dancing horses

dancing horses

Monday, August 31, 2015

So How Was Today's Ride?

I'm sure you're all dying to find out!

Apparently I'm still on a post a day kick so I'll keep this short.

First of all, last night I realized that Carmen was in full heat. She doesn't demonstrate a lot of the signs but I noticed in her stall she was 'winking' a lot. This is not typical. I'm noticing a correlation between the stickiness and her heats and I'm wondering if she is in discomfort and if I should do something about that. She is my first mare so I am a bit out of my depth on these issues so feel free to weigh in.

Today I had to wait to go get the last bit of hay so I decided to work her this morning. I almost decided to just lunge but I was curious to see if our work yesterday made any difference in attitude so decided to tack her up and play it by ear.

On the lunge she was a bit lethargic but perked up when asked. I decided to ride. Before I got on I spoke to Carmen:
Now I'm just looking for this to be a relaxed and supple ride. We're not going to work on anything big and I'd like to keep it short. 

She watched me intently so I was hoping that she agreed. She stood still while I mounted. I found her to be a bit tight and stiff - not nervous tight , it felt different. So at the walk we did lots of gentle loops and circles with me asking her to bend and switch. I could feel her begin to loosen and her back began to stretch. She was a little 'looky' but not that bad. We probably spent a good 15 minutes on this. I then asked her to trot. She picked it up nicely enough but as we passed the gate she started to get sticky. Our conversation went like this:

Forward *squeeze*
Suck back
squeeze, squeeze, chirp
really suck back 
*tap* (and it was a tap, not a smack)
pins ears, kicks at leg
GROWL, squeeze
yes ma'am

And forward we went. There was no further discussion. I kept to the same gentle loops and changes of directions. She began to give me the loveliest trot ever- it was forward, over the back and into contact. I could feel her hind end engaged and we were floating. She couldn't maintain it long but it came back easily enough. After 15 minutes of this work I ended it.

I think we both were pretty pleased with it.

Sunday, August 30, 2015


Sunday dawned cloudy and cooler than it's been. It made it perfect for riding. After my morning coffee I got Carmen ready and we headed up to the ring. Halfway up I realized that I forgot my lunge line so we went back to the barn to get it. Irish was down in the barn.
Irish: what, done so soon?
Carmen: I don't know. Oh wait. She forgot the long rope.
Irish: Humans are so forgetful. Horses don't forget anything. 
Carmen: I know. I don't understand how they manage to survive. 

We headed back up to the ring before they could discuss my failings any further. Things went well on the lunging (I'm beginning to sound like a broken record on that). Something did startle her once and she ran backwards and turned around. I just stood there and didn't move 'so where are you going?'. She came to a stop and looked at me. Then went back the direction we were lunging.

When I got on she stood very still. I spent some time at the walk working on stretching to get her supple and relaxed. It was nice to spend some time at the walk, usually she starts to get agitated so I move on to trot. Not this time.

When she was soft and supple I asked for a trot.  She was very sticky. Not wanting to move forward at all. I squeezed her gently and she swung her hind quarters into the circle. I squeezed again and she dropped walk. I gave her a light tap behind my leg with the whip and she exploded into some fairly big bucks. After the third one I was getting unseated and it was only one or two more before I came off. If I came off that would be bad because she would learn that it works. I had to do something. I jerked up on her inside rein, hard. Her head flew up and then I gave her a couple big thumps with my legs and used my sternest voice. No. You do not do that. Get your ass forward. NOW.

fine in the field. Not acceptable under saddle

I kept the inside rein up so she couldn't drop her head and got her going forward. It wasn't pretty. It was not graceful. It was harsh. And it was effective. Within 1/2 a circle I didn't have a sticky horse anymore. I had a forward horse. I was able to relax my rein. The crucial thing now was to let go of any anger I had so that I wasn't punishing her for doing what I wanted.  I kept her trot going forward. A hint of a pinned ear and I raised the inside rein and urged her more forward. She picked up a very forward canter. That was good. That was the opposite of what we had before.  We cantered on. She asked to trot. Nope. Let's canter more. Now let's trot. ah good girl.

I am not upset nor surprised that she bucked. I figured it was coming because I've been not letting her set the agenda anymore and established, unwanted behaviour always worsens before it improves. Fortunately, Irish had taught me a lot in my younger years so I was able to react without thinking. I believe that she was very surprised by my reaction- that I didn't haul her up by instead propelled her forward. I essentially did under saddle what I would do on the ground- use my body and voice to correct her behaviour. I know I was harsh with her but I needed to be. A horse that bucks and is not corrected can seriously injure a rider. Also, these horses almost never end up in a good place. They end up being sold on.

For the rest of the ride there was not one hint of being sticky. She was tense at times but not too much. We were able to school some shoulder fore and some halt-trot-halt transitions. I finished by working on some turns on the forehand and called it a day. In the barn she ground tied like an angel.  I hosed her off after and took her to do some lawn mowing.

Add caption
Can we take a minute to appreciate how muscled she's getting? Look at that booty!

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Forward Momentum

You have to look forward or you'll never get home. ~War Horse (quote from movie)~

 Forward is my new favourite word. No matter what else happens when I ride Carmen we must be going forward. My other favourite word is 'confidence'.

After that word, I have some favourite phrases: 

  • doesn't matter
  • laser focus
  • and "hello, I'm still here"
Poor Carmen. Her world has changed so much in the past few months. Some of it she likes. Like grass, grain and grooming. She is not sure about the liberties I take sitting on her back. But that's okay. I know that I can force her to do things through my own strength and, heaven forbid, buying some gadgets. But I have decided that it's much better to help her figure out that it's all not so bad.

It's a bit of a tightrope. I don't want her to view our sessions as a constant battle but nor do I want her to learn that she can walk all over me. 

So we carry on. I have ridden her four times now with my strategy of 'forward' and while she has stopped once or twice or sucked back she has not gone backward and she has not refused my ask that she go forward in the direction I'm pointing. 

The other thing I'm doing is riding with confidence. I've decided that I don't care if I come off- I will not ride defensively. This means that when she sucks back or acts like she's going to buck I sit back more - I refuse to curl forward and give her an excuse to stop. That requires me to over rule my instincts. It also means that the tighter she gets the looser I must get. That is also really hard. When you're riding a horse that is sending signals that she's gonna blow, the body instinctively tightens to be ready to react. That creates a negative spiral. So I force myself to relax. I positively slouch.  I exude 'whatever'. 
I stay focussed on what I have planned. So if we're coming around the bottom part of the ring to go up the trotting poles and she's acting all worried about the trees in the next field I just keep going. We have converstations like this: 
Carmen: "oh my god. did you see that troll
Me: "yes, I know, but we're going this way
Carmen: but we might be attacked at any second. 
Me: well sure, but let's bend. I hear it's good. 
Carmen: but..but..
Me: good girl

Slowly but surely she starts to relax and focus on the work. Because I don't change my goal even though she might freak out. Before I would shift my attention to where she was focussed. I think that reinforced it. Staying on task is helping me too. I'm much less scattered in my attention and less concerned about what will happen because I've planned what will happen. I've never been good at multi- tasking anyway. 

Yesterday I rode in the evening with Cynthia. She stayed over so we rode early this morning too. Both rides rocked but let me tell you about this morning: 

On the lunge she started off very quiet. I loved her walk. She was looking around but casually and without stress. I asked her to trot and she picked up a lazy trot. In the past I would have accepted that but I now know it's a trap. It's her saying 'sure I'll give you this much and you will be happy servant' . I asked her to trot out more. She frowned at me. I was more direct, at which point she 'spooked' and took off. No problem. Let's canter. And canter. And more canter. So we worked through on the ground that listening to me is the way to go. 

When I got on she stood still. We walked off on a longish rein to other end of the ring. After some walk work I asked her to pick up a trot. She was a bit sticky but I kept asking with my legs by squeezing gently, release, repeat. She got more sticky so I gave her a light tap. She kicked at the whip but went forward. Which is what I wanted. We trotted figures and the poles. My goal was to keep her steady and bent around my inside leg. She did really well with this. It was not perfect but she became quicker in her responses. A few times she acted nervous and I made sure that I stayed back, relaxed my legs, engaged my core and urged her forward. I could really feel it working. 

We then tried some canter work. She was VERY sticky. I find that to be true when she's in full heat (which I think she is). However, once I get her through this part she relaxes and it's lovely. So I made sure that I was giving with my inside rein and urging her forward. When she swung her butt to the inside I asked her to move it out. She gave a couple small hops and such. It really seemed to me that she was expecting that this would make me stop. But I was trained by Irish. I know bucks and these weren't anything more than bunny hops. So inside rein forward, sit up and off we go. 

I adopted the attitude of not caring that I was giving her enough room to run off on me. If she had done that I would have gone with it and used that momentum. She seemed confused. She would relax and then stick. Always by the gate. hmm. So we're on our third canter(ish) circle and as we come around Irish and Cynthia are trotting down the long side. I make our circle smaller and urge her on. She wants to stop and visit Irish. Irish wants nothing to do with this because he knows it's not going to end well.  

As we go by Carmen throws a mini tantrum. Irish! I.WANT.IRISH. STOP. NOW  I don't know why but it struck me as funny. It was like a toddler tantrum- annoying and cute at the same time. I started to laugh. Not giggled but flat out belly laughed as I as urged her forward. 'come on Princess Pissy Pants, let's go forward!  That did it- she picked up a lovely canter and we carried on. 

After we schooled a bit more, Cynthia dropped the gate and we rode down to the barn. It was the first time I've ridden her out of the ring. I thought that she would be locked on Irish but her ears were on me the whole time is this right? we're going this way? are you sure? okay then. 

It seems that laughing at her and calling her Princess Pissy Pants is actually helpful. 

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Musical Stalls

I have a pretty simple setup: the stalls open up to a small paddock which opens up to different larger paddocks. Depending on which gate I have open I can rotate the grass and the horses can use their stalls as run ins during the day.

At supper time they come into their stalls, are fed and then let back out for a couple hours for more grazing. Before they come in I get their stalls ready by replacing water, putting hay in the hayracks and moving the bedding back out of the corner. I add bedding as needed. It took a while for them to get used to going out after eating supper but now they know the drill. Usually, when I am finished their stalls I yell 'BEDTIME' and they come running in. I give them a last pat and an apple or carrot and shut up the barn for the night.

Lately they have started coming to the barn as I am getting it ready and waiting (impatiently) for me to be done.

Carmen has also realized that Irish gets more feed then she does. She tried registering her displeasure with that but when I took no notice she's begun to scheme about how to get at his extra ration. I have ot make sure that I remove Irish's grain bucket (it hangs over his door) before opening the exterior door or else she barges in and shoves her head into it.

It's very hard to get it off the door when there's a big, heavy head holding it down.

Last night as I was preparing their stalls Carmen stood outside Irish's door and watched me carefully. I gave her a pat on the nose and carried on with my duties. The last thing I did was put Irish's hay in the rack and then in her stall. I heard a horse go into Irish's stall but when I looked it was Carmen and Irish was standing outside looking peeved.
Irish: hey, she's in my bed!
Carmen: a gentleman always shares with a lady. 
Irish: leave my hay alone!
Carmen: I think that I want to stay here tonight. 

Rather then get in the stall I went around to bring Irish back out because I know that she will follow.

I turned the side of the barn in time to see Irish's butt going into Carmen's stall.
what's good for the goose is good for the gander


For a minute I thought about leaving them but I realized it would make more work for me in the morning. As I was scratching my head in consternation planning my next move Carmen stuck her head out.
Carmen: HEY! He's in my stall.
Me: I know. 
Irish: *munch* well you stole mine*munch munch*
Carmen: Well I never! 
Me: you brought it on yourself.

I went over and got Irish out of her stall. With a saucy flip of his tail he headed out to the field. Carmen watched him and I figured I would end up chasing both of them.
But instead she went out, looked at him and bolted into her stall.
Mine. This is MY stall. I hope he left me some. It's a good thing that I'm a lady, or else I would be using some pretty strong language right now. 

I closed the door and Irish sauntered back down and into his stall looking pretty smug about the whole thing.

I was just relieved that it was over.

I wonder how I entertained myself when I didn't have horses at home?
Carmen's "We are not amused face"

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Pop Quiz

Change is rarely simple.

I would love to have a conversation with Carmen that went like this:

Me:  'listen, you need to stop reacting to the bushes and grasses and just focus on being an awesome dressage horse'

Carmen: 'but I have to protect us from the dangers that lurk outside the fence.'

Me: 'don't worry about those I can deal anything that happens. Plus you are a war horse after all'

Carmen: 'I never thought about it that way. Okay, let's focus on mastering the dressage pyramid and later we can go hacking'. 

If only.....

So instead I have a plan and I'm sticking to the plan. I know that the key is steady, consistent work. And we've been having success. Not huge, earth shattering progress but progress nonetheless.

My last two rides were a success and I was happy with them. Sunday I ended up not riding because of the humidity. Instead I puttered around and gave both horses a nice groom to get the sweat off. I was off on Monday and the weather had broken so that it was much less humid. The sky was clear and there was a fresh breeze.

I knew that my work would be test of how we were doing. There was quite a lot of movement in the brush and grass because of the breeze and Irish was not being ridden in the ring either. It was just me, Carmen and the wind.

I was attentive right from the beginning. In the cross ties she stood nice but was resistant to her feet being picked out. In the past I might ignore that but today I was sure that she understood that I was picking up her feet and it took as long as it too to clean them. When I went to do her right hind she swung her hind end away (can't have it). Rather than follow her, I went around and sent her back to where I wanted her to stand. I had to do this twice and then she picked up her foot as good as gold.

In the ring with our ground work I was extra careful- was she listening? How fast was her response rate? Where were her ears focussed? I had set up some trotting poles and we worked with them in hand for a bit. There were a few carrots in troll corner as well.

When I was satisfied that things were good I put on her bridle and took her up to the mounting block. I had decided that if she moved away while I mounted I was going to lunge her more and then try again. But she didn't move a muscle.

What I've learned is that I cannot get on Carmen and give her a long rein to walk around and relax. That makes her more worried. I have to take up a light contact and get her bending and listening and thinking about what I'm asking. So that's what I do. We walk patterns and figures and I insist on her listening to me. That means that sometimes it does not look pretty. Sometimes I'm asking for an inside bend and she's trying to look down the field and I won't let go so she's pulling on my hand and I'm trying to keep it steady.

As we worked the wind picked up. I kept her going. I only had to tap her a few times with the crop when she balked. She kicked at it and then kept going. What I found is that she's responding with forward to my leg cues and my taps immediately.

Was she tense? Yes for quite a bit of the ride. There were moments of relaxation though. And she listened to me. Occasionally she was distracted but I was able to get her back. We did the trotting poles a few times. The first time she was so worried about heading down to the far corner (which we weren't but she thought we were ) that the turn to the poles was a bit erratic. She did great over the poles but was worried about the straight ahead part after. I asked her to stay straight for 4-6 strides and then bend around and turn. 

As much I would love to say that we were perfect, that would be a lie. We weren't.


  • There were no spooks
  • there was no stopping
  • There was no backing up
this would be an example of our not so pretty moments:
I have the rein up so she doesn't spin to the inside, her ears say
that she's not focussed on me at all and her body is tight

She went forward when I asked, transitioned when I asked and was trying her heart out to listen to me despite the worry about everything else. 

I'm giving us a B+ on this quiz. 

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Timing is Everything

As much as I was frustrated with the new resistance from Carmen I was glad that it happened when I was having my lesson with Roz. She gave me some good insight into why and what I needed to do.

Since my last post I've been putting my plans into action. I decided that Carmen needed to be tuned into me and if one of us was going to be worried about pleasing the other it should be her too and not just me.

The weather has been very warm with a high humidity. I break into a sweat just walking to the barn let alone doing any sort of exercise. This means that I need to be careful in my work to not over heat either Carmen or me. Yesterday I came home from work and got her ready. Cynthia arrived as we were up in the ring.

In our ground work I focussed on getting her to respond to the tapping as a 'go forward' and she did really well. In our lunging she needed to be focussed on me and respond to my directions. I didn't mind if she looked at stuff but if she got locked on it I immediately got her attention.  A few times she was cantering and I asked her to trot and she ignored me. So I kept her cantering. And cantering. Until when I said 'trot' she was quite grateful and dropped immediately. It didn't take too many of these episodes until she realized that life was better if she listened.

 When I was sure that I had 100% of her attention I put on her bridle and mounted. I won't bore you with the details of my ride but rather overall I approached it. I wanted her to be responsive and listening. I decided that 'relaxed' fell into the 'would be nice' category. But 'forward' and 'listening' were non-negotiable. I carried my dressage whip. As soon as I felt her suck back I would gently squeeze my calves. If she didn't respond I tap-tap-tapped her behind my leg. The tapping stopped as soon as she went forward. Just like on the ground. It really worked.

Twice she slammed on the brakes. I kept her facing forward, took a breath and then asked her to move ahead. when she didn't tap-tap-tap-tap until she went forward. I put one hand on the reins and made sure it was forward so that if she jumped ahead (instead of walk) I wouldn't hit her in the mouth. I didn't 'hit' her, it was really just a tap. When she walked forward I asked for 3-4 steps in the direction we were facing and then circled off (which is, I believe what Roz wanted me to do). After 2 episodes of this, it didn't happen again.

When we were on the circle and she sucked back I reached behind and tapped her until she went forward. A couple times she broke to canter. I didn't care. I just wanted forward. So we cantered and then came back to trot.

When we approached areas that she's less sure about I simply kept her mind busy and ignored where she was looking and kept my purpose on where I wanted to go.

Once I was sure that I had her attention and she was going forward every time I asked I halted and had her stand relaxing for a bit. I then dismounted and we hung out until Irish was done. It was a short ride but I wanted her to continue to understand the formula of obedience = easier life.

This morning we rode again. Again I had to have my timing so that as soon as she sucked back I responded so it didn't have a chance to escalate. A couple times she kicked at the whip but I ignored that and carried on. Often she was tense but I ignored that too. When she was responsive and relaxed I gave lots of praise. We did lost of patterns and changes of directions and transitions. I pushed her more than yesterday to see if she would resist but she really didn't. We followed Irish all around the ring. I find that when she wants to spin away it's always to the inside. I need to gently lift and release the inside rein to keep from dropping her shoulder and diving to the inside. If I hold she leans on it but I keep my rhythm steady and it's soft she softens and drops.

Interestingly enough after both of these rides she was relaxed and affectionate.

There's so much to think about in riding her to keep the timing perfect and I don't always get it right. That's okay, she needs to adapt to that too.

Perfection is a journey after all.

can we take a minute to admire the purple saddle pad I bought?
Doesn't she look lovely? 

Thursday, August 20, 2015

In Which the 3 Ps and the 3 Bs collide

Carmen had 2 days off while I was off for work. Today I came home and got her ready. We worked on the ground and she seemed to be really listening and relaxed. We worked on the 'go forward' from the tap and all was perfect.

I mounted and she took a small step but it seemed to be more for balance than anything. As we walked on our circle she began to look. I did smaller circles and asked her to tune in to me. I was conscious of the 3 ps but was focussing on riding with purpose. It seemed to be going well when she gave a spook and a spin. It wasn't too bad and I just got her back when she bolted (the first of the B's). I couldn't turn her or stop her so I steered her at the fence so she could stop. Ed was not home so I dismounted and attached the lunge line to her bridle.

I then put Missy's butt and mind to work. If she had energy to spare then she was going to use it. We went up and down the ring and she was not allowed to pick her pace or tune me out. I realized that earlier she was listening because it was fun and she was allowed to be lazy. Now she had to listen because I made it important to her. I got her listening and tuned in and then remounted.

We went back to work and it was okay. Not great but better and there was no bolting. I worked on riding with purpose. You know how they say 'throw your heart over the fence and the horse will follow'? I threw my heart at the letters. It seemed silly to throw my heart at 'E' but that's what I did. And I felt her begin to blow and relax. I felt happy that the 3 Ps were working.

I changed direction and the 2 B came into play: Balking. She was now tired and began to fall behind the leg at certain directions. I was able to get her forward. When she stopped I made sure to keep my hands forward and ask repeatedly for her to go forward with my legs. That worked a couple times and then she began to back up (the 3rd B). I made some progress but then it escalated. She actually backed up half the ring rather than go forward.

Interestingly enough she did not seem tense or nervous or scared. she was completely calm but she was NOT GOING TO WALK FORWARD. SO THERE. 

I kept up the asking forward and giving with my hands. I did not let her spin. But she kept going backwards. That's when I felt a fourth P trying to make an appearance- I was beginning to feel pissed off. However, anger was not going to be productive. We finally reached the mounting block. I thought that once she hit the fence she'd go forward but not really. I know that basic behavioural principles are that a behaviour often worsens before it disappears.
(aside: think of it this way- if every time you push on a door and it opens and then one day it doesn't. You don't stop pushing right away- you push it harder).

I needed to change the rules of the game.

So, gritting my teeth, I dismounted again. And as soon as my feet hit the ground I grabbed the crop by the mounting block and sent her backwards. She went at first and then it began to seem less fun. She wanted to go forward. But I sent Princess Pissy's perfect little butt backwards. And backwards. I backed her through the 'okay that's enough',  through the 'okay okay' until I was sure that she was not enjoying backing up at all.

Somewhere during all this Ed came home so that was good (in case I came off).

 I then marched her forward, up to the mounting block and climbed right back on, keeping my whip. I could feel her disbelief. She tried to jig but nope. we were walking. I was determined that we were not done until we made it through this. This was my hill to die on. I didn't care if she bolted, or if I came off. I cared that Carmen went forward. My focus was on walk-halt-walk. She balked once and I tapped her with the whip like we practiced. She went forward immediately. I repeated this 3-4 more times and I praised her. While I shouldn't have to praise her for walking I wanted it really clear that going forward off my leg was a good decision. And every other response was not.

Once she was listening I halted and dismounted. Interestingly enough she seemed completely calm after. She was definitely sweaty (so was I) but she was not stressed at all. I've decided that if I cannot work through this over the next 3 weeks then I will call Royce.

it's a good thing she's pretty. And talented. And smart.
I just have to teach her to use it for good instead of evil

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Putting the 3 Ps into Practice

After our lesson on Saturday I wanted to work with Carmen again. Sunday was forecasted to be even hotter so I wanted an early start. I also was hoping for it to be a short session. Our last two sessions had been long and demanding physically/mentally.  But I knew that how long it wold be would depend on my having a clear plan and how she responded.

In thinking about her response to the crop I wasn't sure if she understood it as a 'go forward' cue. I decided to check this with the ground work.  With her halted I tapped the crop against her side where I would tap when I was riding ( just behind the leg). Within a few minutes that she had no idea what I meant by it. She simply stood there looking at me calmly.  So I realized that I needed teach her that when I tapped I wanted her go forward.  We practiced a good 15 minutes and we made progress but I was sure that wasn't fully engrained. If I wanted a o use the crop as a tool when/ if she balked I need to have it as an automatic response. Because of that I didn't keep the crop when I rode.

She stood still while I mounted. I've learned that this is a good signal as to our ride. When she stands the ride is usually pretty good. If she moves then usually it's a tenser ride. I started at the walk getting her supple and seeing if she was listening. She was the best she's ever been. She was quiet and responsive, not fussing in the bridle and not looking around. I was very happy.

I then asked for a trot and her mood changed. She was behind my leg and did not move forward. It was like a hose with a kink in it. I encouraged her forward with soft squeezes and she slowed and dropped to a walk. In the next few minutes it was clear to me that she was looking for a fight.  I did not want a power struggle but I couldn't stop either. I decided to refuse to get into an argument with her. Instead I spent the next 10 minutes doing dozens of walk-trot transitions close together. I would ask for trot, trot 3-4 strides and then go back to walk before she balked. Our ride looked like this:
Walk 3 strides, trot 3 strides, walk 3 strides etc.,   My theory was that this way it was always my idea but I didn't confront her directly. Slowly I felt her begin to relax and get less grumpy. With a sigh she finally softened and gave me a forward trot with her back up and her hind end engaged. I trotted 2 circles, walked and gave her a long rein and lots of praise.  I switched direction and we repeated it all again. This time she came to me much faster and her trot was even better.  I brought her to a walk and halted and hopped off.

I was happy that I was able to keep my cool and not react to her shenanigans and stick to my plan.

The next day I didn't ride at all. Instead I worked on the 'moving forward from the tap' lesson and eating bits of carrots in troll corner. It was cute to see her change from 'OMG trolls!' To ' ooh carrots'. I want to replace her negative emotions with more positive ones.

With the tapping I simply kept up the tapping until she moved off. I would stop as soon as she even thought of moving forward.  I never made it painful. At first she was quite curious and looked at what I was doing. She  tried different 'answers': sideways, backwards and forward. I only rewarded forward. If moved sideways or back I went with her. By the end she was moving right off from the tap. I also realized that this will help in teaching her to self load. My goal is to have this so automatic that if she balks and I tap she moves forward without thinking.

I'll let you know how it goes. Wish me luck.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Our Second Riding Lesson

We were able to reschedule our cancelled lesson for Saturday. I was excited because we'd been working on our homework diligently and I wanted to carry on. My friend Cindy came to watch and take pictures/video.  Irish and Cynthia went first which left Carmen alone in the barn. She protested a bit but not too badly and when I brought her out to get ready she was steady and calm.

 *disclaimer- this blog is my interpretation of what I thought Roz meant. I could be completely wrong or, more likely, a bit wrong so please take the remainder of the post as what I took from the lesson not necessarily what was taught*

In the ring Roz commented that she seemed to be very calm and quiet and that stayed in our lunge work even after Irish left. I discussed that I had been working on getting us around the ring. Roz pointed out that the key is having her on the aids and the goal should not be to get into different parts of the ring but that was the test as to whether she was on the aids. That made sense although it seemed to me that I often think I have Carmen on the aids when she suddenly loses focus so logic dictates that you only know if your horse is off the aids and thinking that she is on the aids is really just a theory. (I know, I think too much).

Anyway we carried on with the lesson working on me making sure that I have Carmen straight and her hind end engaged. As you would expect it came and went. We did figures 8, transitions and bending. Carmen was reasonably attentive and quite willing.
one of my fav shots of the lesson

We then moved off the middle circle. This is when things got dicey. I think that Carmen became stressed and then very reactive to things outside of the ring and tried to drop her inside shoulder and get away. Roz had me raise the inside rein to keep her from spinning away. She also stood in the corner to help Carmen go there. Carmen was quite willing to go as long as Roz was there. Which reinforces my experience that she will go anywhere with me on the ground but gaining her confidence in the saddle has been much harder.

I was able to get her through it a few times and when is was not working to duck away, she began to slam on the brakes. When I asked to go forward she went backwards. It took a lot to get her forward and I was not always successful. We tried a crop to tap lightly but it was my first time riding with a crop and all she did was kick on it. (more on that in my next post).

We decided to change the issue and work her through familiar work and end on a good note. We returned to the circle in the middle and worked on getting her forward and listening. She did come back to me and we finished on a good note. I think that she had decided that we were done and was not appreciative of my (differing) opinion on that. It is not unusual for green horses to try different answers to training questions. The trick is finding the right one.

Here is some video of our lesson. I know that I am far from perfect but I am riding to the best of my ability. (I also know the risk of putting yourself on-line for all to critique so please be kind).  There are  other clips where it went better as well.

I was glad that Roz was there to help me through this. I have to work on keeping my focus on where we're going when she decides to stop and not worry about where she's taking us. Which is much easier in theory! But now I have a plan and we'll work through it. 

The upside is that her energy created some lovely gaits:

Roz said that we had some moments when it looked very good, which was kind of her. As before, she stayed calm and positive throughout the ride. She also seems willing to come back. 

My take away is that I need to practice the 3 Ps with Carmen:
I will need to paint it on a big sign at the end of the ring,  but when we finally get it together, it's going to be fantastic. 

Saturday, August 15, 2015


A few days ago Oakfield Farm got a new addition. Allow me to introduce Chester:

I have come to terms with the idea that Simon is most likely gone for good. While I hope that he will come home when my friend Sherry told me about these kittens at her father's barn I decided to take one. While initially quite shy, Chester is quickly becoming a cuddle bug. We have a little nest set up for him in our main floor bathroom/laundry room. He spent a couple days hiding behind the dryer but I was worried that that could lead to problems so I set up our X-pen to keep him away from the appliances (this point becomes relevant to the story later).

This morning Ed informs me that he thinks he heard a rodent in our basement along the duct work. We figured that it was a mouse and that we would keep Martin in tonight to get it. While sleeping in  guarding the barn is hard work, I'm sure, we needed him inside.

We were both outside this morning and I came in to change my footwear and wash my hands. I was surprised to see a rather large field rat run from the stairway to under our TV stand. In fact I was so surprised that I let out a shriek. I went outside to talk to Ed and get Belle. Belle is a superb ratter even though she's an Australian shepherd.
Me: Ed, you have to come and help there's a big rat under the TV stand. 
Ed: A what? 
A rat. 
Not a mouse? he said hopefully.
No. A rat. And a big one at that. I added.
I finally got him and the dogs in the house and on point around the TV stand. Armed with a broom I directed Ed to slide the stand away from the wall. The rat comes running out and in the melee bites Belle who lets out a yelp.

The rat runs under the couch. We move the couch and more chaos ensues as it heads into the dining room and under the china cabinet.

It's a fast little bugger. I'll give it that.

I sweep the broom under the cabinet and it runs to the far wall and under our liquor cart (you know the kinds with wheels) with the dogs in hot pursuit.

Ed is not looking happy. He hates rats.

I have the dogs poised on each side of the cart, I'm guarding the doorway with my broom. Ed says 'open the door so he can go out'. It's a practical idea so I do.

We move the cart to find....nothing. We move it again. Still nothing. We look around. No rat. I decide that it must be on the shelf hiding behind my Baileys. Gingerly I start moving out the liquor bottles. For two people that don't drink hard liquor we have quite the collection. It becomes apparent that the rat is not there and we are flummoxed.

The dogs refuse to leave the cart so we're sure that it's there. I'm wondering if it has some sort of superpower, like invisibility or dimension shifting. Then it hits me. I look at Ed.
Open the drawer I say. (there's a small drawer in the cabinet for cork screws and such. Or in our case junk that we don't where else to put). Ed looks at me and reluctantly reaches forward to open the drawer. I know he thinks I'm wrong and is terrified that I'm right and that a pissed off rat (perhaps with superpowers) will leap out and rip out his throat.
He leaps back a bit It's there!  and there's a hint of wonder in his voice.

With that the rat leaps out and dashes out of the dining, past the open door (so not so smart then) and into the laundry room/bathroom. I go tearing after it and shut the door aha! I have you trapped Mr. Rat. Or Ms.

The rat has run through the cage bars and behind the appliances. I realize that I'm all alone. Ed and the dogs are on the other side. I open the door and d'Arcy comes in but Belle is thinking about his bite and has decided that she will stay out. Ed looks like he's thinking of keeping her company. I order them both into the bathroom.

As I lean down to pick up the cat food dishes d'Arcy comes barreling backwards knocking water, catfood and kitty litter all over the place. I hop up onto the washing machine with my broom to harry the rat out from behind.

Picture this if you will: a bathroom/laundry room with a large cage, chunks of cat food and kitty litter all over the floor, me perched on the washing machine with my broom, the dogs on guard by the dryer and Ed with a look on his face that indicates he would pay cold cash to be anywhere else at this moment.

'where's the kitten? I ask.
'worry about that later'  is Ed's advice.

I can't see the rat so we decide that it's under the dryer. Ed tips up the dryer and I sweep under it with my broom.
I got it! I yell triumphantly. But it turns out to be a large (rat sized) dust bunny (before you judge me, how often do you sweep under your dryers???).

I sweep again and hear a deep growl (Belle) and a snap. I look and she's killed it. As I go to take it she picks it up in her jaws
Belle: Hey that's mine! I got it! 
Me: yes you did you brilliant girl. I will take it though and give you something tastier. 
She lets me take it and d'Arcy snatches it out of my hands.
d'Arcy I helped. I get a piece too! 
Ed: dog's are gross

I take the very dead and now somewhat soggy rat, outside to dispose of. I give the dogs a treat and then clean up the bathroom.

I find Chester- he was under the china cabinet the whole time. I don't blame him for not getting the rat- it was almost his size.

There's never a dull moment here at the farm but I wouldn't trade this life for any other.

Monday, August 10, 2015

The Last Day of Summer

Well not really.

But it is the last day of my vacation. I had two glorious weeks off. I spent it mostly around the property with some time out to visit my mom and to go sailing.
sailing on a perfect summer day

I rode almost every day. I loved it. I would get up, do the barn chores, relax over coffee and go ride. This allowed Carmen and I to really take a jump forward in her training. I'm no longer just happy with walk/trot/canter. Now I want to work on patterns and transitions.

 I also wanted to evict the trolls. While I was not 100% successful I was about 90%. The reality is that Carmen does not like greenery blowing in the breeze. The other reality is that she now lives in Nova Scotia which is a small peninsula hung out into the Atlantic Ocean. This means that it's windy more times then it's not windy. I have learned that if she is not 100% with me on the ground then there's no point in mounting.

Twice I had to get back off to work through some spooky places but I get back on and we carry on. Today I to get off and work her again in the far side of the ring. She was fine on the ground and not too bad when we first started with the riding. But she worsened and it was at the point where we were getting no where because of her obsession with keeping her attention on the far side. So I got off and lunged her down there until she found her brain. When I got back on it was 100% better. We finished our work and I ended with getting her to walk and trot the entire circumference of the ring. At the walk we were able to maintain the rhythm. Not so much at the trot but we did trot the whole way so I took that as a win. When I was finished I saw that we had been in the ring for 90 minutes! I don't normally work that much but it seemed to be a critical point for us and that we needed to go through it.

We were both balls of sweat when we were done. I hosed her off making sure to do her legs well. When I was done I took her out to the field and let her go. She followed me right back to the barn. So I guess she was happy with it too.
hey where are you going? 

Tomorrow I return to work but that might be a good thing because I'm thinking that riding twice a day might be a good idea.....

Sunday, August 9, 2015

The Horse Husband

This weekend Ed and I celebrated our 28th anniversary. We spent the day continuing to work on our new deck and then went out to dinner with friends. Looking back, it seems that we were just kids when we got married. 

what can I say about the hair? It was the 80's after all. 
Ed was not a animal person, let alone a horse person. He admits that he waited for me to outgrow this passion for horses and then became confused when it only worsened with time. It was difficult to fit the horse in when the kids were young and there were lots of demands on our time. If you ask him when I told him that I was going to own a horse some day he will tell you  that it was on our first date. So I take comfort that I never lied to him. I'm sure that it's been a comfort over the years for him to know that he walked into this life of his own free will. 

Now he fully supports the horses. He has no interest in riding (although I think I would have gotten him on Steele) but enjoys the puttering around. I think if I had a nice steady QH (or other breed) he would ride but more as a hobby. 

It can't be easy living with someone who has a passion, let alone a horse passion. I know that people have asked him why he didn't demand that I choose between horses and him. He always answers "Because I like being married". It's not that I would choose horses over Ed but how can you stay with someone who has no respect for your heart? 

I am happy that I met him and made the decision to embark on our life together. We have two fabulous children and good friends. Today a friend and I were making plans to go to a tack shop having a big sale.
"of course" he said "I'm sure that you need a new saddle pad"

there are some lines though that cannot be crossed

Thursday, August 6, 2015


I love homework.
I know I know. It makes me sound really nerdy (which is probably the truth anyway).

But I love taking a few things away from a lesson and the working on them. It gives me a chance to figure out how to do it by myself.

Carmen and I have been working on a few things:

1. Bending- this is to help her release tension and supple her body. The issue is that she likes to look to the outside (watching for trolls). But as soon as I get her bending inside she softens and relaxes. I find with our rides she bending more and more easily.

2. slowing down- Carmen tends to rush her gaits when she's tense. This puts her over tempo and and makes #1 hard. This is coming along as well. But she's now quite slow. I'm letting that go as long as she's relaxed and simply giving a series of light squeezes to encourage her forward.

3. steady contact- not in a frame but more about maintaining a steady acceptance of the bit. She had the tendency to grab at the bit and root down. Roz had me give a soft squeeze with my legs and tighten my core so that she pulling against herself and not pulling me out of the saddle. this is working - however, she is now going above the bit (which is way better than behind the bit). I'm doing the same thing- gentle squeeze and keeping my hands steady so she can find me.

We're working on transitions and keeping the pace steady. Yesterday I was riding her and it was going pretty well. I asked her to canter and she gave a bit of  buck and then continued trotting. Probably I missed the timing but I thought I was pretty close. I made sure that my hands weren't holding her and that our trot was nice and forward.
Me: and Caaaanter
Carmen: no. *buck*
Me: canter 
Carmen: no * canter 2 strides, buck, switch behind. * See I can't.
Me: let's regroup.
I steadied the trot, this time as I asked her to canter and when she picked it up and I did a series of soft squeezes to keep her leaping forward. This worked and she carried on.

Good girl.
We cantered a few circles and I brought her back to trot. I steadied the trot and asked again. She picked it right up. A few circles and I brought her back and gave lots of pats and praise. We walked and I gave her a long rein.
We changed direction. After a break I took contact back.
Carmen: you're going to ask me to canter
Me: not yet
Carmen: well I won't. 
Me: I'm not asking right now
Carmen: I know you're going to ask me and I'm telling you I won't. 
Me: don't worry about it. 

I did a number of walk-trot-walk transitions until she relaxed and stopped anticipating an argument. Then instead of trot-walk I asked her to canter. She picked it right up and carried on. I think she surprised herself. I gave a ton of praise and after a few circles we trotted, walked and I hopped off.

We were supposed to have our lesson today but it had to be cancelled due to car troubles. I hope that we can reschedule soon so that she can tell me how we did on our homework.

On a sad note, Simon has disappeared. You may recall that we got him over Christmas and he was very helpful in bringing joy back to my life after Steele died. He is so cuddly and loveable.  I hate to think that his life was so short and I'm trying to hang on to the idea that he's gone for a wander.

My beautiful Simon. Please send good vibes that he finds his way home

Monday, August 3, 2015

Coming Out of Her Shell

What I love about having horses at home is how much better I can see their personalities. When Carmen first arrived she was quite reserved. As she settles into life as a Canadian she's showing us her personality. 

I always hose off the horses after a ride when they are sweaty. At first Carmen was all "ow ow, stop that! you're getting me wet! Hey watch where your pointing that thing!"
Now she moves her body around to show me where she wants to be washed. She also likes to drink from the hose: 
she sticks her nose right in it. 

She's becoming curious about new things rather than fearful. I did some work the other week on umbrellas. At first she was wary but it didn't take long for her to want to check it out.
'do you think we could get me one of these for when it's raining

I've been introducing her to the concept of ground tying. I really go slow with this and let it happen over time. This is from after our ride this week. She stood there while I untacked her, put it away and got the hose ready.
don't worry- she's not as exhausted as she appears. 
Turns out that she loves raspberries. Loves them. I made raspberry muffins last week and as I was eating one in the barn she was watching me. I gave her a piece expecting her to spit it out. Nope. She gobbled it and mugged for more. I didn't get much of that muffin. 

Tonight I was calling the horses to come in and both came running to the barn. Irish headed to his stall and then decided at the last minute to amble the other way. I smacked him on the butt and said 'get in your stall'. Carmen dove for hers, not wanting to caught in the cross fire. Irish stormed into his looking insulted. 

Saturday, August 1, 2015

The Last Straw

Carmen and I have been spending the past few days working on our homework. Yesterday I was very happy. The things that we were working on in our lesson were much easier to achieve. It was also very very hot so I didn't work her too hard.

Today I took her up to the ring and it was evident right from the beginning that she was with me. After a bit of ground work I got on. She stood stock still and waited for my signal to move. We were able to make use of the full ring right from the beginning. While she looked at her 'spooky spots' she kept going and paid attention to what I wanted. Not that we were perfect, far from it, but we were so much better.

I was happy.

She was happy.

But then, as we were trotting down the far end Irish decided to lose it and he galloped down the far side of the pasture behind the ring. This resulted in her giving a big spook and spinning around. Once we both realized what it was (a silly red head, who at the age of 15 really ought to know better but probably never will) we were able to relax and go back to work. Irish decided that cantering around screaming and generally being a jerk face. But Carmen was able to keep her attention on me, although she was more tense.

I headed down to the other end of the ring and both of us heard something rustling in the tall grass.

She got a bit more tense.

I kept working with her.

And then she spied Ed driving a tractor down the road with a big piece of our deck teetering on the bucket (side note: we're replacing our deck and it seems that people down the road wanted the old decking and Ed delivered it because he's a nice guy).

That was the last straw.
Carmen: I can cope with Irish, I can  handle the rustling grass but this! This is too much! 
She bolted down the ring. Fortunately I am at the point where I can relax my legs around her and not tighten. I got her back under control but now my soft, responsive, listening horse was gone.


So I went back to our comfort zone to get her back to me. And she did. So that's a plus.

I found a good moment to end and dismounted. I then took her back to the end of the ring that she bolted from and did some in-hand work until she relaxed. We then headed out of the ring. As we headed to the barn Irish was tossing his head.
Irish: How dare you leave me! 
Me: Jerkface
Carmen: yeah!

I hosed her off and sent her back out. I think it took her a while before she spoke to Irish again.

I think that the men in my life are trying to kill me.
boys are nothing but trouble