dancing horses

dancing horses

Thursday, June 30, 2016


One of the things I have learned in life is that  moments of real, unadulterared happiness are truly rare. True joy is not something that is easy to get nor can it be ordered.

I had one of those today.

The morning started like any other day- I went to work and had a full day of meetings ahead. I was looking forward to the long weekend. Royce had called the day before and we arranged for a session after work today. It made things tight as I was in meetings in the city and I had to rush into my riding clothes and get the horses ready. Part of me didn't want to do this- I just wanted to relax. It was warm and humid as well. But I squashed those feelings and decided to get on with it.

I had been working with Carmen and things had been going well. It's not that everything had changed- but the issues were slowly going away and being replaced with the 'right' behaviours. I have been getting a mare that searches for the answer rather than panicking. And I was happy with where we were going.

Royce arrived and I started to put on Carmen's bridle. She was standing there without a halter when he threw on his western saddle and she never moved. I was gathering up my saddle and stuff and Royce took her outside. I looked up and he was on her.

Oh.  I said and he grinned. He rode her a bit down by the barn and then rode her up to the ring. She was tense but not too worried. He rode her a bit in the ring and then I got on while he talked me through some things. She was responding really well and then Royce got on again.

Next thing I knew he said 'let's go down to the field.'  The plan was for him to ride her down there and then we would return to the ring for me to ride. He walked her down and into the field. He walk, trotted and cantered her. She was happy and forward.

Look at that smile. 

Royce halted her and said I think you should get on. 
I thought for a millisecond and said sure! 
 I climbed up from the ground (it was not easy to get my leg up that high!) and we walked off. Royce had me check the brakes and the steering. And then he directed me to ask her to trot. She trotted off nice and forward. But she steered and came back to me when asked. It's the field she's in every day but this is the first time ever we've been out of the ring. 

Royce then directed me to canter. And when I asked she lifted into this lovely and free canter. We cantered across the field and my heart flew ahead like a barn swallow. I felt everything that I had felt when I first sat on her.  Two weeks ago I was thinking of selling her because she wasn't safe in the ring and here I was cantering in the open and I felt so frigging happy that I thought my heart would burst and I started to laugh. I cantered across the hill with my laughter echoing from the woods. 

Ask her to come back to the trot Royce said. 
But I don't want to I thought. 
Neither do I said Carmen. 

But I don't argue with Royce. So I asked her to come back and she did. 

We did some work in the field practicing coming up and down. I then rode her back up to the ring and she came with me willingly. I asked her to do a few things in the ring and then I stopped and got off. I gave her a hug and then went over and picked up my saddle. She followed my happily while I headed down to the barn. In the barn I opened the bar fridge and took out a beer. I sat there (after hosing her off of course) and drank it while she hung with me in the aisle. She kept sniffing my beer and was very intrigued with the smell. 

If you look at Carmen these days you will see a horse that has a soft eye and a gentle demeanour. She seems to be happy and relaxed. 

There are going to be times of frustration but I will treasure that moment of happiness for a long time.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Milestone Post and a Giveaway

“We sometimes have to experience pain for us to have a story to tell. The power to heal from the pain equips us with the strength to rise up again and move beyond it all. We not only become stronger but wise enough to recognize and handle pain in the future. We however, have to learn to let the brick walls fall down so that we can experience true love once more. We must learn from pain and let it lead us to the most beautiful parts of our journey in life. Only then can our stories become fully complete.” 
― Kemi Sogunle

This is my 500th post. I should probably write something profound and moving but I'm drawing a blank.

I wrote my first post on July 6, 2012. I had just purchased my dream horse as a yearling and I wanted to chronicle my journey with him. The first day I let him into the big field I took the header photo. That gave me the title for the Blog.

I had my journey all mapped out.

But like most journeys, things did not go exactly as planned.

Life is like that.

I am still on the journey, but with a new partner. One who also fills my heart with joy. I have been blessed with the horses in my life.

I no longer have the certainty of knowing the final destination but that's okay.

Enough of the sentiment. I figured that I should celebrate my 500th post and I wasn't sure how. But then fate stepped in. You see I had been playing with making my blog banner more like a logo. I found an online place to make it into a window sticker for my trailer. When I was checking out I was offered a deal to get another item with the logo at a discount.

So, let me present official 'Journey With a Dancing Horse' swag:
It's a limited edition:  there are only there of these in existence. And it can be yours.Here's what you have to do:
1. tell me about a part of your journey- whatever one you want.
2. If you have a blog put it there with a link in a comment below.
3. If you don't have a blog but want to enter just tell me your story in the comments.
4. tell me how to get in touch with you in your comment. :)

I will randomly select the winner on Monday, July 4th.

Of course now I'm terrified that no one wants my mug. But heck, if I can be brave enough to sit on an 1000 pound animal I can handle this. ....I think.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Blue Skies

Carmen ended up with both Friday and Saturday off.  The original plan for Saturday was to ride in the morning and then head into Halifax to meet up with friends. We were going to sail in the harbour and then go to dinner downtown. I couldn't wait- the weather was supposed to be glorious.

But on Thursday my phone rang, with a sinking heart I saw that it was the man we buy our hay from. The weather has been so good that the hay was ready a bit earlier this year. I was disappointed but there was nothing to do about it. I cancelled our plans and we prepared to get the hay in. Our friends decided to give up sailing and come help us bring in the hay.


A full barn of hay is a beautiful sight
Quality Control had to check it out to make sure the it met standards

With their help and the larger trailer it took very little time to get the hay in. After we cleaned up and then sat on the deck enjoying wine/beer and some snacks. We headed into a local town for dinner. After dinner Ed and Andrew headed off for a 3 day golf trip. Cynthia stayed over night with me and we rode in the morning.

As we headed out to the field Irish started moseying out to the back. It was actually kind of funny- they matched out pace exactly. Carmen was not sure if this was the best of ideas but Irish was firm. Once they reached the back Irish stood and waited for Cynthia to put the lead over his neck. Carmen looked at me and thought about walking off. I waited and then she began to chew and turned back to me while I put it on her head.

I did some ground work- she was not worried about anything but pinned her ears when I asked her to trot. This is the same as her resistance under saddle and I was happy to be able to work on this from the ground. I also repeated the lesson of telling her to 'line up' at the mounting block. She did really well at this . When I put on her bridle and lined her up she was perfect. I mounted and immediately her ears were back on me waiting for me to tell her what to do. This is such a change from before where her attention was on everything else but me. I counted to 30 and then I started to ride her.

And it was wonderful.

Okay. Not that we looked wonderful. I'm sure we did not. But there were a lot of things that made my heart sing:
- we were able to go in all spots of the ring and I could use what Royce taught me to show her what I wanted. And the truth is that she really wasn't too worried. There was one spot in the tall grass where we heard a lot of peeping- I think that there was a bird nest in there. This caused some worry on her part but we worked through it.
- when she would not go forward when asked I would use either a quick kick or a tap with a crop. She didn't buck when I had to do this- instead she went forward.
- she was able to really appreciate the rests and they were always in the corners.
-after resting she went back to work with no fuss.
-I even did a bit of pushing with her to see how she would react and she didn't become spooky or try to run off.
- we practised transitions and straightness.
- About 3/4 of the way in her ears started to get floppy again. It was a beautiful sight.

Carmen was finally truly trusting me and letting me lead. She didn't need to worry about things- that was my job. She would let me know when she was worried and then accept my direction about what to do do. She didn't need to save herself.

I was finished our work and stood resting down by troll corner. Cynthia rested with us and we chatted while the horses stood quietly.
Just a minute I said to Cynthia, I want to try something. 

I did a turn on the haunches and we walked towards the gate. When we got close, I side passed up to it. She stood there and I reached down and picked up the board. I slowly lifted it then let one end fall. Carmen didn't move. I walked her forward a couple steps and then reached for the board end that was sticking up. She sniffed it curiously. I then walked her forward and I brought the board forward so that the entrance was wide open. She could have cared less.

We then walked down to the barn behind Irish. She was perfectly quiet and calm about all of it.

I couldn't help but think of the conversation I had with Ed the day before when we were on our way to get the hay- he commented that he had seen a real change in Carmen while I was away and he was doing the chores. I was glad to hear that because it tells me about how she is doing then how she is with me.

 He then said confidently I believe that she's going to work out. 

I think that he might just be right.

Blue Days
All of them gone
Nothing but blue skies 
From now on

(probably will still be cloud days but that is fine)

a photo from early May

Thursday, June 23, 2016


The other day two colleagues at work presented to us on the Not Myself Today project. It was very well done. The purpose is make the work place more open and accepting of mental health issues. As a person who struggles with anxiety I really like this idea.

One concept that resonated with me (well one of many) was that we interpret things through our own filters- the event is often neutral but our filters make it positive or negative. For example, if I won a million dollars one filter would be 'Yay I won a million dollars. Ponies for everyone'. 

OR I could think 'great, now everyone is going to be bugging me for stuff and expect me to pay for everything'. 

 Royce has left Carmen and I on our own for this week. Which is good because I want to practice stuff. And it's bad because I'm worried that I will screw it up.  I rode her tuesday night and it was very windy (seriously weather, knock.it.off). She was spooky and looky and I had to work really hard to keep her attention. But I did it. We did it. We didn't lose our heads and I found that I had the tools to keep her in line. Was I thrilled- not so much. We didn't really seem to accomplish anything other than 'not die'. But I realized that this is the plan and I need to stick to it and have faith that we'll get there. I remembered that Royce said 'I don't care if you only ride for 20 minutes as long as you RIDE.' I felt that I had done that.

This morning I had to go away for work so I rode super early to make sure that I got a ride in. When I went out to the field the horses were at the top. Irish stood still but, when I got closer, Carmen walked off. One filter would be 'my mare hates me and this is not working'.  But the other one was 'she's testing me to see what the boundaries are'. So when she walked off I shooed her away and gave Irish some attention. She circled back to us and stood. I approached her and she walked off- with her butt to me. Very rude. So I smacked it and went back to Irish. We stood as a little herd and she was excluded. This time she came up, politely, and I put her halter on (Irish- best wingman ever).

As I led her to the barn I did all the ground work that happens in the ring. Once we got to the ring it did not take long to have 100% on me. I realized that I didn't need to do more- I needed to get on. I put on her bridle and got her to line up at the the mounting block (I've been working on teaching her to respond to 'line up' during our ground work). I got on and counted to 100 in my head. She didn't move. At first her ears were forward. I did nothing but count. One ear flicked back briefly. I kept counting. As I hit 30 both ears would swivel back and then forward. By 60 one was back all the time and one went back and forth. By 90 both were back and she was waiting for me to give direction.

At 100 we walked off and went to work. I practiced everything I could remember- and this time I remembered to give her rein and freedom. I remembered that when she was tensing going down the long side to bring her off and then bring her back.

Any direction, action or pace all were my idea. If I felt her wanting to left we went right. As we worked her ears were on little swivels. If they locked on something that was not me I did something to get her attention back.

If she spooked, even a tiny flinch, I would stop and back her toward what spooked her. We backed into and then  rested in the scary places. She would tighten up and then sigh and lower her head. It was awesome. There were even some floppy ear moments.  She is learning to look for answers and to try to figure stuff out. Before she only had two responses- submission or flee. Now she's thinking about what I want, not what she thinks she should do. And she's finding that more comfortable. I can feel her trusting me more and understanding that someone on her back does not have to be a bad thing.

I dismounted and we walked out of the ring down to the barn. Her whole demeanour was relaxed. I walked her by the barn and up to the garden (I wanted to check it  out). She didn't care at all. She was happy to stand there as long as I wanted.


Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Faint Heart and All That

If you go in/ you're sure to win
Yours will be the charming maidie
Be your law/the ancient saw
Faint heart never won fair lady

Every journey has an end
when at the worst affairs will mend
dark the dawn when day is nigh
hustle your horse and don't say die! 
Gilbert & Sullivan  'Lolanthe'

Originally Royce was not planing to come out on Monday, but he called in the afternoon and said that his schedule opened up and did I want him to come. I of course said yes and we set a time. Fortunately it gave me time to eat dinner. When I headed out to the barn to get organized Royce was already there. He was speaking on his cell phone and playing with a construction tape measure. I saw that he was using it to sack her out. I looked at her wide eyed but calm face and said Now what's he doing to you?
I have no idea. My world has been turned upside down. 

The plan was for Royce to work with her and then we would switch saddles and I would ride. He did a bit, showing me what he was doing and then got on. Royce loves to talk but here's what I gathered from what he said: 
- be clear in your head what you want and clear in your signals. if she doesn't understand make it clearer and then drop it down to a light signal
- she's learning to try to figure out what you want. .She has a lot of pride and, while you have to 'win', you can't trample her pride. 
-stop holding her with the reins. Use the rein aids but give her room. I believe that she has been held in front and driven behind and she's didn't understand what they wanted (he looked angry when he said this). 
-you have to keep her attention 100%. This is critical. If you don't have her attention you have to get it. You can't let her come up with her own ideas. 

When I got into the saddle she was more worried. It made sense- we've been starting over but we still have history. Also, you will be surprised to learn that the weather was windy. Sigh. When I got on the first task was to stand for 5 minutes and not move. At first I thought he meant that he had to go and could only teach me for 5 minutes but then I realized what he was asking. It was funny, Carmen's ears were pointing forward but when I didn't ask anything they flicked back, and then back again. She took a step forward and I brought her back. After a few adjustments, she finally stood there with her ears on me, waiting for instruction. Yay. 

Initially Royce rode Carmen through me. But as I figured out what he was saying and what he meant I was able to begin to do it independently. We rested her in her spooky spots and worked her away from these spots. There were many changes of directions and working on keeping her straight and not letting her bulge out. I could feel how helpful this will be down the road as we start 'dressaging'. With a simple close of the outside rein and leg she would straighten right up- this will be wonderful when we start our lateral work. She's so much lighter off the leg and hand. After one rest she became cranky about going back to work. I was persistent and I could feel her balling up and then she spooked. But I realized that she wasn't afraid- she was getting out of work. So we went to work. And her bad mood didn't last long and didn't escalate. 

As Carmen and I gained confidence Royce began to do things that would be startling in the ring- clapping his hands and throwing rocks. We dealt with it by stopping and backing up. The idea is to replace this idea of running away with the idea of stopping. We then will replace it with her carrying on. 

Then it happened. That thing that all riders look for. I saw it and felt a lift in my heart- could it be? Is it possible?  

And then Royce got all excited 'DO YOU SEE THAT? Look- she has FLOPPY EARS!' 

I grinned. We dialled the work right down and I walked her around the ring with her ears flopping all relaxed and listening. They would go away and then come back. Finally. My mare was working with me and was happy about it!

We ended there. 
my happy eared horse
I see changes in Carmen- not just in work (that's still a long road) but in her demeanour. She's friendly and curious. The other day I had her ground tied in the barn when Ed started weedwacking outside the door. She tensed but didn't move a leg- instead she looked at me. As Ed came by the door she peeked at him.
he's a busy little guy isn't he? 
Another interesting thing is that Royce is 100% clear with the horses. He brooks no nonsense and they know it. Some might find his action harsh- but they need to viewed in context. BUT, interestingly enough I've been able to stop Carmen's supplement for ulcers and she is doing fine. That says it all to me- she needs the clarity. During my ride Royce got after me for saying 'good girl'. He believes that too much talking teaches the horse to tune out and so you only use words when you want them to mean something (like 'whoa' and 'easy'). That evening in the stall he was in there working with Carmen and when I peeked in he was rubbing her forehead and saying 'good girl'. He say me and grinned. I didn't say anything. 


Sunday, June 19, 2016


Horse training is hard. 

Re-starting a horse is even harder. 

But don't worry, this is actually a positive post. 

Royce ended up not coming this weekend at all so Carmen and I worked on our own. The weather decided to be cooperative and it was sunny and warm. Finally. I rode Carmen in the morning and it was so.much.fun. We had a few struggles with the 'who's in charge' discussion but it never moved beyond a general crankiness and we were able to work out of it. I was able to ride her all over the room, even by the notorious 'Troll Corner' and the evil flapping plastic bag.  I did my best to apply all that Royce had taught me- which was hard because most of the time he's been riding and I've been watching. 

However, Carmen felt like a green horse. In a good way- every time I picked up a rein or applied a leg she tried to respond- is it this you want? or this? I'm pretty sure it's that.  I was happy that she was trying. It reminded me of when I first started with Steele. I loved that she had pretty much given up her agenda and was trying to figure out mine. Any discussions were very short lived. I had such a forward trot and canter that I was smiling like a fool. She was so light off the leg steering was easy. 

Sunday was very hot and very windy. I was hoping that the heat effect would off-set the wind effect and maybe it idd by not by much. However, I worked on the ground, put on my big girl panties and mounted. 
Carmen being brave by the plastic bag- she's reaching her nose out to sniff it. 

She was tight and tense and I tried to channel all things Royce. 
Okay, he says to let the horse make a mistake and then show them what you want. 
Which is easier when you are a cowboy in a western saddle and a velcro butt. Not so much when you're a middle aged woman sitting in an english saddle. However, I did add a grab strap so I could hand on to something. But you know what? She only spooked once, whoaed immediately when I asked and generally did what I asked- just with tension. I stuck it out until she was listening and then got off. 

I put the reins over her head and she stood there while I ran up the stirrups. I then turned and walked away. She followed me, stopping when I stop and matching my pace exactly.

 I was pretty happy with our work this weekend and sat down after dinner to type up this blog post. 

Then the phone rang. It was Royce. 
So I could come out now. 
Really, now? (my thoughts flitted to pjs and couches and a glass of wine). 
Sure, now is great. 
I hung up and Ed was snickering. He's making you work- that's for sure. 

I got everything ready for the night while I waited for him. Carmen was mellow as we tacked her up and Royce took her up to the ring and got on. He worked her for about 20 minutes (maybe 30? I am no longer sure). Ed came up for part of it. Royce hopped off and I got on. And then my butt was put to work. He talked me through getting Carmen to listen and be soft in her body. Slowly I let go of my basic training level dressage moves and worked with Carmen. We came together. And fell apart. And came together. 

That's much better! he said You are riding her now, not just controlling her. 
If she doesn't understand, exaggerate what you're doing and then release. Then ask again softly. See if she's got it. 

We finished with getting Carmen to learn to back up with the lightest of cues and then go forward right away. As we rocked forward and back she got lighter and lighter. Doing this we made our way to the spooky corner. Her neck was stiff and she practically vibrated. We then worked on turn of forehand. At first she was over reactive but my timing improved and she tuned in until she was no longer caring about the corner, just what I was asking. 

We walked down to the barn and she stood there looking pretty pleased with herself. 

I probably had the same expression. 

Saturday, June 18, 2016

We are Not Amused

First of all, let me say that I am approaching my 500th post and I have something special planned so stay tuned!
Now back to the regular programming.

Since my last post Royce has been here two more times. Bit by bit he is chipping away at Carmen's fears and resistances and new pony is emerging.

He called me on Wednesday and we arranged for him to come on Thursday evening to work with her. The plan was for him to do some work on the ground and the saddle, then  I was to do it while he picked me apart gave me coaching.

It was, as seems to be typical for this June- cool and blustery. I could tell just by how Carmen was in the barn and going up to the ring that she was not in the mood to play. It's not that she was disobedient in any way- she wasn't. So I can't tell you how I know for sure, I do know. And since I wasn't doing any of the handling I'm pretty sure I wasn't transferring my feelings to her.

During the ground work Carmen started off fine and then she started to pull backwards. She does do that to me (I always thought that something frightened her) and drags me around the ring. However, for a small man, Royce is like a rock and he didn't move. He then spent some time getting her to give to pressure. When she comes against the rope she's to move forward right away. I should also mention that I had tied a plastic bag to a post in the ring at C the day before when I was doing my homework on Wednesday. Since she was doing fine with the plastic bag inside the circle I wanted to put one outside.

When she was listening he got on- and that's when the fun began. Carmen decided to show Royce exactly what kind of princess he was dealing with.

Every single resistance that Carmen has ever done with over the past year she threw at Royce. She tried to bolt, she stopped, she shied, she kicked and she bucked. And he rode all of it. I can't describe it in detail but here's some highlights:
1. Carmen does not like to be touched by the whip. Except that's not exactly true- she doesn't like to be told to go forward. She will be annoyed if you just sit there and cluck at her to go. With the crop she will kick at it. So Royce just kept tapping her with the crop and let her kick and carry on. He would reach back and just place the crop against her side and it didn't come off no matter what she did.

2. when she shied at something he stopped her and backed her into it. And then turned on a small circle and rode by.

3. the plastic bag was a huge issue but he kept working and gradually it became the resting place.

4. When she planted her feet and refused to move he disengaged her hip and had her move.

5. He had me rattle the plastic bag while he side passed to it.

At the end he went around the entire ring banging on boards with his crop and she never shied once.

The entire session lasted 3 hours. Most of it she was walking and trotting. Some cantering. She was sweaty. I was sweaty. Royce looked fine. I realized that Carmen was used to simply outlasting her rider. I would have given up well before. I have given up well before.  What's even more interesting is that at the end of all this Carmen was sweaty, tired but not stressed or upset.  Not even a little bit.

Royce dismounted and handed the reins to me.
You can get on- he started
No. I'm good I said
-but I wouldn't recommend it.
I didn't want to get on her after all that had just happened. She needed to process this.
This is huge. The 'old' Carmen would have been in the next county

I hosed her off and put her away. It was past 8;30 and I hadn't had supper but I was too exhausted. So I poured myself a glass of wine and munched on Timbits (these are donut holes made at our Tim Horton's coffee shop- a Canadian icon). 

Friday I rode her around noon. It was sunny but very windy. Cynthia came as well. I thought that she and I had a good session- I rode her around- fallowing Royce's advice. I showed her what I wanted but didn't try to force her. He believes that a horse learns if you let them make a mistake and then show them what you want. So wasn't to, say, force her into the circle with a tight leg and hand but to see if she would come off the rail and then use my leg to go back. I'm sure I'm messing up the explanation but it made sense to me. She would resist but not for long and it never escalated. 

In the afternoon he called and asked to come out again. 
I don't know if you realize that she has a lot of issues. 
I laughed.  um, That's why I called you.
(aside- I think that Royce has an image of middle aged woman and doesn't realize that I can a)ride and b) be brave. that's okay- as long as he fixes stuff I'll be fine). 

So he came out and Carmen was much milder then the day before. He got on her almost right away and repeated a lot of the things yesterday. She was doing really well- her resistances were slight and there was no big fight. I watched him canter her on a loose rein while she stayed on the circle and he swung his rope around her. I saw the horse that she could be.  

Then Carmen decided that he had been on her long enough. Uhoh I thought. And she resisted. She even bucked a few times. For which she was spanked and sent forward into a hand gallop. She looked very surprised at that. But this time it didn't last long (not compared to yesterday). When he was done I got on to cool her out. 
Bad cop, good cop. 
It was neat to ride this horse that was soft and listening. I rode her around the ring steering using my seat and hardly touching the reins at all. She spooked at something but within a couple minutes she was walking by it relaxed and listening. When she was breathing nicely and cooled out I dismounted and brought her down to the barn. I hosed her off and and she was happy to return to her stall. 

You are on your own tomorrow but I can come back on Sunday

That's fine Royce. I am not worried. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Rules of Engagement

DIY Horse ownership is having a giveaway. Olivia has a mule that she jumps, does dressage with, goes camping and trail rides. I am deeply envious of all that they get up to and love reading about their adventures. If you want to see an adorable mule and their green mustang you should totally check it out. 

Now for what I've been up to: 

I am busily re-writing Carmen and our relationship agreement and it's really working out better for the both of us. I am far more aware of her body language towards me and I do not tolerate any pinned ears or ignoring of my instructions. 

I finally noticed that when I'm in her stall and ask her to move she will pin her ears at me at times. When she does that I now move her feet until her ears are forward and then I release the pressure. I am careful that I don't put myself in harms way- I do just enough to move her but not enough to cause her to feel defensive. Now when I ask her to move away she responds quickly and without the drama. 

I'm working on the ground work- my timing is not always right because I'm still thinking about it but it will come with practice. Yesterday we worked with plastic bags tied to posts and with the hula hoop. She is not a fan of either but is becoming braver about the whole thing. I've also noticed that now she's looking for ways to relax about it rather than looking for ways to escape. For example, I was lunging her on a small circle and I was standing inside the hula hoop. When I asked her to halt she did, eyed the hoop and then dropped her head and sighed. 

When she gets worked up and tries to run I 'shut 'er down' as Royce says and tell her to WHOA in no uncertain terms. I can see her processing this and mulling it all over. 

What's even more interesting is what I'm seeing when I'm not actively engaged in training: 

1. She's spending far more time away from Irish then I have ever seen her do. She doesn't seem to feel the need to be with him at all times. It's not setting too well with him some days. Tonight I was getting their stalls ready and preparing their supper. The two horses were hanging around. I took of Irish's fly mask and when I stepped away he went bolting out to his field (this is his 'thing': I want to eat but can't let you think I want to be in'). Carmen came out of her stall, looked at him, looked at me, thought for a minute, then came up to me and started licking and chewing. I took off her mask. She nuzzled me a bit and then went into her stall and I closed the door. 

2. Carmen is following me more- On the weekend I was walking the outside of the fence line (checking it) and I looked up and she was following me on the inside. When I go out with their flymasks to put them on she will follow me after as I walk away. 

3. She's more respectful of my personal space- I realized that in the morning I was opening the outer door and stepping back to allow her to come out. Now I open the door, come in, get her to move over and I walk through her stall. Once I pass she goes out. 

4. She's happy to stand as long as I want her too, wherever that is- even if its half way out of the barn. 

I haven't ridden her since Saturday but I have been working with her every day in some way or another. 

This really feels like the right path to me. 

Tuesday, June 14, 2016


After Royce left on Friday morning I told him that I was planning to ride Carmen again that afternoon. He was enthusiastic about that idea, gave me some last minute instructions (review of the ride) and then told me 'call me and tell me how it went. Good or bad'

I had a brief rest and then completed my morning chores- including dragging the ring. It was really interesting- Carmen was hanging out by the barn while Irish was out in the field. I figured that she would go out to him (she's rarely far from him) when I came up with the tractor but she didn't. That meant I had to shut them in separate paddocks to get up to the ring. I thought that she might pitch a fit but she really didn't care.

When Cynthia came a couple hours later they were both in the back of the field. Carmen refused to be caught. Rather than chase her I walked over to the gate and closed it behind Cynthia and Irish as they went into the barn. I knew that Carmen would follow Irish but I wanted her to come with me, not him. She ran off and I stood there waiting. She stopped and called. I stood there waiting. Finally she came up to me and I put on her halter.

I did some ground work with her and then rode. And initially she was very challenging and everything that I had been dealing with she was throwing at me. She balked, pinned her eyes, bucked and tried to bolt.

I could have been very upset by this I wasn't. To be honest I half expected it.

Let me explain: Carmen and I have had over a year of interacting in a certain way. Our relationship pattern has been set. Royce came along and established a new set of rules but it would not be reasonable for her to assume that those applied to me as well. In fact I could hear her saying 'I only go in that corner for the little man, not for you'.

It is also a basic tenet of behavioural modification that a behaviour will usually worsen before it goes away (here's an analogy: imagine that every time you leave work you push on the door to go outside. After months of that, one night maintenance changes the door to 'pull'. When you go to push on the door it won't open. You don't immediately stop and think 'I must reframe how I approach this'. At first you push harder. After that you will start to rethink it. How long depends on how stubborn you are).

So I set about establishing our new 'contract'. Carmen wanted her union rep but I explained that Royce was actually my rep not hers. It's interesting- now that I had tools to use with her shenanigans I wasn't worried or tense. I was actually quite relaxed about the whole thing. Once she softened and was listening I did a bit more work and then got off.

After we played with hula hoop. Irish was all 'what the hell?!' About the hoop but Cynthia told him it wasn't his problem and he went to work - with a bit more pep in his step to be sure.

The next morning I rode again and we repeated the work from the day before. This time there were fewer hissy fits. There was a bit of flailing in the far corner but we worked through it. Again, when she was soft and listening we did some work. It's amazing how much better our leg yields are- she's so much more responsive to lateral cues. I made this ride nice and short and gave her a rub.

look at that 'whoa' and where her whole focus is

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Transferring Trust

To recap- Royce had been out twice working on getting Carmen to listen on the ground and then to learn how to react to things that frighten her. He obviously had done much better then I could but I also know that I can get her to work through things on the ground. But the trick seems to be getting her to trust the rider. That has been my biggest frustration that I can't transfer the trust to riding.

Cynthia had pointed out to me that I had done a lot of things right with Carmen and she is correct. I have made her a lot better- she leads, ground ties, cross ties, is polite in the stall, yields to pressure, etc. But I was coming to realize that I was being too careful with her in my riding. And that was not helping her. Inadvertently I was babying her so that she didn't need to face the stuff that bothers her. I started addressing that this spring and that, I believe, is when the wheels started to come off. I spent last year teaching her (not that I meant to do that) that she doesn't have to do things that really frighten her until she's ready. And Princess was never going to be ready.

So back to the training with Royce. He wanted to ride her- mostly because he wanted to see how she would be but also, I believe, he wanted to ride her because he just liked her so much.  We settled that he could come out early on Friday and we would work together. I knew that our sessions had been between 2-3 hours so far so I moved an appointment I had to rotate the wheels. I decided that Carmen was more important. Once again the morning was windy, cloudy and cold.

I let the horses out for a bit in the morning and then brought them in before Royce came. I got things ready and then went to get Carmen. She had her back to me in the stall, dozing. I clucked at her and said 'come on up' (this is what Royce was working on in her stall). She turned, looked at me and then I could see her thoughts 'hey I know this!' She turned around and came up to the door waiting for me to come in.

I was grooming her when Royce came in. He was impressed with her ground tying and I actually had a compliment on it.

He started with the ground work and lunging. He reviewed what they had done. He pointed out that Carmen being obedient was nice but he was waiting for her to soften - to lick and chew to tell him that she was really ready.  Ahh, that was the cue I was missing.

He then got on and went to work. At first she was pretty good about the whole thing. But as he made her work she began to spook.

Yay. That way I could see how he dealt with it. He explained that we need to correct her well before she ever spooks- that it starts with ear pinning when asked to do something and progresses from there. Here is what he worked on with Carmen under saddle:
- to listen to his cues and not anticipate or decide what's going to happen. When he asks the horse to circle, he expects the horse to stay on that circle until he asks it to go off. Carmen doesn't really accept this- she bends but then goes off on her way or drifts out.
- he lets the horse make a mistake and then corrects it. Same as on the ground: 'if you hold the horse there the horse never really knows what you expect. Let them drift off the rail and then push them back over so that they know what you want. '
-He turned Carmen towards what was spooky and then back away. 'flight or fight. She wants to flee I'm showing her that she can fight what's scary. That will give her confidence.' 
-He also taught her to back up. Carmen does not back up under saddle and he helped her to figure it out. I've been taught that you teach backing up under saddle later in the training. Royce disagrees- he says that they need to know how to back up from the beginning. At this point I'm not going to argue.

You can see that Carmen is focussed elsewhere. Royce is getting her to come back. What's interesting is that she is not bothered at all by the dangling rope from the horn. Let me explain the lead shank- Carmen has on her halter as well with the lead attached to it. That way if she bolts he can use that to stop her and not reef on her mouth and hurt her. The chain is there but over the nose band so it's not direct pressure. 

Then it was my turn to get on. He offered to switch out the saddle to mine but I decided to ride in his. The handle is nice but it was as hard as rock. As expected, I felt a bit like a fish out of water as Royce was getting me to do what he does. He's as patient with people as he is with horses (not always the case with horse trainers) and he helped me to figure it out. We worked our way down to the spooky wavy trees.  Royce had me use clucking as a cue to get her to move out. When she pinned her ears at this I was to keep clucking until she stopped. I had to stop holding her on the rail and let her drift off so I could move her back. That way she would know what I want.
- We did transitions up and down (the key to this horse is transitions- lots and lots of transitions).

- We did lots of changes of directions- away from the rail, towards the rail. She wants to figure out what you want and get three steps ahead. Don't let her do that- it lets her make too many decisions and you are not in control. You need to be in control of her all the time. (sounds familiar- Karen and Roz have told me the same thing).

-I really had to work on not holding the reins too tight. Let her go. Give her room to figure it out. 

-I asked her to pick up a canter a few times and then asked her to do it in the corner she hates. As we trotted into it she backed off, I clucked and she pinned her ears. I asked for a canter and she gave a little buck. I gave her a kick and we cantered on. As we rounded the next corner she gave a big spook and spun into the centre. I sat up and Royce thundered 'WHOA' and she came to a screeching halt. "Back her up, keep going. Now turn her into what scared her and then send her back to work'.  I did all of it. The backing up is also part of the instilling bravery- horses when threatened by other horses will either leave or back up into them. Once we went by this scary spot a few times Royce called me into the centre.

I knew she was going to spook. I watched you deal with her resistances - the backing off, the ear pinning and then the buck. I thought to myself the mare is going to spook next and right then she did. But she stopped when we asked. She wasn't truly afraid. She has learned to spook in response to pressure. 

And suddenly everything made sense. As we were working more, she was spooking more. It's her response to pressure. And when she would spook I would back off thinking that I had over stressed her. So the spooking was reinforced. For me, that seems so much easier to deal with then fear and anxiety. Not that she isn't anxious- she is. But the spooking as a reaction to pressure seems more workable then this nebulous fear of the universe.

Royce explained that he believes that Carmen was rushed in her early training and not given the time to figure it out. He also said that he believed she reacted and then really scared her rider. That set the pattern for what we were dealing with.

We carried on doing more work and then finished with Carmen backing up with the lightest touch of the reins and doing a turn on the forehand (something that has been a struggle).  I felt that we were chipping away at the wall Carmen has put up to protect herself.

And to carry on with the analogy- my seed of hope is now a sapling. You didn't cause this in her. Words that I needed to hear. Also, You will be able to show her and she will be fine. 

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Carmen Faces Her Fears

When Royce finished with Carmen on Wednesday I asked him immediately when he could come back. He thought for a minute and then said he could come back Thursday after work. So I rushed home from work and brought the horses in to to feed them and got on my riding gear 'just in case'.

The weather was cold and blustery which was annoying in terms of it being, you know, JUNE, but good in terms of setting the stage for Carmen to lose it.

This time Royce brought a pool noodle attached to a stick. The idea is that it's scary, but because it was made of foam there's no way it can hurt the horse. He introduced her to it in the stall and she was understandably nervous but willing to trust him. We brought her up to the ring and he worked on helping her find a new way to address her fears.

Royce worked her on the lunge as he did the day before. Once she was working well he brought out the noodle. He explained that he starts by having the horse follow the scary thing. Horses run from what frightens them so when they follow they can't be afraid and become curious. I actually say it working. But see for yourself:

Carmen playing 'Follow the Noodle'


She was very calm about the whole thing and Royce asked me if there were other things. I asked him if he wanted to try the hula hoop. I view hula hoops as a fun toy and/or a way to practice Appariting (yes in addition to being a Star Trek geek I am also a Harry Potter nerd). Carmen, however,  considers them Circles of Death. She completely freaks out at the merest sight of them. I had one hung on the wheelbarrow outside her stall. For 24 hours she would take a mouthful of her food and then go as far as she could to chew.

Here's Royce working with her:

Royce showed me how he makes sure that the horse is focussed on him at all times. It was great to watch her wanting to look around and be brought back to Royce. It didn't take long before she was taking quick peeks but staying on task. This is her working down at the end of the ring where all the trees and grass wave and carry on.

I'm sure that there are lots of details I'm leaving out but the videos speak for themselves. You can see the trees blowing and I want you to see how she's working very hard to stay on task.

In the end we decided that riding was not needed at this point. I told him that I would ride tomorrow. Royce asked me when and I explained that I was on Fridays. He said that he really wanted to ride her so could come in the morning. He looked excited at the idea of riding her.

That seed of hope was becoming a seedling.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Carmen Goes to Boot Camp

I took Wednesday as a vacation day. Originally the plan was to use that day to get ready for the show. I decided to keep it anyway and enjoy the day. It started out foggy but the sun came out later and it was nice and warm.

I planned to ride (of course) but with one chore or another I kept putting it off. At four I figured that I better get my butt in gear and started to get ready. Just as I was heading to the barn my phone rang- it was Royce. Could he come out tonight after work? YES! I brought the horses in and fed them supper and then prepared everything for the casserole that I planned to make for supper. Somehow in all that I missed hearing Royce's car. I looked out the window and his car was there and so I headed out. He was already in the barn hanging over Carmen's stall. Irish was looking at me with an 'oh oh' face and Carmen was no where to be seen.

When I came closer I could see that Royce had his lunge whip in the stall and Carmen was against the back wall looking upset. I did not jump to any conclusions because I've worked with Royce before and know that he does not have a mean bone in his body. What he was doing (he explained) was teaching Carmen to come up to him in the stall. so when she tried to escape against the back he used the lunge whip to herd her to where he wanted her. I'm going to explain it all wrong but essentially he made the wrong thing hard and the right thing easy- he knew when to apply pressure and when to back off.  And in about 10 minutes Carmen was coming up to the stall door every time he said come up. Irish stayed in his stall and ignored all the goings on.

While Royce was doing this I explained what I knew of Carmen's history and my path with her so far. I explained that she had been to a few homes and when I saw her in February I bought her because I fell in love. He said 'you do not have to tell me why you bought her. I can see why you did' He also listened to me own up to all my mistakes. What I like about Royce is that he doesn't judge. He listens, and he understands that people are doing their best. He tries to help not accuse.

After Carmen was polite and calm in her stall he then worked on her head down cue. He explained that if you ask a horse to put it's head down you have to also tell them to put it up so that it's your idea. This is different then what I had been taught in the past but it made sense. He also talked about teaching the horse to accept having the lunge whip on them is okay and a tap means move. That way they are not afraid of the whip.

After more work in her stall he then put her halter on and took her up to the ring. It was a great day for it- the wind was blowing everything around. I won't be able to recall step by step. And the truth is, it's not rocket science, but it's timing and he has that perfect. He doesn't run the horse, he doesn't scare the horse. He sets up situations where there's a choice and shows them the 'right answer'. Here are some gems:
You have to let the horse make a mistake. That's how we all learn. A mistake is okay because it's a try. The horse will start to look for the answer you want

If a horse is scared don't drive them at what they are scared of, work them to it but have them listening so when they get close they are still listening. 

When a horse tries to evade by putting it's head up, hold it's head up and then bring it down. Don't try to wrestle it down. 

Horses can only handle two choices- black or white. If you give them a third option then they get upset

I love working with horses like this. Once they understand and want to work with you, you can do anything. 

She needs to be taught that there's a better way. She doesn't need to run but she doesn't know what else to do. We will teach her that there are other options. 

Carmen was spooky and challenging but not anything major. I watched her soften and listen and relax. When she was startled she started looking for other options rather than running away. Royce could put the whip our and touch the top of her neck and she would put her head down.

On the return to the barn Royce had Carmen going step by step into the barn and then backing out and then walking in. This was so that she wouldn't rush going to the barn (not that she does, I have, after all, done some things right).

He left and I realized that he had been here almost 3 hours. I ran into the house, pulled the casserole together and threw it the oven and then headed back out the barn to do my evening chores. Carmen had some dried sweat on her so I took the brush into the stall to clean her. When I came to her face she put her head up (something I've been letting her get away with). This time I held up her head and then brought it down. She let me brush it without fuss.

That small little seed of hope was starting to sprout.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Mare 1 and Mare 2

I gave Carmen and I monday off. Instead I let her chill while I went to exercise class.

Today I decided would be a ground work day. While she was in her stall I went up and set up a trotting cavaletti and I put an old horse blanket over the fence.

When I led Carmen out of the stall her head was up and she was tense. Irish yelled for her and Carmen replied. I made her back up and then we did some leading exercises up to the ring. When we hit the corner she went flying backwards. Even though I was expecting it, I was caught off guard and dragged back. She had seen the blanket in the ring and to flee was her normal reaction. In the past I probably would have shortened the lead line and tried to make her walk up. This time I put her in a small circle around me, directing her feet. We moved this way up to the ring until she was listening, then I simply stopped asking her to circle me and walked into the ring. She followed me in.

I started with the halt and getting her to put her feet where I wanted. At first she over reacted with my cues but I kept calm and clear and she settled very quickly. We worked down the ring and up the ring working on leg yielding and turn on the forehands. In no time were were working right beside the horse blanket. I let it flap in the wind and when she reacted I ignored and kept working. I'm finding very easy to be calm in all this now that I have a plan.

When I went to start lunging I got the plastic bag out of my pocket. She was standing by me and when I unfurled it she reached her nose out tentatively, touched it and gave a sigh. When I asked her to start trotting around me she went along and did not react at all to the plastic bag.  Once it gave a fierce flap in the wind and she immediately stopped and looked at me.


I want her reaction to being startled to stop, not to bolt. We lunged up and down the ring - by the blanket, over the cavelletti and there were no real fire works. She started very high and tense but rather than  escalate, the work settled her. For the first time I felt that I was truly calm and clear. For the first time I didn't have to use a ton of pressure to get her over the pole.

I took the plastic bag off the lunge line. It flapped once right under nose (by mistake) and she jumped- but in place. She gave a snort.
careful with that thing. 

I then hung the bag over a post to let it flap. She couldn't have cared less.

I unsnapped the lunge line and tried some freedom work. It would be a lot easier with a round pen but I got her to move around and listen to me while perfectly free. Not that she didn't ignore me at times- she did but when she shut me out I upped the pressure. I could ask her to whoa and she would stop and wait for me to direct her again. She even free lunged over the trotting pole willingly.

A very different mare followed me down to the barn. The one I started with with tense, hard and tight.  This mare was calm, quiet and soft.

I much prefer Mare #2.

This work is giving me hope that I can get through to her and help her to be much less wary.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Carmen and the Plastic Bag of Doom

I am waiting for Royce to contact me so we can set up a time for him to come and start working with Carmen and I.

I am not good at waiting.

I am very good at thinking.

I not good at giving up.

I am very good at tackling things head on.

All of the above means that there was no way in heck that I was stopping my work with Carmen. I love that mare. She is not my heart horse. But she could be. If she would let me.

I decided that I would continue with the ground work and ride if it seemed to be a good idea. I also realized that I was making my work with her in the ring all about not spooking. Not about getting control of the spooking. Since Carmen's spooks range from mild to holy crap.

I decided to start with plastic bags. The truth is that Carmen is not afraid of plastic bags. Not really. I can go into her stall with the bag of shavings and empty it while she stands over it. She is not even remotely worried. What she is afraid of is things that flap in the ring.

I started friday night. I took her back to the ring with her halter and lunged her. I realized that she was listening as long as she wanted to. When I ask her to back up she always go maybe 2-3 steps and then stops. I've let her get away with this (now I can't think of a good reason but it seemed okay at the time). This time when I asked her to back up and she stopped I asked again and the gave her a smack on her chest with the crop. She backed up a few steps and then ran out around me. We repeated that a few times until she backed when I asked.

We then went to lunging. Once she was quietly going around I stopped her. I then tied a plastic bag on the middle of the lunge line and let her go back out. Of course she freaked. But I kept asking her to do what I wanted her to do. In the end she was listening. Not happy but listening. (I have to give my friend Bob credit for this idea. He had advised me to do this a long time ago and I didn't listen. Turns out he was right).

I repeated this on Saturday and on Sunday. Each time her 'freak out time' got less and less. I allow it to flap as much as it likes and her job is to listen to me. The first few times i asked her to change direction she was all 'hell no'. I let her find the answer and gave her lots of praise.

Today when it flapped suddenly instead of taking off she halted and looked at me. When that happened again I realized that she had figured out the answer.

Here she is from today(forgive the angle, it's hard to video and lunge at the same time):

As you can see, she is not impressed but she is calm and listening. She's also no longer looking out of the ring for things to worry about.

This work has carried over into riding as well. Under saddle I am insisting that she listen to me and go where i ask. It is not pretty at times but it's getting better. I am focussing not on what's freaking her out but what I am asking of her- so if she's bending out and gawking I ask her to come around with my inside leg and my inside hand. If she doesn't respond I get as firm as I need until she does. After a few times of this she softens right away. I am remembering to always give her a chance to respond to the soft cue but not shying away from a stronger one.

The other thing that I am insisting on is that she stays in front of my leg. I am no longer coaxing her into a forward trot. I ask for a trot and if she balks I tap her with the crop and go forward. Sometimes she picks up a canter and I go with it, at which point she balks and I say 'no you wanted to canter, canter we will!'  and we canter until I decide to stop.

I am being less nice but more clear. She seems to be responding. But I also have been down this road and the next day when it's windy and cold she will likely be a different horse. But it feels better.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Calmer Now

I am feeling calmer after my mini breakdown yesterday.

First of all I want to thank everyone who commented on the blog, on FB and sent me private messages. I was overwhelmed with the support. A lot pointed out that Carmen is a strong willed Iberian mare and she will test me.

gratuitous vacation pic showing a rock balancing precariously on
a cliff - which completely describes my mood right now
I know that my call to withdraw from the show right after the ride yesterday may have sounded impulsive. But she's so inconsistent at this point that it makes no sense. I believe that taking the $500 that the show would have cost (between entries, hotels, food etc) and invest it in a trainer makes far more sense and will help me more in the long run. I had cut down on her Quiescence (as per the instructions) but have put it back up to see if that is playing a role. If it seems to be that I will check the food store to get some Mag Oxide because the prepared Magnesium supplements are expensive.

I realize that part of my breakdown relates back to Steele. I had plans that we were going to show last year and that didn't happen because Carmen needed training. I thought that I was okay with that but I realized that I wouldn't be showing this year it hit me hard. Harder than I expected. It hadn't helped that I recently resumed having the recurring nightmare of horses getting out of the field and running away (I've had this since he died). I'd also been dreaming of my mother. It would seem that I have some emotional issues to work through.....

I spoke to Royce yesterday and gave him he rundown on what's been going on. He's going to come and see 'what I'm dealing with' and then we will make a plan. I like plans. And I'm not afraid of hard work.

Maybe I've been too careful. Who knows? We shall see what happens. The idea of selling her breaks my heart so that will not be an easy decision.

that face. 

Friday, June 3, 2016

Throwing in the Towel

After lunging Carmen on Tuesday I rode her Wednesday. I won't go into the details- it was windy, she was spooky, I rode through it and was feeling triumphant. 

Today it all came crashing down. I spent my time with the ground work and it went very well. She was obedient, prompt and totally tuned in. I swear. When I got on it all went to hell.  She was completely freaked out over the leaves and grass blowing in the wind. I could do nothing. And I really tried. 

I was getting to a place where my responses were becoming based on emotion and not any sort of training knowledge. I stopped and dismounted with tears in my eyes. I walked her down to the barn. She tried to scoot by me and I made her back up. In the barn I untacked her turned her out. She stopped and looked at me and then headed out to her field. 

I then picked up the phone and called the show secretary scratching from the show. I went into the house and started cleaning like my life depended on it. Ed came home and he was in a rush because I he had a golf game and we needed to go to the garage and pick up our daughter's car. On the drive he asked me how my ride was. 
I scratched from the show. 
What? Why? What happened?
I don't want to talk about it. 

I started to cry and he pulled over. 
Talk to me.
And it all came spilling out.
How can I take her to a show when I can't get her to listen to me? When the wind is blowing she will NOT focus on me. I've put in fucking hours and hours. I've worked, taken lessons, worked some more and we're still at the same fucking place we were last year. I'm done. I want to show. I want to ride and not worry that I'll be dumped. I want to have some fun AND I WANT STEELE BACK. I'm tired of mourning him and my mother and dealing with shit. 

At which point I became a bit incoherent. God love him, he sat there and listened. I took a deep breath.  I'm taking the money I would spend on the show and I'm going to spend it on Royce working with her. (Royce was the trainer who helped me back Steele (http://journeywithadancinghorse.blogspot.ca/2014/04/steeles-first-time.html).

And if that doesn't work I'm going to sell her. 
Okay he said.
Yes I said that.

I'm sitting her feeling sorry for myself. I'm not afraid of work. And I'm not afraid of risking my neck. But I need to see progress. Otherwise I am just wasting my time. I'm 52 years old and I don't have a lot of riding years ahead. I do not want a horse that I can only ride if the world is perfect.