dancing horses

dancing horses

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Today's Ride is Brought to You by the Letter 'L'

I've never really thought about it but "L" is a very important letter when it comes to training/riding horses (same as P: http://journeywithadancinghorse.blogspot.ca/2015/08/putting-3-ps-into-practice.html).

I've been working pretty steadily with Carmen (and subjected my readers to the details). I'm now at a point where we have a good routine going and we're both pretty comfortable with it. I'm getting a handle on what it is that she'll do when upset. Because I know what to expect now I'm not as worried about it and I'm prepared for when she spooks and/or bolts. Her bolts are not what I consider 'true' bolts. She's pretty aware of what she's doing and can be brought up (although she resents it). I don't like riding a horse that has lost it's mind and that is not Carmen- she always has her mind.

Today Cynthia was coming to ride and as I watched Irish I realized that she was in for some fun. He was running up and down the fence line and generally kicking up his heels. Hunting season has started and I've moved them to the front field. They won't go in the back fields now until spring and Irish is not pleased about that. I warned Cynthia that his mood would likely make him stiff and distractible.

Both of us were working on L words today. The first one was 'loose'. When Carmen is worried she tightens poll to tail, her gaits get choppy and she's difficult to steer. On the lunge I worked on getting her to soften and bend even through transitions and generally relax. We worked on the same thing under saddle. However, it's getting easier and easier to get her to bend on the circle. I'm staying pretty clear about what I want and I'm wiling to give a stronger aid if I have to get the bend and then immediately soften. But while we are getting the bend and softening in the gait, we lose it on the transitions. Carmen thinks that it's outside of her contract to bend going from walk-trot or trot to walk (don't even get me started on trot to canter!). I know however, that it's the key to everything else so I stay persistent.  While we were riding we heard a couple shots which got Irish's and Carmen's attention. However, I figure a horse born and raised in Virginia as well as in the Southern U.S. has heard a shot or two and she didn't really get freaked out.

During our rides I have to frequently return to work that gets her loose and relaxed. That's just her and it's getting easier and easier.

The second word is 'listen'. Carmen likes to pay attention to lots of things: rustling grass, flying birds, keeping an eye out for squirrels with grenades, what Irish is doing, the car going down the road, noticing that the lunge line is in a different location then it was before, etc, etc., etc.,. She gets a bit annoyed that I keep intruding on her and asking her to attend to me. But I'm pretty insistent and tell her that listening will make it so much easier for her. Sometimes I feel like the teacher in Charlie Brown
The last 'L' word is 'learning'.  Carmen is very smart and very talented. She does better when things are complicated then when they are simple. For example, I was asking her to go from a trot to a canter and she was a bit resistant but we got the transition. Until we went by the tree with the squirrel. She broke every time (except for the time she bolted but I simply sat up and went with her and then got her back under control and then carried on). Finally I got her to canter a full circle in a relaxed way and it only took 3 tries (go us!). As we came around I half halted and asked for a trot. She came to a perfectly square halt. From a full canter. One second we were cantering and then we were stopped. And she wasn't upset. She just thought she'd done what I asked. She shouldn't be able to do that but she did. I decided to accept it.

The problem is that with a horse like this it would be easy to fall into the trap of training higher level things and ignoring the basics. Like staying bent through a walk-trot transitions. It's easier to keep her attention on those things but she needs the A,B,Cs or else we will hit a major fail in our work and have to start over.

So even though it's simple and it's hard for to listen when it's simple we need to focus on learning the basics.

Once we have that the rest will come and be correct.

stretching into the bridle- a basic that is hard for her

Wednesday, October 28, 2015


Since our lesson on Sunday Carmen has been a bit full of herself. Today I rode her early in the morning. It was a beautiful, frosty, still morning. One of my favourite type of day- I love the Fall.

Initially Carmen was quite distractible but I was clear that she was to tune in and listen to me, not anything else. Once I was sure of that on the ground I got on. We were able to go right to work and it was lovely walk work. Once, as we went by the tree at B we both heard a rustle.

'Don't worry about it'I said. 'it's probably a mouse or a squirrel or mole'
'well... okay' Carmen was dubious but decided to give me the benefit of the doubt.

I asked her to trot. She did her usual initial fussing about it. I find that if I'm patient she'll work through that and settle into the work. Roz advised that I stay sitting until the rhythm was established and then post. This was helpful because I was getting unbalanced with her loss of rhythm and it was not helping the situation. By sitting I can provide a stable centre so that as she flails there's a place of stillness for her to find.

We trotted/flailed/bounced around the circle and came by B.

ARGGGGGHHH!!!!! Carmen bounded sideways.

EEEEEEEEEEEEKKK! Screamed a squirrel and ran up the tree.

what the--  I said.

She scared me! Thank heavens I saved us  Carmen shook her head.

Scared you??? I've lost years off of my life. Years! You should be more careful you big louts. The squirrel scolded us roundly.

uh oh. Now she's mad- We better give her a wide berth. She might be dangerous. 

Oh yes. We'll be so ready to show next year. I thought.

you do that again and I will throw my nuts at you! As the squirrel continued to swear at us and Carmen went into high alert, I started to giggle.

it's not funny. I saved our lives and you have no appreciation of it. Carmen began to sulk.

I giggled more.

It's a SQUIRREL. It weighs about 4 ounces. You are the descendent of WAR HORSES. I'm willing to risk it. 

The upside was that we now had a lovely forward trot. So I ignored both the squirrel and Carmen's worry and we carried on working.

And you know what?

She went to work too. Without any further fuss.

Psycho Squirrels be damned.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Today's Lesson

First of all, I realized that this is post #401! I can't believe that I've inflicted the internet with my ramblings that many times.

Now for the topic: the lesson I had with Roz. Remember that things with Carmen have been going really well and I was excited to show Roz how far we'd come?

Well Carmen had a slightly different idea. Today was very blustery and cool. This lead to her being highly distractible. It was a regression on the lunge- it was much harder to get her attention and keep it. Roz was very patient and even took her a did some work with her on the lunge. Eventually Carmen was calm enough to get on.

 The truth is that I worry less about her being excitable these days. But I do want to work on other things. However, the horse you have is the horse you have so I got on and we went to work. I explained to Roz that when Carmen is excited our 'calming' exercise is a figure 8 in the middle of the ring. I like to have a 'go to' exercise that the settles the horse. This is ours. Roz asked me how small the circles were.
"depends on how much calming she needs" I said and Roz laughed. Anyway we went work and Carmen was, as I expected, excitable and felt a bit like a fire cracker. We worked on my riding with my leg on- not off. As we progressed we were able to get some real work done. Roz told me that if she became fast in the trot go to sitting for a few strides to slow her down and then go back to posting. That really worked. The other thing we practiced was getting her to soften her jaw and flex to the inside. As we went along Carmen because quite heavy in my hand. While I want her to take contact and am willing to have it a bit heavy to hold. (Photo credit goes to my friend Mary Anne who came to observe and take photos for me).

the idea was to ask her to bend to the inside and then soften to allow her to carry. Here I'm taking but you can see that she's listening and her steps are getting lighter.

We were able to get her to the point where I could canter. The first one was a stiff and bouncy. We brought her back to the trot and tried again. Roz talked me through relaxing the hand and letting her go. It was okay. We switched direction and I asked again. I really had to focus on letting go the inside hand. I'm fighting my instinct with that one because she felt like she was ready to take off. But I gave a shrug and said 'if I die, I die. Let's go."  Not that I think I'll die, it's just what I say to myself to put it in perspective. Roz had me lighten my seat and she really came up through her back and worked through.

see why I think we might just fly off? 
in a lighter seat- see how her leg reaches under to lift? 

We finished on the canter. I was exhausted and Carmen was pretty quiet too -although it's worth noting that she was not remotely sweaty or blowing hard. She is very very fit, which is a double edged sword. After I realized that our hour lesson went for about 90 minutes! No wonder I was tired. 

So despite Carmen being 'hot' and 'reactive' today it felt like we worked through many things and made real progress.

And I have homework. I love homework.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

I Ride Irish

First of all, let me say that I have been riding Carmen pretty regularly. She's really doing well. Not that every moment is awesome but she's trying.
 And I'm trying.
 And we both appreciate that the other is trying.

Yesterday she gave a startle and a scoot forward. Rather than grab with my legs and hands generally being stiff- this time I was able to stay relaxed. As we lunged forward I said: "this is not what I had in mind. Where are we going?"
Carmen: The trolls are shooting arrows at us- something hit me in my nether regions. Thank heavens I save us
Me: That was the leaves blowing off the tree. Not Trolls. 
Carmen: oh. .... Let's never speak of it again. 

And back to work we went. Today she was a bit tenser and more distractible but also more responsive. Later in the ride I asked for a canter and she leapt forward into a tense and scambly canter. My body immediately tensed in result but my brain knows that one of us has to relax and it has to be me. My body, however, thought that my brain was an idiot. So as we cantered along I first engaged my core, that stabilized my seat. After that i could relax my legs to they were following and then, at last, I got my hands to follow her movement and not grab. As soon as I got it all together she relaxed into her canter and we could work on bend and maintaining rhythm. Roz comes tomorrow to give us a lesson and I cannot wait for our next bit of homework.

After we were done I took her back to the barn. Irish was already in his stall. Cynthia has not been feeling well so couldn't ride. When I had two geldings they kept each other exercised. But I've come to realize that mares don't run around for fun like geldings do. At least Carmen doesn't. Irish needs some exercise and I had been planning to go for a run but I realized that instead I could take the old guy out for  spin. Both he and Carmen looked surprised when I brought him out to get him ready.
Carmen: hey. this is weird 
Irish: I know. I hope she's just grooming me. ...Nope there goes the saddle. 
Carmen: but she only rides me! 
Me: It will be fun Irish. 
Irish: *sigh*

It took me a bit to get used to the feel of him. It's VERY different from Carmen. He was stiff, of course. I got to work on getting him to loosen up through changes of bend and some simple leg yields. Right away I noticed that he was quite happy to rest the weight of his head on my hands. Ow. so through the whole ride I kept reinforcing that he was to carry his own head - like he does all the time when not being ridden. Also there was to be no cheating on the outside rein. As long as it stays consistent so does he. Slowly we worked up to leg yielding through trot, carrying his own damn head, and transitioning up and down. I noticed that I had a much easier time sitting his trot than I used to. That meant that he was not tense. We finished up with some beautiful simple changes of lead through trot both ways and shoulder in/haunches in at a walk. Carmen gave a few plaintive whinnies while we  were working but was not too stressed by us being gone.

Given that he's not super fit it was a good work out. I enjoyed being able to get on him and work on some things. I think we both enjoyed ourselves. I will have to ride him more often.

I'm still your favourite, right? quick answer before she gets here. 

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Shadow Dancing

The days are getting shorter which means that I ride pretty much as soon as I get home. Yesterday I rushed home and changed and then headed out the barn. I wanted to get their stalls ready first so I carried on with my chores as I usually do. The horses typically wander down to the barn and wait patiently outside until I'm done and then they come in for supper.

Today though I looked out and saw Irish watching me suspiciously.

Carmen: why aren't we going to the barn to supervise?
Irish:  I don't know. I think she's up to something. 
Carmen: really? 
Irish: yeah. Normally she's kinda sneaky about it- she doesn't want us in the stall until she's ready.
Carmen: So?
Irish:  Well she's being really obvious. I think it might be a trap. 
Carmen:  You are imagining things. I'm hungry so going down, 

Irish hung back a bit but came in willingly enough. I closed the outside stall doors and then brought Carmen out to the cross ties.

Irish: HA!  I told you it was a trap
Carmen: Shut up. 

She was a bit grumpy in the cross ties but I gave her some extra strokes on her head and her eye softened. Up in the ring she was with me right from the beginning. The sun was getting lower in the sky and as we headed up the ring I saw her hesitate. I realized that she was eyeing her and my shadow in the ring. We normally don't see that. What was interesting was that she wasn't saying 'NO' but more "um, what's that? Should I worry? ".  I encouraged her forward and she settled down.

As I mounted a child from next door let out a loud yell but she didn't move a muscle. And then we simply went to work. Now that she's listening to me with the occasional gawk outside the ring (a reversal from just a week ago). As we went up to the far side of the ring our shadow was there as well. After a glance and a hesitation she carried on. It was fun to play with our shadow up and down the ring.

The fence also cast a shadow in the ring so I played with shoulder in using the shadow as a guide. Lateral work like this comes so easy to her when she's relaxed that it's not enough to distract her. I've started working on transitions but she's very clear that i have to ask softly or else she get annoyed. If I ask for a canter too strong she will buck.  She doesn't like them close together- it gets her a bit frazzled, so I do a few and then move on. Her leg yields can be good but she's not always clear that she wants to go over where I want her to go.

Once she picked up a canter that I didn't ask for but I decided to go with it. However, she got a bit strong and I tried to bring her back and she got a bit dramatic about it- bouncing and shaking her head. I relaxed my seat and we all settled down. Before I would get worried that she was going to spiral. Now I realize that she has a dramatic personality and likes to express herself. Roz is coming out this weekend so we'll get some new directions.

Carmen is teaching me that I have to be careful as well as clear. But we will figure it out.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015


Autumn has arrived in Nova Scotia. I love riding in Autumn- it's not too hot and there are no (or very few) bugs.

Autumn has also brought back my love of photography. To be honest I hadn't had much heart for it since Steele died. I take lots of photos of the horses but seemed to have lost the desire to go out and take pictures. But recently that is returning. So here are some of my favourites from my neighbourhood.

not my neighbourhood- about 90 mins away

Sunday, October 18, 2015


No trolls were actually harmed in the making of this blog post. 

I was recently reading an old Dressage Today article on increasing confidence in the horse. It was very interesting and there was one thing that stood out for me. The author, Scott Hassler, said that young horses prefer clarity over diplomacy. He wasn't advocating being harsh but he said that many riders (most likely Adult Amateurs like me) think that we're being diplomatic in our requests but the horse views them as unclear. He said that we need to be clear what we want and then give the aids to help the horse understand. That made total sense to me. I've been doing a good job of that on the ground. Not that I'm bragging (I'm not and it took a long time) but I am very clear about what I want. In that saddle I have been trying to be 'careful'. Roz pointed out to me that I need to ride more clearly and Karen told me that I need to focus on what I want and ride it.

I took this idea that crystallized in my head and put it into practice. So for my last few rides I've focussed on being perfectly clear and persisting. In our lunge work I've been asking her to stay out on the circle. When she's spooked or nervous she drops her inside shoulder and falls towards the middle. She does this under saddle too. The problem with her doing it when I'm riding is that I can't really control our direction if the shoulders aren't aligned. So she's been able to fall in and run away. I started fixing it on the lunge by flicking the end of my whip at her shoulder when it falls in and asking her to stay out there. Usually it doesn't touch her, sometimes it does (gently). It's been working- she's figured out how to stay out on line and bend through the circle.

When I ride I start off immediately asking for her attention by figures and changes of bend. I don't give her a chance to look around. This is contrary to what I was taught- which was to let the horse walk out on a long rein and relax. For Carmen this has the exact opposite effect. I think it makes her feel abandoned and that she has to make all the decisions. Since she's warmed up anyway from our lunge work I figure it doesn't hurt to start off working. I've been working on riding her hind end and recently decided to tackle the shoulder problem. My last two rides I carried the whip in my inside hand and as soon as I felt her shoulder drop in I asked her to straighten with the outside rein. When that didn't work I gave her a tap on the inside shoulder with the crop.

Carmen is very offended by being tapped with the crop so I almost never use it. However, this really worked because after a few struggles she started to respond to the rein aid and I didn't need the crop. Being able to control the shoulders has allowed me to work on bending and keeping her focussed on the task at hand. She usually resists this at first because I'm stopping her from looking at whatever she's worried about. However, I stay firm and clear in my request that bend to the inside and keep her head in the game (or ring as it were). As a result of this I am riding her everywhere and while she may scoot or spook it's not a huge battle and I ride the spook and carry on.

Today was a cold and very very windy day. Normally this spells trouble for us, especially since Irish is locked in the barn. I figured I would lunge her and decide to ride based on how it went. Grass and trees were blowing constantly- the trees on the far hill were bending over with some gusts. But not only did we lunge I also rode. And not only did I ride but I didn't feel in danger even once. She gave one spook when she fell towards the fence and my leg brushed it. She jumped away from the fence like she'd been shocked. But because I was sitting up and back and had my legs on I just went with her and we carried on. A few times she tried to gawk out at the trees and grass but I asked her to bring her attention back to me. Her ears were like little helicopters flicking towards what caught her attention and then right back to me so see what were going to do about it.

Irish started to call from the barn and all she did was flick an ear. She didn't even change her pace. We trotted down and halted by the evil asters and I hopped off. I've started giving her a small neck massage when I'm done and she stretches out over my shoulder and enjoys it immensely. She especially loves when I rub up by her poll- she lowers her head and gives a small shake when I'm done. I think her little ear muscles were tired from all the hard work.

When our rides are done she's so mellow and relaxed and she will mosey out to the field after like a grown up horses.

One more thing- check out this website: The Reflective Rider. It's by my friend Karen. She has some interesting articles and I always find something to take away.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Team Building

You know those 'Team Building' exercises where you're supposed to fall and let others catch you?
I've never done it but am sure that I would totally suck at it. I am self-aware enough to know that I might have a few control issues. So I probably would only fall if I was either drunk or didn't care if I got hurt (which might relate to being drunk come to think of it).

If we were in one of those sessions you would be all "fall Teresa we'll catch you" 
And I'd say "no I'm good"
And you'd say "come on, trust us"
and I'd say "last time I did that I was three years old and my brother didn't catch me and I broke my arm, you carry on and I'll go grab my camera"
At which point, awkward silence would ensue until someone suggests we try drumming instead.

However, I'm realizing that if I want to be an effective partner with Carmen I have to give her freedom. Otherwise we will end up in a tight little ball of tension and no real flow. However, it's very very very very hard to give enough freedom to a horse that not only has the athleticism to spin on a dime while going 0-60 in 2 seconds but will do so when she's frightened by something.  I realize that this is what I must do  in order to advance.

We're making progress on it. I had to go away for work so Carmen had yesterday off. Today was beautiful but very windy. Funnily enough my first thought was 'good, I can see if we can still progress when it's blustery'.  She was definitely excited for the first part of our ground work. There were lots of blowing leaves and grass. Also, now that it's fall, some leaves are flying through the air AND another patch of asters has appeared by the mounting block. However, I kept to my plan that she has to be focussed on me and I will do what I need to to keep it- transitions, moving her away from me when she falls in and asking her to bend to the inside when she's looking out. It was funny, I could the switch flip in her brain from OH MY GOD SO MUCH WIND to oh yeah I know this exercise and I'm rocking it. 

I mounted up and immediately asked to stay focussed on me. I no longer let her look around when I first get on- this gives her too much opportunity to find things that will bother her. Initially she finds this quite annoying- like a teacher asking you to stop looking out the window and focus. I find if I focus on praising when she listens and not getting upset when she doesn't but just keep asking she stops looking for a fight and settles into work. I really focussed on keeping my seat loose and giving her rein to stretch into, rather than hold her tight. I had contact but I wanted her to stretch out, not curl up. With Andalusians, it's very easy for them to curl in and set their neck. I don't want that.
She gave two rather large spooks. Of course my body reacted with hers but I was able to let go immediately and then go back to what we were doing while giving her the rein and not worrying about it. When I realized that I was focussing on whether we were doing a correct 10 metre circle rather then staying alive I started to smile.

The reality is that I'm asking her to let me catch her while giving her the opportunity to catch me as well.

If that makes any sense at all.

from my lesson a couple weeks ago. 

Monday, October 12, 2015

Learning Curve

After my last post it's time for a more upbeat post.

My last two rides on Carmen have been fabulous. Ever since Friday when I made sure she was focussed on me it feels like we've turned a corner.

That my ride on Saturday was good could also be explained by having Irish in the ring. But things were good both Sunday and Monday morning when we rode by ourselves. Here's what I've figured out:
1. I need to insist on her full attention right from the beginning of our ground work. And it's nifty to see how that really works. She seems positively grateful that she has me to focus on and not the stuff outside the ring. This does not require me to be harsh but it requires me to be attentive. And it requires me to insist that she bends on the lunge and gawk outside or deke in to me.

Carmen's view of the ring
2. Whatever I get from her on the ground work, I will get a watered down version while riding. 

Armed with this knowledge I have been approaching our work with a we can do this. I do my best to not worry about what she might worry about. And it's beginning to work for me. 

I don't have the goal of 'we must use all parts of the ring' but I do have the goal of 'I will attend to you but you must attend to me too'. This sometimes ticks her off because how dare I ask her to bend to the inside when there's clearly a danger outside that she need to monitor. I don't get rougher, I just keep repeating the aid until I get what I want. Sometimes I do make it stronger but mostly I just stay persistent. For example, she often counterbends going to the right past P. I pulse my inside leg and my hand asking her to flex to the inside. At the beginning I won't get this flexion until well past L. But with repetition it happens sooner and sooner until she is simply listening. 

For whatever reason I am not getting stressed about her not listening, but more philosophical about it.  Of course if she's really losing it (like Friday) I won't lie, I do get stressed.

Today I was really focussing on trying to rate her pace with my seat. It's not easy- I have to make sure I stay upright (leaning forward is my go to response when feeling uncertain), and keep  my seat soft and try to post to the pace I want. All of this takes so much of my concentration I can't worry about any potential scary places. 

I realized today that she and were discussing what we were doing, not where we were going. This is a big change and allows me to actually focus on stuff that is dressage-ish. Both of us we negotiating the work and it felt really good. I can feel how talented she is when she's on the aids. It's like we're weightless. I can't even hear her footfalls. I brought her back to the walk and gave her a long rein. She stretched over her back and walked out loose and easy. I then used my seat to steer her and refused to take up the reins. We were able to do changes of rein this way. I asked her to whoa and she came to a perfectly square halt. 

The more we do and the less that goes wrong the more both us gain confidence in each other. 

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Bang Head Here

If you even just glance at this blog now and then, it's pretty clear that I've been working my butt off trying to get Carmen to settle in the ring. It's been a journey of forwards, backwards, sideways and (sometimes) upwards. Seriously, it's 3D.

By now through observation and data keeping I've figured out a few things that will set Carmen off:

  • blowing leaves, grass, etc
  • birds flying overhead (a hawk flew over once and cast a shadow over us. She freaked out. Well I saw it was a hawk, Carmen maintains it was a pterydactyl).
  • being alone. 
  • being in heat- although that usually manifests in a general grouchiness about moving forward. 
  • things that she has decided that she will not do or places she will not go
  • bushes/plants that weren't flowering yesterday but are now. 
Before it used to be any ONE of those things would lead to a frustrating ride. Now it's usually a combination. But I am a stubborn, determined sort of person so I keep working away. All of the instruction, reading and youtube watching convince me that it's patient leadership that will save the day. 


I hate being patient. But that seems to be my life lesson. 

Yesterday was a lovely day and I got home and got Carmen ready. Irish was in his stall. She was warm and snuggly in the cross ties. She walked up happily with me  and our ground work was terrific. I took off the lunge line and walked her to the mounting block. As I did so the sky suddenly darkened and it became extremely windy. I swear, it came out of nowhere. Carmen immediately went into yellow alert. I had some misgivings but I got on. And endured 10 minutes of the most tense, spooky, argumentative ride I've had in a long time. It was awful. 

I dismounted and lunged her again. This time, I had to work really hard to have her attend to me. But I wasn't taking no for an answer. She had to listen to me- not the wind, evil clumps of asters  and blowing leaves/trees. After a long time of doing this up and down the ring we were both a hot mess. I took of the lunge line and got back on. I worked on simple things, like bending and steering. It was not great but it was better. I kept my seat as releaxed as I could but at times I needed to be clear with my aids that yes, we were going this way at this pace. Thank you ver much. I found a good moment and got off. 

I was feeling frustrated and so very frigging tired of riding the same ride over and over. I spent some time going over in my head how far she's come since she's arrived and that I just need.to.be.patient.

However, it didn't feel like a total loss because I did manage to get her listening to me. In the barn she went back to being her sweet self. 

This morning downed cold and blustery but the sun did come out. I was hoping that the wind would go away but had to accept that it probably wouldn't. Cynthia was coming out to ride too so I figured Irish would be of help. I got Carmen ready. She walked up beside me and it was apparent right from the beginning that she was definitely tuned into me. Not that she didn't notice the trees, grass and leaves blowing like crazy but she stayed focussed on me. Even going past the evil asters. I got on and began out ride. I had decided that I was ignoring whatever was going on outside of the ring and staying focussed on the inside of the ring. And I had one of our best rides in terms of obedience. 

There was one big spook when we were doing a 10 metre circle not was from the Evil Asters. But I just kept relaxed and brought her right back to what we were doing. I insisted on bend but gave as soon as she relaxed. I made sure that my inside leg pulsed and didn't grip. I did my level best to keep my seat following. I began to be able to play with shapes and figures in the ring. One that was fun was trot on right rein down the long side, right turn at P, half a 10 metre circle to the left at L and then leg yield from the quarter line to the rail and repeat at R/I. It was fun to do because my aids had to be timed correctly and it was busy enough to keep her attention but not hard physically. It also allowed me to get her to face the 'scary grass' but with a task, not just heading towards them. we ended walking around the whole ring with a long rein (to the buckle). 

So I think I'm on the right track- no more trying to baby her along but being clear and sticking to what I want, not what she wants. Our ride wasn't perfect but it was progress. 

I'll take that. 

Thursday, October 8, 2015


Carmen has been on the PRE supplement for over 2 weeks now and I do notice a difference. She much calmer to handle. She's not always calm under saddle but she's more likely to increase her forward momentum then to balk. I much prefer energy to channel.

Today in our session she was good on the lunge with a few spooky areas. I had to giggle at her suspicion of the wild asters that have suddenly bloomed. She views plants that are green one day and then flowery the next as falling into the 'not-to-be-trusted' category. I did try to explain about flowers that adorn competition rings but I'm not sure she appreciated my point.

I got on and she was excellent at first. We were working on our warm up when she gave a huge spook and scoot. She turned to face the tree, trembling slightly. I think it was a squirrel but I can't prove it. After that she was a ball of nerves. I thought about dismounting but it didn't feel awful. I decided to see if we could work through it. I focussed on keeping my seat quiet and following as well as my hands. I did shorten up the reins though. We had moments where she was 100% with me and times when I had about 20%. But there was no huge melt down and no more big spooks. We were able to work on transitions, shoulder in (it sucked but we tried), leg yield (we rocked them) and turns on the forehand. That exercise was fun we trotted, halted, turn on the forehand and trotted off. She seemed be intrigued by this new exercise. There was a moment in the middle when she was no longer scared but seemed to figure we should be done. We worked through that and she settled again. We finished with her trotting into the scary corners and I dismounted.

I find that I'm more confident dealing with 'I don't want to' then 'I'm scared' so I have to work on that. I think it's because the fear feels more unpredictable. After I gave her a nice groom which she quite enjoyed.

On a sadder note there have been a couple horse deaths in our area that are suspected to be due to Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE). I vaccinated both horses in the spring when the vet came but it needs to be done every 6 months. I called the vets to order both West Nile and Triple E (to be safe) and had Ed pick them up. After my ride, Ed came out and fed her an apple while I gave her the injection. She barely noticed. Irish got his next. He's so used to needles that I could have done it in his stall but he wanted his apple too.  I feel so much better now that it's been done.

keeping a lookout for mosquitoes...

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

It's All Relative

So now that I've changed my perspective with Carmen I've noticed improvements. But it's not all sunshine and roses. What I have come to realize is that I need to evaluate our progress on the day. This graphic is helping me a lot:
in fact, our straight lines sometimes look like the right....

On Saturday, she was up and reactive (it was a stormy day and she had 4 days off). I did a lot of groundwork and then got on. She was tense but listened to me and our walk work was very good. Shortly after that it started to rain so I ended and all we had done was walk. But I was happy.

On sunday when I rode we had a pretty good ride. As always she was sticking in her walk-trot transitions but I stayed persistent and calm. After repeated 'asks' she gave a little hop and broke into canter.
Carmen: "There, deal with that!"
Me: "Great idea. Let's canter"
Carmen: "No, you don't get it. You're supposed to pull me up"
Me:  "and ruin such a lovely canter? Never! Let's go. I love cantering"
Carmen: *sigh*

I much prefer a forward gait, even it's not what I asked for then her sucking back through a transition. After that canter she settled into some nice work. We were able to shoulder in up into troll corner and I was quite happy.

Monday I rode again. The wind was quite blustery and she was quite tense being ridden. Instead of being frustrated that I wasn't getting the same great work that I had on the ground I just dealt with what we had. I realized that two weeks ago I would have had to dismount and lunge some more. I wanted to see if we could work through it. And while our work was not great we managed to walk trot and canter with only 2 big spooks. Both of those spooks were a sudden stop and spin and almost unseated me. The first one caught me unaware. For the second she had broke to canter and I decided to let her go to let her release some tension. It was working but I made sure that I was sitting up and back. Thank heavens because she gave a sudden stop and spin and if I hadn't been ready I would have ended up on the ground. But I didn't and we carried on cantering.

 She never really settled but she tried to settle. I know that if I relax my seat and go with her motion she really likes it and will stretch and blow. The problem is that I have internalized the idea of a 'still seat' so I have to focus on it. As soon as my mind goes to something else I go back to my more 'stiff' seat. That said, I am okay with that because I know that there is a progression from having to concentrate all the time to being able to do it without conscious thought. If I persist I will get there. I also really tried to not have the reins too short. That is REALLY hard when she feels like she's going to spook at any second. A couple times she stopped and refused to go forward. There was one going backwards episode but I was able to cut that off quickly. Each time I asked her to go forward 'just for me'. I was positive and supportive and each time she did take the step, even though it was against her better judgement.

So our progress is relative but I'm okay with that. I believe that Carmen will teach me to be tuned in and diplomatic. Irish probably believes that it's about time.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

An Epiphany

(1)  :  a usually sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something (2)  :  an intuitive grasp of reality through something (as an event) usually simple and striking (3)  :  an illuminating discovery, realization, or disclosure (Merriam-Webster)

I had a bit of an epiphany a couple days ago. It makes perfect sense to me but let's see if I can explain myself.

I was reflecting on Carmen and our training progress. It all started because I was reviewing my goals for September:
Goal # 1. Walk, trot and Canter in every spot of the ring.
Progress: Fair. we've managed to work in every spot but it's definitely not consistent and I have not cantered the corners.

Goal #2: Work on a stretchy trot circle.
Progress: Very Good. I've learned to release with my hands and let her stretch out the base of her neck into contact. She's learning to reach for the bit and stretch out. She doesn't understand a huge release at the trot but she's getting it at the walk.

So in summary, I've made some progress but perhaps not as much as I wanted. But what I have made strides in is learning to read her and work with her on any given day. Which leads to my epiphany. I realized that I have been working with Carmen towards the goal of having her stop being so reactive to stuff. However, Carmen is an intelligent, sensitive mare. Reacting is part of her essential nature. In my head every time she would spook or gawk or balk I would be thinking "don't do that. I don't want you to be like that". In other words, I wanting her to not be herself.

No wonder we were at odds. The truth that hit me was that I kept waiting for her to be like Steele. Which is completely unfair (not to mention unrealistic). I recognize the irony that I deliberately bought a horse NOT like Steele and then tried to recreate him (albeit subconsciously). It was similar to guys that I dated in University. Many of them liked that I was low maintenance but didn't like my independence. They kept trying to change me. It felt awful. I bought Carmen because she was sensitive, brilliant and intelligent. That means that she is reactive and often 'hot'. I need to accept the hotness as part of who she was.

This realization felt simple and right. I don't know what it changed in me but she definitely noticed. Now when she's gawking and/or spooking I tell her "yes, I know that is kinda freaky. Let me worry about it". Since I accept this part of her I'm not longer riding as defensively. And because I'm less defensive she's spooking less.

She's more open to listening to me because I am truly listening to her.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Clothes Horse

When I had two gelding blankets were impossible. All that they wanted to do was to rip them off each other. While Irish does get a nice winter coat he required a lot of groceries to keep his weight on last winter. Carmen's weight is good but she's not a typical easy keeper Andalusian. Also, she's from Virginia so I want to make sure that she doesn't lose this winter. So I decided that I needed to invest in a winter blanket for my girl. 

The first step was to measure her. Cynthia helped me. As we held the tape she measure out at almost 80 inches. I didn't believe that was feasible. I made us repeat it 3 times. Each time it came out the same. Still not believing I brought her in and tried on one of Irish's blankets which was 78. It fit her but was a wee bit tight in the shoulders. I was flummoxed. I had no idea that she was that size. So I have ordered her a winter blanket. 

Earlier this week I was in a small local tack shop. I was looking for a cooler for her. I found a colourful fleece one that 81 inches for a great price so I picked it up. The timing was perfect because our weather has turned cold and rainy. Thursday morning it was rainy but warm so I put them out. By late afternoon it was cold and rainy. When I brought the horses in they were soaked and looked a little chilly. I put Irish's cooler on him and then went to get Carmen's. 

When I brought it into her stall her ears pricked up. 
Carmen: "ooh what's that?"
Me: "This is a new blanket I bought you. It will keep you warm"
Carmen: *sniffs it* "It looks rather loud. Do you think I can pull it off?"
Me: "oh yeah. Totally"

I put it on her while she turned to each side checking it out. It was adorable. I also felt that I should have brought a full length mirror for her.  I fastened up the belly straps. I was pleased to see how well it fit. 

Carmen looked at me. 
Carmen: "Are you sure it's not too much? Should I go for something more understated and classical?"
Me: "I think that you pull it off very well."
Carmen: "Well it is soft and cosy. It feels very nice and I'm warming up already."

I think that she looks good don't you? 

There's a whole new world of shopping opened up with owning a mare......