was standing on a pile of poo that I wanted to clean up. 
I touched her shoulder and asked her to move over. She didn't move. I keep repeating the ask and could see that I was annoying her. I asked stronger and she started to swing into me. 
I just had time to say  "are you seriously considering bumping me over?" When she suddenly stopped and swung away from me. She looked at me with wide eyes. 
'sorry I forgot myself for a minute' 
She was now off the poo pile and so I carried on cleaning and she realized that she could still eat hay. 

She is a clever cookie, not just ornamental. 

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Better Late Than Never

A while back I posted goals for September. One of them was to use the full ring in our work. Unfortunately it didn't happen in September.
Or October.
Or even really November.
It happened today.

Of course it's not a Christmas miracle- I've been getting closer all the time.

Today was even nicer than yesterday and I decided to ride at 10 in case the weather changed it's mind. When I went to get Carmen out of the field she wouldn't let me catch her. Irish joined in the fun so I spent 10 minutes getting them to gallop around and then removing the pressure until I was able to get a halter on Princess I-don't-think-so.

I led her into the barn but decided to leave Irish out. He stayed out in the field while I got her ready. I figured after the ride yesterday and the run around today he was not going to be a dork while I was riding. And if he was I would deal.

The ground work was uneventful so I mounted after about 10 minutes. She stood still and required a couple nudges to get going. We walked around and she was really not feeling the idea of 'forward'. I tried a few walk-halt-walk transitions and it helped but when i asked her to trot she was pissy about it. So I picked up the crop and the next time I asked I gave her a light tap.

Like really light.
But Carmen is mortally offended by the crop and she leapt forward with her ears pinned.

It only took two ask-tap sequences and that was the end of that discussion.

Our work was on bending, leg yields and transitions. I stayed clear with what i wanted. If we were leg yielding and she started to get distracted and not listen I dropped down to walk and carried on.

With Irish in the field up by Troll Corner she was drawn to that end but conflicted. I decided to use it to my advantage and before long we were working up there like there weren't any trolls at all. I rode patterns and introduced transitions into the patterns. We finished by walking on a long rein into the scary corners with her stretching out over the back.

 I finished the ride wishing that Karen, Roz and Cynthia could have seen it.

Have you ever noticed that your best rides are often unwitnessed? What's with that?

In the afternoon Ed and I decorated the outside for the holidays. Which means that I supervised and he installed. But I can't do everything, right?

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Leaving Kindergarten

I'm sure that you all remember Kindergarten- it's where you learned how to play nice in the sandbox and not eat the crayons (even the yummy looking red ones). The whole function of Kindergarten is to learn how to learn: you have to follow someone else's agenda and pay attention to someone else rather than the voice in your head that is chatting about the birds outside and how nice it would be to climb that tree.

Can you tell that I might have been a challenge in school?

The past several months Carmen and I have been in Kindergarten. Today I realized that we are now moving into the next grade.

Cynthia came out to ride Irish which was good because they were both feeling fresh. I saw right away that Carmen was feeling a bit pushy so my initial work with her (from the initial haltering to the work in the ring) was on listening to me and following instructions. It doesn't take too much to get her tuned in - it's not like she completely ignores me but her responses are ...delayed... Today she was trotting nicely and stretching over her back but when I asked her to walk it took far too long for her to drop down.  I refuse to accept that in our lunge work so I repeat until it's crisp and prompt. I'm okay with giving a horse time to get her feet under her but she doesn't need half a circle.

Our work was all about bending and transitions. She really wasn't too worried about stuff (even  though it was windy) but she likes to bend and look at certain spots. I was staying clear in my expectations and not falling into the trap of getting rough  or of giving up. I keep asking for a bend until I get it and then I stop.

She was a bit sticky in the trot work but I kept going with it and she finally settled into the work. We did some serpentines and circles with me gradually getting into the further corners of the ring. By the time she realized where she was it was really too late to throw any fits. A few times when she threatened to anyway I just said 'we're too busy for that right now' and carried on with what I wanted.

After a few serpentines and changes across the diagonal I asked her to canter.
Carmen: I.can't.do.it. too.hard
Me: yes you can. come on. 
We spent a few circles with her breaking or threatening to buck. I finally gave a growl and said firmly enough! Get on with it. And she gave in. I can't get her to canter into the scary corners but we're getting closer and we're going there no matter what gait we're in.

I then went on to leg yield work. Like all green horses she gets crooked leading with either her shoulders or her haunches (mostly her shoulders). it's okay to lead like that a bit but we did get it together nicely a few times at the walk in both directions. I then picked up the trot and we repeated the exercise. It is easier for her to leg yield left then right but I worked on setting her up and then working over and giving her praise for it. After a few trials we had a nice leg yield both ways.

By the end of the ride her ears were flicking back and forth on me and not on anything outside of the ring. I was well pleased with the session and we finished with a walk on a long rein. We then stood in the middle of the ring while I chatted with Cynthia and she did not get impatient. She just sighed, dropped her head and cocked a leg. I walked her over to the gate but we went too far. I tried to back her up and realized that she had no idea what I was asking her for so I left it. I turned around and we came back to the gate - my gate is a board across the opening. I reached down carefully and, while still mounted, lifted the board and let if fall. She never moved. So I walked off three steps and got off. Eventually I will be able to completely open the gate from her back but I don't want to scare her with the idea yet so I didn't push it.

No more spending forever trying to ride the same *^(&% circle. We are moving into Grade 1.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

To Boldly Go...

First of all, sorry for the Star Trek reference. Sometimes I can't help myself.

One of the things I enjoy about the blogging community is that I get to read about other people's experiences with riding and training horses. A few have greener horses, like Carmen and I find that I can glean tips from their sharing. Recently I read a post by Meghan at A Enter Spooking on the concept of never stop riding, no matter what your horse is doing.

That is not new advice but hearing it from a rider is a similar situation somehow gave it resonance for me. So that's what I've been doing- riding. And do you know what? It really works.

I've been able to ride a few times since my last post. I have been focussing on the idea of riding forward and with care even if Carmen is a bit freaky. Monday was cool and she was a bit tense from the minute I got on. Her walk was rushed so I picked up the trot immediately and we went to work doing figures. She would relax and get tense, relax and get tense but we just kept working away. Nothing bad happened and it wasn't a stellar session but I didn't get off and I wasn't worried. Instead I just focussed on riding and not thinking about all the things that she might do.

Being brave is, of course, easier, when riding with Irish. But I ride alone as well and I'm getting braver there as well. As I ride we go further and further into the scary corners. When she spooks it tends to be smaller and less dramatic. I'm finding it easier to relax into the work. The other day when I was riding she was getting tense about the neighbours Christmas lights (they were twinkling through the trees and weren't there last week so OHMYGODWHATNOWITMUSTBEEVIL). I went to work changing direction and such but she wasn't really focussed on me. So I decided to see how we would do with simple changes of lead. (It gave me a chance to see if my theory was correct about the timing issue of canter departs. It seems that it is my timing that was the issue and so I'm being more careful and she's happier).  Now normally a simple change is canter/ 3-5 trot strides- new canter lead. For us it was more like a 10-12 strides until we got the bend. It started a bit wild and wooly doing the simple transitions but it captured her attention and we were able to do some really nice transitions with bend and everything.

Riding. Sometimes it's just that simple.

photo from lesson in October