dancing horses

dancing horses

Monday, June 29, 2015

Contract Negotiations

I've been sticking firm to my plan to school Carmen regularly.

(That gives me lots of fodder for my blog so I apologize for the frequent posts. However, this also acts as a training diary so that I can look back and see how far we've come. )

Today was the sixth consecutive day of us working together. As we headed up to the ring Irish decided that he was NOT happy being left behind and began to run around the paddock. I decided that that was a good thing - you never know when there might be a melt down in the warm up ring so this gave us a chance to work through it.

do not let that innocent face fool you
I sent her to work on the lunge- we typically go up and down the ring working on transitions. I've introduced the idea of her changing direction on the lunge. She's starting to get it but it's a work in progress. When she seemed attentive and focussed I put on her bridle and heading to the mounting block. By then Irish had stopped running around like a fool and was dozing quietly down by the barn.

For the past 3 times  Carmen has stood rock solid while I mounted. Today, as I went to put my foot in the stirrup she walked off.
Me: What are you doing? 
Carmen: I've decided that standing at the block is no longer part of my contract. 
Me: oh it certainly is
Carmen: no. I don't like it and I don't think I should have to.
Me: Not only is it part of your contract, it's a non-negotiable. This is the hill I want to die on. 
Carmen: ....
Me: It's a figure of speech- it's not meant to be taken literally. 
Carmen: Oh. 

I repeated the work that we had done in the past but she was determined to not stand still. So I put her halter back on (over her bridle) and we went back to ground work. I put her butt into work and the only time she was allowed to rest was when we stood by the mounting block. I would let her stand there as long as she chose and as soon as she moved away we went back to work. After a few times when she was standing still I slipped off her halter and mounted.

We then went to work under saddle. It was a good ride. We had our spooky moments and Irish began to run around again which got her upset. I didn't try to hold her still, but put her into trot and then directed the energy so that she had to focus on me. We were getting some very nice walk-trot-walk work. I asked her for a left lead canter and she picked it up as sweet as you please. After a few circles I brought her back to trot and then we walked on a long rein.

 I then switched direction and asked for a trot. When I asked for right canter she gave a buck and then leapt into it. She hesitated going by the bushes and when I asked her to move forward she gave a couple more bucks. Now I'm sure that I was gripping with my lower leg and I tried to let it go, but do you know what your legs say when you ask them to not grip a bucking horse? Well I won't tell you but I will say that my grandmother would be appalled at their language.  I was finally able to convince them to come off and rode on. I asked for the transition a few more times until it wasn't a buck and then gave her lots of praise.

I hopped off and we headed back to the mounting block.....

Once again she would not stand while I mounted. I spent the next little while getting on and off. I was determined that I was not going to end until she stood still. After what seemed like forever, she stood and moved one step when I got on. I gave her some praise and got off. I then took her back to block and got on. I felt her start to go forward and then stop herself. When I got on she stood perfectly still.

There. Happy now? 
Yes. Very. Thank you. 

I dismounted and headed back to the barn. I check my phone- we had been working for 90minutes. Definitely our longest session. I hosed her off and then let her back out to the paddock.

 At supper time I went out and remembered that I needed to deworm them. I threw a halter on Irish out in the field and gave him the wormer. He's very good about it. I put a halter on Carmen but there was no way she was letting me put that awful stuff in her mouth. After trying a few times I brought her down to the barn. I stood her in the aisle and then put a chain lead up over her nose so that I had my regular rope one but the chain if I needed it.

Me: I know it tastes awful but it's for your own good and you ARE getting de-wormed
Carmen: Yes ma'am

And she took it as meek as you please. I didn't need the chain nor did I have to correct her. Later I wiped off her mouth and she was a sweet as pie.

such a sweet face. She reminds me of that rhyme about the
girl with the curl.....

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Banishing Trolls

My battle with the trolls has it's ups and downs. We've pretty well banished them in our ground work but they like to rattle the bushes and growl once I mount.

I try to convince Carmen that she's most likely hearing these:
But she believes that that is just a disguise masking their true nature:

But I persevere and we're getting there. I am pleased with our progress at the mounting block- for the past 3 rides she stands completely still while I get on and does not move off until I ask her to.

Today I rode in the morning and it was windy. I have ridden her the past 4 days so I was not expecting her to be as lively as she was. She bolted a couple times and was not tuning into me at all. It took a lot of patience and work to get her to focus on me. I was sure she was ready and I took her over to the side so I could remove her halter and put on her bridle. Just as I was going to slip the bit in Irish went bolting down the field which got her all agitated. I had a choice- keep trying or slip off the bridle. I opted for the latter. I knew that she might run off but I thought that was better then her bolting with a bridle dangling from her neck.

But she didn't run off and I slipped the halter back on and we went right back to work. This time I didn't let give her any space to think, as soon as her attention wandered I did something to get it back. She was not impressed but I made sure to keep the pressure on until she did as I asked then I immediately took it off.

She's smart so it didn't take her long to figure it out. Once I saw that her attention was locked on me and not wavering I went back and slipped on her bridle. At the mounting block she stood stock still (yay for patient work) and we went to work.

Of course she was worried about the trolls but every time her attention wandered I asked her to do something that caused her focus to come back. I realized that because she's so good in the non-troll parts I've been giving her breaks there and that was simply reinforcing her ideas of  'good/bad'  sections. So this time I made sure that all of the breaks I offered were in her spooky spots. If she wanted to carry on she could but I was giving her a chance to relax there. I'm not sure if I'm explaining it right but it seems to be working.

Yesterday was much better than today but yesterday was also not windy. We were able to work right into troll corner without mishap. I just kept a soft feel on her mouth and let her know that I had her and it was all okay. Today was not as good but then again, a few weeks ago I don't think I would have gotten her to a place where I could have ridden her.
We finish with a halt in the corner and I dismount.

Later I went into the field to take some photos of them. There's a storm coming and I believe that they were feeling it.
Beware Trolls of Little Miss Feisty

I saw this picture and it gave me pause. It looked so familiar.

same location in the paddock and everything.

It's not that it gives me pain,  I loved him very much and it's like his spirit is still here.

Thursday, June 25, 2015


As you know, Carmen and I have been working through some things. Many (if not all) of which boil down to two issues: confidence and leadership. I developed a plan and have been working on it. I was reasonably sure that I was on the right course but, because I'm not a professional, there was always that nagging voice that was doubtful that I knew what I was doing at all and that I might be ruining a very fine horse.
However, things have been getting steadily better and Carmen has not been running away every time she sees me so I decided that I just needed to carry on.

After all pretending that you know what you're doing is almost as good as knowing. Right?

Yesterday I hurried home from work because Cynthia and I were meeting up to go for a ride. I hadn't ridden since Sunday but I had my usual plan of 'groundwork first and then see'.

Carmen stood in the cross ties and when I went to groom her face (normally she's quite hesitant about this) she rested her face into my chest and closed her eyes as I stroked her forehead. I tacked her up and we headed up to the ring. Once we started to work I realized that the hunch I had in the barn was right- this was going to be a good session. There was not one spook (even in Troll-Corner). So after a f ew minutes, I put on her bridle and we headed for the mounting block. As you know, I won't mount until I'm sure she will stand. I think I could have gotten on the first stand but I decided to play it safe and walk her back again. She stood and I got on.

And then we went to work. Honest to goodness work.
Not that it was perfect. It was not. But there were many many moments of very good. And not that all of the worry about the waving grass, leaves and troll-corner weren't there. They were. But they were muted. So a few small spooks but right back to work. I worked on walk-trot transitions. She can be a bit balky with these at first and I'm working on finding the right balance of aids for her but this time I gave her a small kick and when she broke into canter I let her carry on. The goal was 'forward' and I didn't want to confuse her by pulling her back when she went forward. Besides, riding her canter is like sitting in a canoe going down a lazy river. It's that comfortable.  We even rode right into Troll Corner. it wasn't pretty but we both survived. A few times we halted and I gave her free rein to look around. I had a grip on my bucking strap just in case but I didn't want her to feel that I was holding her there by the bit.

We worked in some Training level stuff: trotting on a bending line, free walk on  long rein, and transitions. Once when we were cantering I could see that a horse fly was stinging her ear. Except for a head shake or two she carried on. On Irish I would have reached forward and got it but I haven't taught Camren that yet. So I came down to trot and then walk and reached forward and squished it.

Ohh, thank you! I didn't know you could do that! 

It's time to get out the fly bonnets.
I eneded by halting near Troll Corner and dismounting.

I feel that we're getting there. And I'm thinking that that it might soon be time for an excursion off site.

On other horse related stuff:
Karley on 'All In' is doing a contest to celebrate her 700th post (I'm not even close to that yet). Her blog is interesting- about her training, showing and life with horses.

And I was shopping for wine as a Birthday present and I had to buy this for myself:
Because you have to buy wine if it has a picture of your horse on it, right? I'm sure that that's a rule. I'll let you know how it tastes.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Some Random Things About Carmen

Carmen has been here about 3 months now and I've learned quite a bit about her.

1. She loves to be groomed. Loves it. But she does not like any stiff bristles or hard curry combs. It's adorable the way she stands and arches her neck.
"Make me pretty" she seems be saying. Her coat has a lovely pewter sheen to it (which is not easy with a gray horse).

2. She likes to be protected
When spring began I contacted her seller and asked if she'd ever had a fly mask on. Jt turned out that she hadn't so I devleoped a plan to introduce her to it. I needn't have bothered. She seemed to understand right from the beginnig what it was for and she dives her head into it as soon as she sees it. When I don't put it on because it's going to rain she looks at me as though to say "you're sending me out without protection?"

Carmen in her full gear. I took this while looking for Irish's fly mask. It seemed to be quite entertaining for them. 
A funny story about flies: a few weeks ago I looked out at the horses and saw a horse fly bugging Carmen. She swished it with her tail and it flew up and bopped her on the nose. Her head came up and she squealed and struck at it with her front hoof. It flew off haphazardly with a concussion. So not onlydoes she not like flies, she offended by them. 

3. She's becoming more social.
Every time I go out the field she comes up to see me. Lately she's been blowing on me. When ever she sees me comout of the house, her ears go up and she heads to the fence. When people first began to come around she was stand-offish. She now comes up to say hi and is interested in new people. Overall there's a big change in how she looks at people.
meeting new friends
4. She's enjoying her meals. Initially she didn't seem to like just the oats (and supplement) diet so I switched her to fat 'N Fibre with a bit of oats. She's thriving on this diet and is at a good weight- she measures at 1089 and she looks good. But she does this weird bite thing when I feed her- her first bite is a sharp chomp. After that she eats like a civilized creature:
All I can say is that it must have been tough to be her mother when she was nursing!

5. Bushes are scary, rabbits are not. 
I forgot to tell you this story during my ride on Saturday. We were just turning up the quarter line (by Irish) when a small rabbit came flying out of the grass and booted it across the ring. I was surprised and jumped. Althought I would have expected her to startle and try to get away, Carmen just looked at it calmly and then carried on. Horses. But it tells me that I'm not crazy when I think that she can become a steady and calm mount. 

Irish took his time to bond to her. I think he had too many sudden changes in companions and was not sure of her. However, they have become good friends and he ignores her signs of 'heat' like he's supposed to. 

This is what I saw when I came home yesterday.

I must say that she's settling into to our little farm. I think that she likes the calmness of it. 

Sunday, June 21, 2015

And Yes!

So I wrote about my last two rides and how I was doing my best to be consistent in my work with Carmen. Now let me tell you about the last two rides I had.

Yesterday (saturday) my mother, brother and two kids came for a BBQ lunch. It was a beautiful summer day and it was wonderful to sit on the deck and eat and talk and laugh with family. My mother is quite taken with Carmen and she was excited to meet her in person. Around 6, Cynthia arrived and we got the horses ready. Irish was a bit off so Cynthia took him  up to walk him and see if we could see what was going on. (With his difficulties it's hard sometimes to tell whether is something new or a flare up of the old. ) I wasn't going to ride but Cynthia insisted.

Carmen started off well on the lunge. Troll-corner got her excited but we kept working. When she seemed to be settled and listening I took her over to the mounting block. Something got her a bit excited so we spent some time there working on standing. Finally I mounted and we started off. Irish was grazing at the end of the ring and she was pretty sure that that's where we needed to be as well. I was pretty sure that that was NOT my plan. This led to some discussion but I'm much better with disobedience than I am with fear. There were much fewer monkey-riding-a-giraffe moments and some really nice work.
'when she's listening she moves so nicely' Cynthia remarked. And she does. I asked her to canter on the left lead and we had a great time moving up and down 2/3rd of the ring. I'm working towards troll-corner under saddle- I don't think we need to have a confrontation at this point. After a brief break I asked her for a right lead canter. She bucked into this transition so I brought her back and asked again. Another buck, but less. She seems less balanced to the right so I worked on trying to get her to relax into the gait and not go quite so fast. We did have some balanced moments.

On our walk break I introduced leg-yielding. Right now she interprets any leg as 'go faster'. I want her to differentiate between leg aids. I was pleased with how she was focussing on me and not on everything else. (Including Irish). We finished with walk-trot transitions- I wanted her to respond to my seat and she's so sensitive that she did very well with that. I called it a day and we went back to the barn where I gave them supper. As I came to her with her dinner she nickered at me. Thank heavens, I thought that we might have missed supper!'

Rain was predicted for sunday so I tacked her up early to make sure I got my work in. I left Irish in the field. She was perfect in the barn even with him far away. This is marked progress over her freaking out if she couldn't see him at all times. In the ring she started off calmly on the lunge. We worked our way up to Troll-Corner. That led to more excitement but I just kept calmly working. We changed direction and went back up and down the ring. The next time in Troll-corner I saw a switch flip in her brain and she started to trot calmly and without fuss.

I put on her bridle and mounted up. I find when we first walk off, her walk is hurried and tense. I worked on trying to get her to slow down and relax. We carried on with what we had worked on yesterday: walk, trot and canter, steering and acceptance of contact. There was approximately 2 discussions about which way we should go but she gave in pretty readily. We got the closest ever to troll corner. I had a few bucks on the right canter depart again. I think it's a mix of it not being her best way (it's not there on the left) and I may be tensing as well in response to her. We'll work on it. I have to say that the Zumba I've been doing for the last year has really strengthened my core. I can sit up and strong and not be moved by her crow hops (they are not big bucks) and sit steadily even when her canter rhythm is not so balanced. Not that I'm perfect- far from it. We even spiralled in on a circle and leg yielded out (at a walk).

I am very happy that we are headed in the right direction.

As for Irish- he was sound on the lunge but did not want his left hind touched. I gave him some bute with supper. This morning he was the same and I could feel some head on the inside of his hind leg above his hock. I don't think that the heat was there yesterday but it was very warm so I might not have noticed it. I gave him more bute and he seems much better tonight. I think he must have pulled it in the field.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

On Perseverance

It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop ~ Confucius
I do not kid myself that I am a horse trainer. In my mind a horse trainer works with many horses all the time and has tons of experience bringing them along. What I am is a horse owner who has a strong desire to do the best by the horses entrusted in my care. I actually don't worry that there are other people who could ride my horse 'better'. Of course there are better riders than me out there. That's not the relevant piece. What's relevant is that these are my horses and I need to do the best I can with them.

What I do have going for me is that I consider what I'm doing. I don't engage in false modesty- I know a lot of things and I am a capable rider (on most days). I also like to think about what I'm doing and figure out what I can do better. I would love to have some regular coaching to help but that is not working out for me right now and I need to carry on as best I can.

What I also have is perseverance. If I have a goal I will stick to it and I do not give up easily (or ever, says Ed).

Which brings me to Carmen. I'm working on a regular work schedule with her, even if it's just lunging and it is working. The truce with Troll-Corner is still holding. While I would like it to be like the truce with between the Federation and the Klingon empire- eventually leading to acceptance and friendship, Carmen is of the opinion that it should be like the truce with the Romulans with a clear and well maintained neutral zone.**

(***yes, I did just use a Star Trek metaphor for my training. I am truly that geeky***)

Thursday I wanted to ride so after work I got her ready and we went to the ring. It was a windy day with lots of fluttering leaves and grasses. She was pretty 'up' and we worked through a lot on the ground. I then put on her bridle and we started with the mounting block. Something spooked her so it took a lot of patient work to get her to stand. I was okay with that. I figured if we spent the next hour on just that thing, that was fine. Fortunately it didn't take an hour and I was able to mount while she stood.

It is clear that we need to work on transferring her confidence with me on the ground to me in the saddle. She was pretty spooky about stuff and I had to keep riding her. I worked very hard to not get frustrated and then I realized that I just needed to ride and let her figure it out. I don't want to be trapped into this tiny spot of my full size ring because that is the only spot where she feels secure. But I am willing to work from there. I realized that I had to accept that she was going to spook and be willing to risk coming off in order to get on with stuff.

So I set a goal of a 20 meter circle and off we went. Parts of it were lovely and parts looked like a giraffe being ridden by a monkey while tap dancing sideways. I was 'whatever. We're still going that way'.

I finally got my circle with only a small spook and called it a day.

I felt a bit discouraged.

Yesterday (Friday), I was off and it was going to rain later so I got her ready in the morning. My plan was that I was going to stick it out and we were going to work in that ring. If I came off I was getting back on.

We repeated from yesterday with the ground work and the mounting block (but not as bad probably because it wasn't windy). I went to work on us covering more ground. I like to use the exercise of 'moving circles' so that I do a series of 20 metre circles down the ring. I find it helps with bend and there much less chance of a big bolt that way. I focussed on being clear on what I wanted. I also made sure that I had a firm (not hard) hold of the outside rein and gave room on the inside.

I find that if I praise her for doing what I want she tries really hard to do it again (she loves praise), so I tried praising her at a good point at the circle and keeping it up as we came to the 'danger zone' parts. It worked - she was much better. Finally I got her to the point where we were doing figure 8's and she was changing her bend easily and truly listening to me and not looking for danger.

We then went to work. In the past when we have gotten to a good spot I have done a bit and gotten off. I decided that not today. Today was the day we were going to add to what we do. I carried on with the figure 8s, we added in 10 metre circles and transitions. None of it was 'hard' but it was all about her carrying herself in a training level frame (hate that word but you know what I mean). We finished on a walk with a long rein and I got off down in Troll-Corner.

She was tired and sweaty and not-stressed. Me too.

tired princess after her workout. 
I know that there is a calm, confident horse in there, because I see glimmers of it. We will get there, I just need to persevere.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

In Which Carmen Makes a Bid for Boss Mare

Don't worry she fails. 

I've noticed a marked increase in her confidence level. She leaves Irish to graze and doesn't seem to care when she's in the barn with me and he's outside. 

Carmen is also listening much better and not so worried about what's going on around her. Yesterday I was lunging her before the rain started and it was quite windy. She was going along and then suddenly slammed on the brakes and ran backwards a few strides before stopping. She looked at me. I stood still. 
'No' I said 
'Something fluttered' she reported
'yes I know. It flutters a lot but if it comes in the ring I will take care of it'
and she trotted right back to work. 

Now about her bid. I was doing my night time chores and her hay rack was empty. I was dealing with Irish first and this did not impress her. As I walked by I heard her snap her teeth at me from behind. 
I stopped and looked at her. 
you better not have done what I thing you've done
She looked at me ' wasn't me. It was probably Irish'
Irish 'do not bring me into this -I know better'

I stood there for a minute and she poked me with her nose- she didn't open her mouth but it was 'bite like' I responded immediately by sending her out of my space. She backed right off. I carried on with my tasks. This morning she tried to move me out of her space in the stall and I sent her off again. 

I truly don't mind that she's testing boundaries. I look at it as part of her growth in self-confidence. 

However, I am boss mare. 

Period. I will not tolerate rudeness in anyone and that includes my horses and dogs. I prefer to respond to the mild cues so that it doesn't escalate. I find horses send a million signs before they escalate to something dangerous. Sometimes it's easy to miss. I may very well have missed a couple. The trick is to react quickly and then move on. I don't need to send her away and then cuddle her and nor do I need to over react with anger. 

Tonight, her manners were perfect. I suspect that there might be one or two more tests that I don't intend to fail. 

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Life Lessons

Discipline is based on pride, on meticulous attention to details and on mutual respect and confidence. Discipline must be a habit so ingrained that it is stronger than the excitement of the goal or the fear of failure ~ Gary Ryan Blair

This is the life lesson that I am learning with Carmen. She is smart, sensitive and reactive. I have always considered myself to be disciplined. And that is partly true. What I am is driven. That has worked for most of my life. Now it's time for me to figure out how to be disciplined with Carmen.  I have to put my excitement aside and take it one step at a time.

I am learning to trust my instincts in how we progress and it's paying off. What I am also learning is that when I'm with her she must have 100% of my attention. She knows the instant my attention wanders and does not like it.

What I realized yesterday is that I must also ride her with a plan for every stride. Otherwise she makes decisions and then becomes annoyed if I disagree. That makes sense to me. Learning to do it in practice is hard but coming along.

 I was very happy with our ride yesterday. I rode her without Irish in the ring and she was so tuned into to me that it was clear to her when my attention wandered and she made it clear to me that she did not like it. Not that she did anything bad but she would become tense and rushed. As soon as I focussed she relaxed and listened. It was so black and white that I'd have to be dim to not recognize it.

Our confidence in each other is growing:

  • We seemed to have formed a truce with the trolls in Troll-Corner. While not perfect she was willing to accept that they may not leap out and eat her at any second. 
  • She was able to stand quietly in the cross ties without having to see Irish
  • After I took her out to hose her off and she had her drink from the hose- it's quite comical to watch 

So that is my new code of conduct: focus, attention, patience. 
bed head

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Third Time's the Charm

Working with a talented, sensitive mare is not for sissies. I'm learning that working with Carmen is a game of inches. I've been working on making small, progressive steps and being satisfied that I'm on the right path and that learning to go slow is good for me. 

I've also realized that I need to work with her much more often and consistently. It's been hard- between work and the weather- to schedule ring time. I've decided that I need to be more playful about it. This requires me to look at the weekly weather forecast and my weekly schedule and plan what days I'm going to work with her. My goal is for it to be5-6 times per week. Even if it's just 15 minutes of lunging.

Which brings me to the title of this blog post.

Tuesday I rushed home from work and ran into the house. As I came downstairs in my riding clothes Ed looked at me and said 'what about supper?'.

'Save some for me' I said and headed out to the barn. I brought the horses in and tacked up Carmen. I wasn't sure if I would actually ride but I wanted to be ready. In the end I didn't ride. The wind was wild and Carmen was not impressed with the blowing leaves and branches. I decided that the day was about helping her to relax despite the 'dangers' around her. She wasn't so sure that this was a good goal but I persevered. There is this one corner that she's convinced is occupied by trolls.
Carmen: "invisible, underground trolls. those are the most dangerous and you don't appreciate that I'm trying to save both of our lives"

The trick is to work her gradually closer and not feed the trolls fear. By the end we were better. Not great. But better. I decided to be happy with that.

Wedsnesday, Cynthia came down to ride and spend the night. We tacked up the horses and headed up to the ring. This time she was much better with the troll-corner. After working with her on the ground I mounted up- after repeating our mounting block exercises from Sunday. I worked on steering and getting her to go to more places in the ring and still listen to me. This required me to be steady in the saddle and steady with my aids. Not easy with a wiggly, squirmy, looky horse. But I persevered and we got better. At the end I was walking her out with Irish and I wanted to get her to walk by the troll corner. I figured that Irish could help settle her. And she did well- we walked right by. then something caught her eye from behind (Carmen: it was a troll- it was coming at us) and she scooted forward, spooking Irish. He was not impressed. After we rode we untacked the horses and let them graze on the grass at the edge of the ring. That was Cynthia's brilliant idea to get Carmen feeling more comfortable. And it seemed to work. However, overall Wednesday was much better than Tuesday.

After feeding the horses we went out to dinner in Lunenburg. I had some of the best scallops I've had in a long time. A good dinner and a good glass of wine ensured that I had a great sleep.

Thursday  morning I awoke bright and early. I had the day off and wanted to sleep in but I was wide awake at six a.m. After coffee and breakfast we got the horses ready. I could see right away that Carmen was feeling relaxed and mellow.  And this mood carried over to the ring. We did our ground work and troll-corner was much better. I could actually get her into the corner without a battle or distraction. Her trot and canter on the lunge were very steady and relaxed. She wasn't completely tracking up at the trot but I liked the rhythm so much and how relaxed she was I left it alone.

I mounted up and we walked off. I could feel right away that she was tuned into me. For the first time I felt like I was actually schooling her. I could work on bend and transitions. She resisted our first walk-trot transition but I just kept asking her and we steadied out. The next time it was just from my seat. We did figure 8's and changes of rein. I even asked her for a canter and it was lovely. I was able to just sit there and ride the motion. After a while I brought her back to trot and then walk. For the first time I felt comfortable enough to give her the full rein to stretch out. Up to now I've kept a bit 'just in case'. She stretched out and walked along. She doesn't stay long and low  for long but it'll come.

I finished by asking her her to spiral in on the circle and leg yield out at the walk. She wasn't sure what I wanted but I kept it low key and we got some beautiful leg-yield steps. I immediately stopped and hopped off. I untacked her in the ring and let her graze for a bit.

I was so happy- for the first time I felt like I was actually training and not just working on keeping her calm. It's clear that she's enjoyed it as well. After, when I turned her out, she stayed hanging out with us as I did some barn chores. It reinforces my thought that she needs regular work with me and we'll be fine.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Steady Improvement

After my ride Friday I was excited to ride on Saturday. Mother Nature, however, had other ideas and she brought in steady and drenching rain. I thought that I might just take Carmen up to the ring after the rain stopped but I ended up getting upset by something and thought that it would be a bad idea to carry that into the ring. Instead I brought her out into the cross ties and we did a beauty session.

As I brushed her and took the tangles out of her tail I found myself getting calmer and calmer. I even tried french braiding her mane. I've been letting it grow out and it's almost long enough to do her full neck. As I was braiding her I saw that she was just standing there, one leg cocked, soaking up the attention and realized that that was success too.

Today dawned sunny and clear so once Cynthia arrived we headed out to get the horses. This time Carmen walked up and sniffed the sand pile (of death). As she sniffed it she seemed to be saying 'oh this isn't anything'

In the ring we started with our in hand work and she immediately relaxed into it. Not that she wasn't spooky in places but she was so much more settled and focussed. She snorted and blew and just seemed to be understanding and relaxing into the work. We lunged up and down the ring and she was very good.

We walked over to the side of the ring and I slipped off her halter and put on her bridle. I then walked to the middle of the ring and did some work on getting her to yield to the bit. She does much better on the left than on the right and I thought that I would try some carrot stretches later to see if she could learn what I wanted.

My next task was to tackle standing at the mounting block. I don't like it when horses walk off as or right after I mount. I decided that the best way to work on this was to not worry about mounting (I know, I know, I can be slow sometimes). So what I did was ask her to walk to the block and stand. I then gave her some pats and then we walked off. After repeating that a few times I introduced the idea of me positioning her at the block- I used a dressage whip so I could stand at her head but ask her to yield her quarters over to the block. Then more scratches and we walk off. After a few of these I stood on the block and then put my foot into the stirrup. She began to walk off. I simply hopped off and we repeated the above. Then I put my foot in the stirrup and mounted. She stood there. I reached forward and scratched her on her favourite spot. She wiggled her lip. Cynthia looked at us.
"ta dah" I smiled. And then asked her to walk off.

The next step was for me to be ride with clear intention so she knew what I was asking. What I figured out is that if we disagree- say like when she wants to follow Irish and I say no- she gets tense and then she's far more likely to find something to spook at. I can feel her looking around. I don't think that it's deliberate -I'll show you- kind of thing, but more that when she's tense she's far more reactive. Keeping her mind busy and my body relaxed seems to be the key to working through that. When she's not sure about going forward I find small, short aids work better - she does not like to be squeezed.

I worked on riding her around the ring and keeping her with me. At one point we were trotting and she picked up a canter. Rather than argue I decided to go with it and rode it a few circles and then brought her back to the trot. Then we walked and halted.
okay we're done
umm, no. we're not. 
yes. I walked, I trotted, I cantered. We're done. 
I think we can do more. 
So I asked her to walk off. I even gave her a long rein- this is the first time I could trust that she wouldn't spook on me.

I was smiling as I dismounted.

We're getting there.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Changing the Topic of Conversation.

Carmen and I did some work yesterday in the ring. I haven't been able to work her since Monday because of weather and work. It's not ideal to have long breaks and I'm going to work out a plan so that doesn't happen too often. However, sometimes it cannot be helped.

I got her tacked up and we headed up to ring. This required us walking past the sand pile (of death). I thought that there might be a bit of an issue because of how close we had to go to it but she besides a brief hesitation she walked right by. She stopped twice going up to the ring but I let her know that she was to keep going.

I started as always asking her to walk in hand and listen to me. Her attention came and went. There's this one corner that she spooks at and today was no different. As we walked by she tried to bolt past. After a few pa
sses I realized that I was just telling her 'no' and usually too late. I needed to change our conversation from 'Run AWAY'  'No!' to something different. I thought about what I do under saddle- and that's to address the behaviour not the spook. With the spook she would drop her inside shoulder, change her bend and try to cut me off in her desire to get away. So that's what I addressed. I didn't worry about the speed as such but rather that she needed to bend away. It took a few passes and I won't say that she magically improved but she got significantly better.

We then lunged for a bit and she was good. So it was time to get on. The first time at the mounting block she walked off. So I brought her around a few times asking her to just stand. Once we had that I got on. The first little bit was 'interesting'. She was more interested in choosing the pace, direction and everything else. I felt like I was constantly arguing with her.  Once Cynthia came by and heard me growl at her and asked 'oh is she being ADD?'
'No' I said. 'She's quite clear what she wants to do. It's just not what I want'.

And then I realized- all I was doing was telling what to not do but I wasn't letting her know what I wanted her to do.  So I decided that I needed to change our topic again. I began to ignore everything and focus on being clear on what I wanted- which was steering, brakes and gait control. And things got better after that. Not perfect. But better. A few times she sped up her trot and I did my level best to keep my posting slow so that she would come back to me. I realized that if she was all over the place I needed to be the steady centre for her find.

I found a good note and then dismounted. She stood there with a soft expression and droopy lip. She felt quite relaxed and looked pretty pleased with herself.  Even when Irish left the ring ahead of her she stood quite relaxed.

I've decided that I need a plan for our summer and am working on that now.
what are these plans you're talking about? 

Thursday, June 4, 2015


Yesterday we had a load of sand delivered. I had arranged for the person to just dump it behind the barn and we would deal with it ourselves.  Besides seeing that it was there I didn't think too much about it.

This morning, I opened the stall doors (as per usual) and Irish came out into the small paddock (as you may recall the small paddock has a short corridor that leads out to the grass paddock). Carmen started to come out and then suddenly swerved sideways coming up against the fence.
well that was strange I thought.

Irish looked at her, shrugged (yes horses can shrug but it's more a feeling then a gesture) and moseyed out to the grass pasture. Carmen started to follow and then ran backwards. It was obvious that she was on high alert.

I looked around and then, aha! I realized that it was the pile of sand, aka the horse eating blob that-is-not-to-be-trusted. She couldn't figure out how to get out the field with Irish without going by and she was not following Irish. I was surprised by that.

So now I had a few options to consider.

I could leave her to figure it out on her own. Which she probably would have.

I could halter her and lead her by.

both of those options also could have ended up with her in a total tizzy.

I decided to do something different. As Carmen was heading back into her stall I took a step towards the gate. She stopped and then took a step towards me. I took two more steps and she came right behind me. I made sure that I was taking slow but confident steps. I didn't look at her or speak. I simply walked towards the gate and the corridor to the field. She followed right behind me until we got to the entrance of the field and trotted off. She began to graze but keeping an eye of the new threat. I walked over and stood by the pile and she watched me curiously.

I then carried on with my day.

It was such a small thing- having her follow me by the big scary object with no halter, lead or pressure from me.

But it feels big.