dancing horses

dancing horses

Friday, July 31, 2015

Our First On-Site Lesson

As you know I've been looking into various ways to have some coaching with Carmen. My philosophy is that no matter how advanced you may be (and I'm not) you always need someone to help you improve. However, this has not been easy in my area at all. I do have options if I want to trailer but they are all about 2 hours away. Again, while that is useful it's a long and tiring day and harder to arrange when you work full time.

One day I saw a FB post by Roz Moskovits. She's a highly respected equine coach that I had encountered at various shows (here's her website: http://rozmoskovits.com). I always enjoyed listening to her coach her students at the shows. She lives a ways away from me but had a post that she was open to travelling. In a fit of desperation I sent her a long pleading email asking if she would consider coming my way. She wrote back and I started to read expecting the "I'm sorry it's just too far" but instead she said she would love to come. But she would need some more riders. I put a FB post out and have one other interested party (besides me and Cynthia). She agreed to come anyway and we set the date for yesterday (Thursday).

That morning I dragged the ring, brought up lawn chairs and mowed the grass path up to the ring. My plan was to work with Carmen before our lesson and be ready for when she came. Of course she was early (an equine coach who's early?!). We chatted in the barn about Carmen, her personality, my goals and our progress and issues. I said my biggest issue was that she did not trust the grass and leaves blowing on one side of my ring and while I can work through it on the ground it's much harder under saddle. Roz also has an Andalusian and is familiar with their personality and quirks.

We headed up to the ring for our lesson. She watched me do the ground work and gave me some general pointers but overall seemed happy enough with what I was doing. I then got on and we started our ride. Just as I was coming around by the trees a gust of breeze sent the leaves off and Carmen gave a big spook into the middle of the ring. I lost my balance but stayed on. Roz said 'whoa that was a close one'. I guess it was but funnily enough those don't bother me anymore. I know that she won't do more than that and I can ride it out so I'm not so worried.

Initially Carmen was very tight and short strided. Roz had us work on slowing her tempo and asking her to bend and relax. She gave me some solutions to stop the spinning into the middle which was essentially to raise up the inside hand to block the shoulder from dropping in. It really worked. We just kept working quietly and calmly. Roz has a very calm and matter of fact approach to teaching that I really liked. There was no raised voices, there was no 'you musts'. She just talked us through our issues. I was actually glad that Carmen was tense and a bit spooky because that's what I need help with.

What I also liked about the lesson was that Roz never argued with me. When Carmen and I came by the gate she slowed right down and when I asked to go forward she pinned her ears so I gave a short, sharp kick and she moved on. Roz asked me to instead just give a series of gentle squeezes. I explained that seemed to get her more pissed off but the short kick works. Roz didn't argue, instead she gave me another way of looking at it which was that (and I will likely not do her justice here) if I want Carmen to learn and understand give her the time she needs to respond by asking and asking so she can figure it out and that it's all okay. And then I laughed because she said "and if she's just being bitchy, sure give a kick and tell her to get on with it".  I loved how she explained the whys and wherefores of what she was asking me to do and how that would translate into our future work. She was respectful and obviously cares that people and horses work well together and are happy in the partnership.

We worked on slowing Carmen down and asking her to work from behind. I needed to sit up more and give forward with my hands, not drop them. In the end we had Carmen working back to front and flowing in her trot. She was happy to go forward and no longer cared about the leaves or anything else. I would have loved to do more but it was Cynthia's turn so I took her back to the barn and hosed her off. She was happy enough to stay down by the barn away from Irish and only called once when I left her all alone.

Irish and Cynthia did very well in their lesson and she got some of the best walk-canter transitions I've seen on him in a long time. He went from being stiff and on the forehand to being relaxed and forward. It was lovely.

And Roz offered to come back next week while I'm still on vacation (*insert happy dance*). After that we can work out a schedule on Saturdays. She still has space if anyone is interested.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Sunday's Ride

Saturday night was NOT a late night for us. We all crashed pretty early. Once again Carmen was calm and happy in the morning. Irish ate only half of his breakfast because he was too busy seeing if Karen's horses were being let out ahead of him. Of course they were and after that he wouldn't touch his grain. I have learned to not worry about this. I knew that once he was home he'd go back to normal. 

After I took them out to their small paddock. As I picked out the stalls I saw Irish running around like a fool with Carmen behind him. I did not want them to be carrying on like this. It was obvious that Carmen did not want to be running. I called her name and she stopped and looked at me. I gave a big sigh and relaxed my shoulders. She paused, and then Irish came cantering by. She trotted off but stopped and looked at me again. I sighed again. With that she blew out and then began to graze ignoring Irish. This resulted in him settling down as well. 

After our coffee and breakfast, Cynthia and I got them ready for a ride. Our goal was to practice what we had learned the day before. I normally ride with a safety vest but I felt that I didn't need it this morning. I began by some work in hand and then lunging. She was calm and focussed. I asked her to canter and she looked at me
"I'm too tired to canter"
"come on, you can do it"
"fine but I'm REALLY tired"

She broke a couple times and after making my point about keeping it up I brought her back to a halt. I put on her bridle and brought her to the mounting block. AS I stepped up she swung her butt away from the block. Karen had told me of a trick of having a crop on the opposite side to smack if they swing. So that's what I did. It surprised her and she kicked at it. I brought her back and this time she didn't move. Good girl. 
I got on and we began our work. I was practicing my breathing, relaxing and being clear. She was quite focussed on me. Not that she didn't worry about some parts of the ring but it wasn't any huge deal and she kept going when I asked her to. Karen took some video so I'll have some to show you after. Her trot was lovely and she was much less restless with the contact. I asked her to canter and it took a few tries to get it. When we did get it, it was lovely. Karen suggested that I try to feel when the outside hind leg was down and then ask. I wasn't sure if I could feel that but it turns out I could and when I asked she picked it up as sweet as you please. I need to be more careful of my timing. 
Her canter is so smooth I could ride it forever. But she was tired so I didn't. 

I finished up with a few leg yields. when she moved away from my leg without speeding up or worrying I stopped and dismounted. She stood beside me relaxing while Cynthia finished her ride. Irish, despite his silliness, was a perfect gentleman under saddle. Carmen nuzzled me a bit and then she then began to play with a blanket that was on a chair. I love seeing her personality come out. 

When it was time to load up she walked right on without hesitation. I think I could have sent her on without me. Fortunately the drive home was uneventful. When we got home Carmen backed off as unconcerned as anything. I haven't been working on trailer loading but I've been doing tons of groundwork. I believe that that is carrying over to the trailer loading. 

We turned the horses out for a couple hours of grazing. It was all I could do to stay awake long enough to do the final hay and water top up. When I went out to the barn Irish and Carmen looked very sleepy as well. 

I had a lot of hopes for this weekend but it  exceeded all of my expectations. I've learned that she travels wells and I see the mature, calm horse that she will be. 

Saturday, July 25, 2015

One Giant Step Forward

After we arrived at Karen's we put the horses in their stalls.  Carmen was uncertain about coming in but Cynthia helped with strategic taps on her behind with a dressage whip. Once in her stall, Carmen looked around, peed, drank and ate her hay.  She was totally calm.

Irish, on the other hand, was in a tizzy.


After letting her chill for a bit, I brought her out and got her ready. She stood in the cross ties calmly and followed me I to the ring.  In there she looked at everything and worried about the open doors.  But she listened to me and did not have any melt downs. She was very intrigued by herself in the mirror which was cute.  I decided to leave it at that for the night and ride the next day.  It seemed to me that it had been a big enough day for the both of us and my goal was to keep this weekend positive.

That night a bunch of us went out to dinner and talked horses to our hearts content. It was fabulous and I slept deeply that night.

The next morning Carmen was relaxed and happy to see me. Irish was tired after spending the night staring out his window at Karen's horses.  I was happy that Carmen was not buying into his energy at all.

Karen is aCentered Ridding instructor and she gave me a lesson on Carmen. We started off at the walk and we were tense as usual. Karen introduced me to concept of 'grounding ' in the saddle. It was revolutionary.  I have the tendency to hold my breath when I'm concentrating but you can't ground and do that at the same time. I also learned about removing weight from my stirrups. As I breathed, grounded and released tension she became relaxed and focussed. I ignored where her head was but focussed on my seat and her hind end. Her trot became more and more fluid, she took up contact and we flowed.

I love it when you ride and the world drops away and shrinks to become two beings occupying one purpose.
She would look and even spook slightly at things.
Carmen: What's that?
Me:  I don't know. Does it matter? 
Carmen: no. Probably not. 
Me: okay then. 

We ended with her transitioning by my seat and breath.

Can you hear my smile?

This mare has so much heart and talent I feel blessed to have her.

The Epic Trailer Ride

The plan was to leave around noon.  I spent the morning getting everything ready so when Cynthia arrived we could load and go.  After the briefest of hesitations, Carmen walked right on.

We headed out and the sky was sunny. The journey involved the highway and then cross- country to Karen's.  As we turned off the highway there was a big black cloud.  We drove into a torrential rainfall. I could barely see 20 feet but after a few miles we drove out and I breathed a sigh of relief.  About halfway we saw cars stopped and we came to a standstill. Cynthia got out and she came back with the report of a very bad accident around the bend with emergency crews and ambulances.

Cynthia consulted as to how we could turn around and we were told to turn down this side road and it would take us back to the main road.  I turned down it but I figured I could back up and turn around to go back on the main road.  Which I did. As we drove by the guys in the road they gave me a round of applause

Now we had to backtrack to the highway and go around via Halifax.  This added over an hour to our trip.  We also drove in and out of that rain cloud 4 times.  By the time we arrived I eats tired and I needed a washroom.  But the horses were troopers and Carmen unloaded as calm as you would like.  She settled into her stall like a seasoned campaigner.

I was ready for my horse weekend to begin.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Horse Time

Is there anything more fun than spending time with other people who love horses? You can share stories, discuss the best tack deals and talk about horses in as much detail as you like without looking for that tell-tale glaze your friends get as they try to look interested in your talk about the perfect transition.

That's why it was fun having my niece here this week. She has the horse bug (sorry sis) and we had a grand time together. Not only did she ride but she helped in the barn without being asked. She's headed back home and the barn is a bit emptier. Irish quite enjoyed her as well. I also gave pony rides to the two younger children. They are now wanting lessons when they return home and want to buy a farm.  I'm not sure the my brother in law is speaking to me now.

Now for my big news: Carmen, Irish, Cynthia and I are hitting the road this weekend. I'm heading to my friend Karen's place for the weekend. I thought that it would be a good way to see how Carmen travels without the pressures of a show or a clinic. The goal is for Carmen and I to have a positive experience working in a new environment (translation: not die). As I'm likely going to have to travel for lessons I want to see if it will be 'worth it'. While spending money to teach a horse to settle is not a bad goal I would like to be able to get a little more out of it.

There are going to be other horse friends around as well. It seems a good way to start my vacation. Plus I've made muffins. I will try to post updates but don't worry if I'm quiet.

And for while I'm away here's a video of Caelen and Irish:

Sunday, July 19, 2015

And Just Like That

If I didn't know better, I'd say that it was a miracle. There has a been a significant shift in our partnership and she has begun to accept my leadership from the saddle. I know that it's all related to the groundwork so I've been trying to put forward the same 'vibe' when I ride.

Things have shifted from schooling the ring to schooling in the ring. Which is huge. I'm no longer constrained to a 20 metre circle in the centre. We can use the full ring and work on stuff. Not that there are not any discussions. There are. The other day Carmen was clear that she was not going down into one corner of the ring. I was clear that we were. So everytime she ducked away I simply brought her around in a small circle and pointed her in the direction that I wanted. I didn't make a big fuss and I was not harsh. When she was pointed in my direction and heading the right way I praised and released. It went something like this:
Carmen: NO. We'll die if we go there. *ducks off to the left to head to the safe zone*
Me: We'll be fine. * moves her in a small circle back to the rail* good girl.
Carmen: NO!
Me: yes. 
*repeat above maneuver 6-7 times. *

Carmen: *sigh* okay then.
Me: good girl. 

And it was over. we went into each corner. I smiled happily.

Me: yay! now we can work on stuff. Oh wait. I should have a  plan for that. um.....

Now we can begin the real work. It's all very exciting.

I was out in the field and she came up to graze beside me. 

It does my heart good to see how settled she's become at our place and how happy she seems.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Irish Gets a New Minion

My sister, brother in law and their four kids have come to Nova Scotia for a visit. Her oldest daughter, my niece has the horse bug. I believe her first word was 'pony'. My sister blamed that on me but I really have no  idea what she's talking about *cough*. Caelen has been taking lessons for while now at her home.

Remember my post about my breakthrough with Carmen? Well now let me tell you about Caelen's first ride on Irish. Cynthia rode him first. We wanted to make sure that a) he wouldn't be doing any violent headshaking and b) that the sillies were worked out since he hadn't been ridden for a couple weeks.  We took off the nose band of his bridle and put on his fly mask over top. He was much much better. There were a couple head tosses but nothing too bad.

It was Caelen's turn. I snapped a lead on Irish's bit first to walk them and make sure that nothing would go wrong (I'm very safety concious). Irish seemed fine so I unsnapped the lead. The goal was for Caelen to walk him in a circle but he kept coming to me.

Me: Irish what are you doing? Get back out there. 
Irish: but I like it here with you. It's safer for the foal up on my back. 
Me: cut her some slack and let her steer you
Irish: I'm teaching her. If I do it for free then how does she learn? 
Me: sigh. 

After a bit of negotiating they got it together out on the circle. Irish would dive in every chance he got. Once that was going well Caelen picked up a trot. Irish has a bouncy trot but she was doing well with him. They headed off down the long side of the ring, I saw a switch flip as Irish realized that Caelen weighed no more than a flea. He picked up speed and broke to canter.  wheeeee! com'on kid, let's go. 

shit. I thought.  I'm going to break my niece and my sister is going to kill me. I'll have to change my name and move away. 

But I stayed calm and had Caelen bring him back to trot. As they came back up and headed down the long side I saw Irish get a gleam in his eye again (not that I could see his eye with the mask on but it was there nonetheless) and I dove at his head bringing him up short.

Irish: That was FUN! 
Me: Knock it off she didn't ask you to canter. 
Irish: I'm pretty sure she did. Plus she was fine. You worry too much. We can go again! 
Me: You are going to be the death of me. 

For the record Caelen was fine and unworried. It was all me. She rode him well and we finished up on a good note. Irish really enjoyed being back at work.

I'm an awesome teacher. 

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

A Breakthrough

One of the things that I promised myself is that I would be honest on this blog. That doesn't mean that I post about everything but I will not lie.

That said, I've had some ups and downs with Carmen. She is young, talented, sensitive and spirited. Establishing her trust of me in the saddle has not been a simple road. She and I didn't have the same history that I had with Steele so it's a work in progress.

With that in mind let me tell you a story:

On Saturday my ride with her was good and bad. She was clearly uncertain about going into the ends of the ring where the grass was blowing. I rode her and stayed calm and didn't get upset. But I won't like and say that I was not frustrated in the end. All I want to do is walk, trot and canter around the ring- it didn't seem like a big ask. We would be going along and then I would meet resistance. I would persist and we'd carry on. Until we came that way again.  I ended the ride on a good note and put her away.

Sunday my niece was with me (more on that in another post). She takes riding lessons and we were going to have her ride Irish. Cynthia came to ride him first to make sure he was okay. Carmen was clearly 'up' and we lunged until she was listening. When I went to mount she did a mini bolt down the ring. We had a couple of those but I stuck it out. I wanted her to canter softly on a circle both ways. When she did that I stopped and got off. Cynthia held her and I asked her to take her to troll corner and stand there.

Later we headed into the city for a BBQ. On the way home I was thinking some more about Carmen and what to do. It was not terrible and we were making progress but it felt like I was missing something. Now I have the tendency to 'overthink' things but as we were driving along some thoughts  floated up to the surface.

I realized that I was working Carmen slowly with the idea that as she relaxed we could get into those sticky corners. However, that might not be how she was seeing it. She might be viewing my approach as being non-supportive and leaving her on her own to fend for herself. Perhaps I needed to be more certain that we could tackle those corners.

When I got home I headed right out to the barn and put on her halter. We marched up to the ring. She hesitated as we walked up but I did not- I marched along and she came behind me. In the ring my goal was simple- Carmen was to listen to me and to go into those corners. I won't bore you with the details but be sure that I was not harsh and that I broke it down into simple steps.

In hand we walked into each corner. If she got in front of me I stopped her and backed her up. On the lunge I let her choose the gait as we went through the spooky parts but she was to go into the corner. Predictably enough she was cantering and trotting quite quickly. I ignored that - if she went into the corner I gave her praise. When she showed signs of relaxing I let her carry on a few more circles and then asked her to walk. She did. For a few steps and then ran away again. I let her go and asked again. Finally I could see her eye soften and she dropped her head and blew.
whoooaaa I said. And she did. Right in troll corner.  I then took her over to the mounting block and she stood stock still while I climbed up and laid over her back. I was tempted to hop on but I'm not an idiot (well mostly) so I didn't. We finished up by heading back to the barn for a groom and some fussing over.

Monday I was off and in the morning I got her ready and we went up to the ring.  I marched us right into troll corner. She was a bit up but I repeated from the day before- she was go into the corner but the gait was up to her. If she trotted out of it then she had to trot all the way around. When she returned to the corner I removed the pressure and let her decide if she wanted a break. In five minutes she came to dead stop in troll corner and looked at me- this is what you want, right?  She dropped her head and I took her over to put on her bridle.

At the mounting block she was made of stone as I got on. I won't go into all the details of my ride but let me tell you that the area of the ring that she flatly refused to go into before was no big deal. We walked, trotted and cantered troll corner.  I was over the moon.

Tuesday was a day off. Today (Weds) was threatening rain so I brought her up to the ring to do some groundwork. She was a bit uncertain about troll corner but I carried on and within 5 minutes she was going where I wanted at the gait I wanted. As soon as I wanted her to turn she would stop and turn. We stopped at troll corner and she dropped her head to graze. I let her do that for a while and then we went over to the other side of the ring. She grazed there as well. As she grazed I reached down and unsnapped her lunge line. I backed up and began to slowly walk down the ring. I didn't look back. Out of the corner of my eye I saw her lift her head and then she slowly began to follow me down the ring. I stopped- she stopped. I walked, she walked.

It was awesome.

Maybe we'll get there after all.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Head Shaking

A few weeks ago Cynthia came out to ride Irish. I was working with Carmen when Cynthia asked me to look at Irish- he was violently tossing and twisting his head.

We readjusted his bridle, but it kept up. I told her to ride him along and see if it disappeared. It didn't. So I hopped on. It didn't feel bit related and it didn't feel like 'soreness'. He was quite willing to go forward but the head tossing/twisting/shaking continued. I hopped off and Cynthia took him down and sprayed him with flyspray in case it was the bugs. She got back on. The behaviour became more violent and she had to stop.

I had to do some thinking. The first thing that occurred to me was his teeth. But they were floated in April and it didn't seem to be related to the bit. I also have noticed no changing in his eating. Usually, if Irish needs his teeth done he starts dropping grain all over the place. Also, he was doing this on the lunge and running in the field.

I had a glimmer of an idea- I had read posts about 'head shaking' before on the internet but hadn't really paid too much attention. Google was my friend and I got a quick education:

  • Sudden, involuntary jerking up and down of the nose (exactly like a bug has flown up his nose) 
  • Sometimes it is more a violent shaking of the ears 
  • Hanging the ears out to the side (aeroplane ears)
  • Urgent rubbing of their nose on their leg, or dragging it along the ground, (sometimes forgetting they were cantering at the time!) 
  • Leaping around trying to ‘box’ their nose with their front feet
  • Pressing their head into you
  • General distress and agitation
  • Urine pH over 8
(from http://www.calmhealthyhorses.com/neuro/head_flick.html)

Other than the urine PH Irish and the boxing thing, Irish has all of these symptoms. Turns out that it seems to be related to an abnormal firing of the trigeminal nerve that supplies sensations to the face (http://www.thehorse.com/articles/23872/headshaking-triggers-and-treatment). This causes the horse to feel a stinging/burning sensation which leads to the behaviour. Turns out that it's not unusual for it to have a sudden onset.

So then what causes it? Well there seems to be lots of theories- allergies, sunlight, diet (hard to find peer reviewed references for that one so if you have some let me know) and idiopathic (which is science talk for 'who knows?'). It is made worse by exercise.

I'm sure that you are wondering why I haven't called the vet yet. The truth is, is that if I called the vet every time Irish caused me concern he would have enough money to buy his own tropical island. So when it's weird and seems to be not life-threatening I do my own research first.  I did some observations of Irish (I'm sure he noticed me stalking him more than usual) and my observations indicated that he was spending a lot of time in the barn during the day. This is not typical for him- he loves to be outside in all weather. I wondered if it could be the sunlight triggering it. One bright sunny morning  when I came in the barn for the morning feed I opened the door wide and the sun shone directly into Irish's face as he hung his head over the stall door. He immediately started shaking his head. I watched and then went over and closed the door to block the sunlight. He immediately stopped. Hmmm. Interesting.

 A little more research indicated that there were good outcomes with a UV Fly mask. that seemed to be a simple test. I purchased a Rambo UV fly mask- it was big and could fit over his bridle too. the next day Ed called me at work and told me that Irish was spending most of the day outside not in the barn (love that man). Yesterday, Cynthia came and rode Irish. We put the mask over his bridle. He was much much better. As the ride progressed the head shaking began but it never reached the level of violence it had before.

So keep your fingers crossed that this is also seasonal. As Ed says, 'if there's any horse that's going to get something it's that one'

when I took this I thought he was goofing around. Now I don't think so

Saturday, July 11, 2015

A Delicate Balance

Working with Carmen is all about walking a fine line. Push her too hard and she resists strongly. Don't ask enough and she'll take over. She needs a leader but is not always interested in following. It appears that working with a sensitive mare requires a lot of negotiation.

I'm trying to push her just enough to get her to listen without sending her too far away. Sometimes I over do, sometimes I under-do and sometimes I get it just right.

Yesterday I got her ready for our work. She was a bit restless in the cross ties but very mannerly. We have brought in a load of hay and Ed has strung up a tarp to protect it from the sun. I like to keep the barn doors open for the breeze but it bleaches the hay. The tarp is right across from Carmen's stall and it's a perfect way to get her used to flapping/hanging things. We walked by it out of the barn without an issue.

In the ring we started our ground work. I try to alter where I start so she doesn't think that we always do the same thing. I don't worry about how much she exercises her body- I want to exercise her mind. What we do depends on how she is. I spend a lot of time at troll-corner so that she can learn that it really is safe.

When I went to get on she became a bit tense. So rather than get right on I spent some time working with her at the mounting block so that would stand. I finally got on. I realized that she was feeling tight and a bit tense. We spent some time walking patterns and I was trying to figure out whether we'd be better off moving into trot. I have the 4 cavelletti/trotting poles set up so that she has to go between the them and the rail. There is a lot of brush that blows and she was really uncertain of it. I didn't want us to bang into the cavellettis because she wasn't paying attention. I also don't want to argue with her head placement. So I placed my inside hand at her shoulder and kept my inside leg at the girth to create a bit of a wall. Her head was bent to the outside and I would ask her softly with my ring finger to come back but I didn't insist.

We then picked up a trot and it just seemed that she was a bit of a powder keg. I thought about getting off and doing more lunging but decided to stick it out. Rather than try to up my control by stronger legs and hands I softened both and simply rode her forward. I did my best to keep my hands consistent (not easy at all on a wiggly, gawky horse). When she was good I praised her and ignored the silliness.

As we trotted around a circle she scooted into a canter. I let it go and rode it forward. As we did she began to blow and stretch her neck. I rode a circle a few times and then we went up the long side, making 20 metre circles as we went. She fell out of the canter once (spook) and I just let her settle into trot and then asked for the canter again. She picked it up and we carried on. I then introduced trot-canter-trot-canter transitions.

Finally we trotted and then walked. I let her take the reins down to stretch. That always feels like a catch-22: I want her to stretch but want some rein in case she spooks. What I do is keep one hand on the buckle and with the other made a circle with my thumb and forefinger. When her head would come up I would draw the rein up through the circle so I could take it if needed. This worked well and she started to march and stretch out.

After a bit I picked up the reins and we cantered in the other direction. This is typically her 'bad' way (to the right) but she was fine. I didn't spend much time at canter. We came back to walk and I wanted to work on getting her to bend with my seat and leg and not be ignoring me to look around. I walked a bending line:
I started shallow. If she didn't bend I just kept asking and didn't get into an argument. I felt her start to focus on me and my aids rather than the trees and the birds and the cars and the.....whatever. We did this a few times both ways and then I walked her close to 'troll corner' and then dismounted. I loosened her girth and marched right over to the corner to stand (this is how we end now). She looked around and then actually dropped her head to graze at the grass. First time she's relaxed enough with me to do that.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

In which Simon Meets the Horses

Do you guys remember Simon? The kitten we brought home around Christmas?
gratuitous cute kitten photo
Well he's pretty well grown and now venturing outside. He's been hanging around the house mostly and has not ventured to the barn. A few times he's come about half way before chanign his mind and running back to the house.

Last night as the dogs and I headed to do the last chck on the horses he followed us to the barn. Martin  was hanging around as well. Simon came up to the door and peered inside. He then sat just outside the door with his head cocked looking at the horses. The horses noticed him right away.

Irish: Well hello there little guy. Who are you?

Simon: I'm Simon, the most adorable of cats. Wow you are big. What are you guys?

Irish: We're horses.

Carmen: the most noble of the creatures. you must be our newest servant to take care of the rodents that dare infest our home.

Simon: Servant? I'm a cat. And mom's precious baby. We're not servants- we're fearless hunters. That's what Martin tells me. 

Carmen: As long as you take care of the problem you may call yourself whatever you like.

Belle: *snort* 'fearless hunters' and 'noblest of creatures'. They'll think they're as good as dogs next. 

Martin: Ignore them. They are just jealous. Everyone knows that cats are revered as gods. Besides who ate the mouse we left outside and then vomited it up indoors? 

Belle: shut up! 

d'Arcy: I'm pretty sure we need to be working. Not standing around talking

Carmen: everyone knows that the wind of heaven blows through the horses ears. 

Belle: that's because there's nothing else in there.

Carmen: Well I never! 

Irish: hey guys that's enough. Come on in little guy, let me sniff you. 

Simon: maybe another time....

And he sauntered off to join Martin.

Carmen: can I have my hay now? I've been waiting forever. 

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Close Call

Yesterday my ride on Carmen was not as good as the one the day before. Instead of feeling lazy, she was reactive and resistant. Our ground work had been very good but the leadership I have on the ground is not translating easily to in the saddle. That said, I know that we have made some excellent progress. On one point she almost unseated me with a spook-deke-rollback maneuver. But I managed to stay on.

Rather than get frustrated I decided that this was an opportunity to get her attention. If she's looking all around for danger than she is not listening to me and when I ask her to do something it annoys her. So I did tons of changing direction, transitions up and down and circles. Lots and lots of circles; big ones, small ones, oval ones (those were not on purpose). Slowly I was getting her focussing on me and responding to my aids. I asked her to canter and she transitioned up and then gave a big buck. I was not impressed. So I brought her back, got the trot soft and forward and then sat up and said 'canter'. She picked it up and carried on. I find that canter work relaxes her so I no longer avoid it when she's up. After some lovely canter work to the left I brought her back to a walk and let her stretch out.

I then changed direction with the plan of cantering to the right. She was tense and worried and I figured that I would just work through it when all of a sudden she slammed to a halt and was quivering from head to toe. I looked up and saw d'Arcy. Ed had let him out (turns out he thought I was done so let him out). I could feel her getting ready to lose it so I hopped off and sent Ed a quick text. Of course he calls d'Arcy and of course d'Arcy is not leaving- he's a border collie and is on the job. I realized that my ride was over and I was NOT happy.

We walked down to the barn and I put her away. I hung out in the barn until I was a bit calmer and then went in the house and spoke to Ed. He was sorry and after a shower and a strawberry daiquiri I felt much better.

But I was worried that I had undone my weeks of work. This morning I got her ready and headed up to the ring. It was hot even at 9 and I quickly realized that she was feeling lazy again. I got on her prepared to work through what we had yesterday. But today was different- she was a bit looky but more resistant to work. I asked her to trot and she really didn't want to and let me know by picking up a plodding trot. When I asked her to move out she pinned her ears. I just engaged my core, sat back (I have a tendency to sit forward during these moments) and encouraged her forward. I find that Carmen does not like to be squeezed but responds to a series of short taps with my heels (not kicks). So I persisted and we had a lovely forward trot.

We worked on leg yields, trotting poles and serpentines. I ignored any tension in certain 'corners' and let her have a long(ish) rein.

Because there was nothing to argue against she didn't. Funny that.

We cantered both ways as well. I walked her up to troll corner and halted and dismounted. I think that that will be our new dismount place.

I was happy that we didn't seem the worse for wear after yesterday. I was happy that I seem to be gaining confidence in our sessions. She seems to be happy with me as well. Most of the time.

more fun to photograph than to ride. 

Saturday, July 4, 2015

In Which Carmen is Lazy and I'm Happy

Yesterday was a hot day. At least hot for a person living on the atlantic coast in Canada- it was 27 degrees (Celsius) when I got home from work. I brought the horses in, fed them and let them chill in the barn for a bit. I then got Carmen ready and we headed up to the ring.

It was clear that she was feeling warm and tired. We didn't spend much time on the lunge before I put on her bridle and got on. She stood completely still while I mounted. Both of us were pretty mellow. She gave one big spook but letting my legs drop around her has become automatic so it wasn't a big deal.  She did everything I asked without fuss. She then started to get distracted so I started doing one of my favourite exercises: spiralling in on a circle and then leg yielding out. I started at the walk and I felt her attention shift back to me. After a few times at walk I picked up a trot and asked again. The first few times I asked for a leg yield out she didn't know what I wanted. I simply let her figure it out and then gave her praise. The second time we did it she responded well. As we came back to the 20 metre circle as I gave the aid for one more step over she picked up her right lead canter soft as you would like. I realized that the aid was a bit confusing so I let her carry on and praised her for listening to my aid and for not bucking into it. We cantered a few circles and I brought her back to trot by just still my seat. I halted and dismounted.

All in all it was 20 minutes. But I've been riding a lot lately and there didn't seem to be a good reason to carry on and make her tired and sore. She was quite happy to follow me back to the barn.

Which brings me to my second topic: Grass.

I have too much of it and they are not eating it down. I did not realize how much grass Steele ate but Irish and Carmen are not big eaters. Ed mowed the fields this week to cut down the tall grass. I love how it looks when it's mowed. Because the horses are hiding from the heat and bugs in the barn in the afternoon I've decided to let them out again after supper for a couple hours. This will save my hay for winter and be good for them.

Except that they won't go.

Yesterday I let them out and the two of them simply exchanged stalls.
So I grabbed Irish and led him out to the grass. They stayed out for about 30 minutes and then came back down.
Carmen: What's she doing?
Irish: I don't know. I think she's gone senile.
Me: Go eat some grass!
Irish: but it's evening and we don't go out in the evening.
Me: I'm trying something new. 
Irish: But I don't like 'new'. I thought I was clear on that.
Me: It's good for you! 
Carmen: I'm pretty sure that I nap inside at this time. 
Me: sigh. 

I shut the stall doors to keep them out. I could hear Carmen trying to open hers. I can hear the two of them muttering to each other.
I then saw Carmen at the third stall- I opened the top door for air flow and she was trying to push the bottom door open to get in the barn that way.
Carmen: hey Irish, I think we can get in this way! 
Me: Stop that! 
Carmen (batting eyes): but we're outside and we're supposed to be in. 

So then I grab the lunge whip and encourage them back to the pasture. I then shut the gate behind them to keep them away from the barn.

I left them for another hour and then let them back to the barn.
Irish: FINALLY! You really have lost it you know. 

They will get used to this, I'm sure. Just in time for them to be ticked off when I stop it in the fall.

before we mowed. they are not making a dent in it

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Mixing it up

Yesterday was a day off but today is a National Holiday so of course that meant riding. 

I decided that Carmen and I needed to mix it up a bit. Enough of the same ride every time:

yes, those are trotting poles
Cynthia came to ride Irish. It was a beautiful hot summer day. The nice thing about it being hot is that it takes too much effort to be silly. I could see right away that Carmen was in a calm mood. During our ground work I realized that she was totally tuning me out so I worked on getting her attention through frequent changes of direction and gait. When I was sure I had her I put on her bridle and mounted. She was very good at the mounting block (go me) and stood quietly. 

As we went to work I kept to my plan of warming up and not getting excited over her spooky places. As we worked down to the end of the ring and I had her trotting I could feel her tensing 
I'm going to spook
Sure. whatever. 
I am! I'm going to run away
Okay. That's fine. 
Hey, aren't you upset too? 
Nope, I'm bored 
Well forget it then. 
Good girl.

It was funny. I wouldn't have said that I had been super tense but I realized that in tensing in response to her I was feeding her feeling of insecurity. She didn't know it was my response to her she just thought that it was because that area was truly spooky. So when I didn't change a muscle she completely relaxed. (slap me upside the head with a fish for not doing this sooner!). It's not that she didn't spook at all or react. It's just that I didn't and so it simply, well, faded. 

After a bit I decided to try to poles. Irish had gone through them first and managed to break one (sigh) so Cynthia took that out, which left only 3. Oh Well. I headed up the quarter line making sure I had her channeled between me. As we went up that side she became distracted by the brush on the side. 
You might want to pay attention
to what?

She trotted the first one, walked the second and jumped the third. We halted at the end and I circled back. She trotted one, walked two and trotted the third. After a few times we were trotting right through and she completely forgot about the brush and the trolls. 

We finished up with some beautiful and relaxed canter work. It was the best yet. 

Later the kids came for a BBQ and we sat on the deck eating and talking. Alec leaves to go back to school tomorrow so it was nice to see him again. 

It's been a good Canada day. 
Happy Canada Day from Oakfield Farm