dancing horses

dancing horses

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

You Win Some, You Lose Some


Let me explain. 

Yesterday I applied by awesome powers of persuasion and convinced Cynthia to ride. It went something like this:
Me: Want to ride today? 
Cynthia: What time? 

See how persuasive I am?

Anyway, before our ride the horses were being goofy and running around the paddock. By the time we had them saddled up they were sweaty. I looked at Carmen in the cross ties and I could see the whites of Carmen's eyes. I have not seen those in a long time so I decided that I'd better lunge her first.

She was fine on the lunge so I got on. I could feel that she was tight and tense. But she was not spooky. That was great, I could work on getting her to bend and stretch at the walk. I normally can't do that because I have to get her forward and working before I can get her settled enough to think about it. But not that night. We did a some trot and walk, just focussing on relaxation and stretching over her back. I was thrilled. She was 100% with me for the whole ride with one wee bobble. She was so with me that when a car backfired on the road she jumped but stopped right away. And settled back into work.

I've been trying to find a ride that I keep short because she's listening so that she can figure it out (at some distant point in the future) that listening is better all around. So I ended the ride after about 30 minutes and walked back to the barn. She was happy and snuggly. This morning she was affectionate in the stall.

Today I rode by myself. I know that she's more settled with Irish but perhaps I didn't realize how dependent she's becoming on him. That's because she was a spooky, hot mess. I had to go to working her and keeping her brain busy.

I did my best to ride with clarity and give her room. And overall it was working. I could get her settled and then she would lose it but I stuck it out. Then we totally lost it. We were going one way and suddenly we were going left and leaping around. I about a foot of air between my butt and the saddle.
WHOA!  I yelled and she stopped and then carried on spinning. I was so out of balance and pretty much over her neck that I baled. I landed on my feet but with the impulsion I spun around and fell on my butt right in front of her chest. I couldn't hold the rein and felt my shoulder pull.
whoa  I said weakly but with no hope at all that she wasn't going to run off.

When I looked up she was standing right beside me with her head down. I got up and limped over to the mounting block. With a sigh I got back on. I pulled up my big girl panties and we went back to work. I made sure that I was centred over her. I had allowed myself to get unbalanced so when she was spooked and spun I wasn't able to stay with her.

We were cantering and as I we turned she decided that the upside down wheel barrow with the blanket on it was overwhelming (you know the one that she's been going by for the past week). She deked and spun but I was centred so could go with her. Good thing too because that might have been enough for her to learn she could get rid of me. I honestly believe that that spook was because I was making her work and she was trying to get out of it. So we spent a long time cantering and trotting a circle by that wheelbarrow until she stopped spooking. I then switched direction and we started all over again. Fortunately she has these braids so I reached forward and used one as a grab strap. I was not getting off this horse until she was soft and listening. Finally she gave a breath and relaxed as we approached the wheelbarrow. I let her stop and think about that.

After that when I picked up the rein I had a soft and listening horse. I walked her all over the ring asking her to leg yield, half pass, turn on the forehand and just tune in. I didn't allow myself to avoid any corner. I could feel her thinking about it but then deciding that that was just too much work.
Good. We finished with a trotting figure 8 by the wheel barrow (I wanted to make sure that we were clear on that).

I know that I rode for a long time. I have no real idea how long but at least 90 minutes. After I hosed her off and cooled her out. Then I realized that my back and shoulder were sore. So I treated myself to a cold pack and 2 advil washed down with a glass of wine.

I'm trying to not be bummed about this- there has to be bad rides. And she still hasn't gotten close to the number of times Irish had me off as a youngster. Right?

Sorry, cannot horse today. 

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

DIY- Trailer Organization

As riveting as my rides on Carmen are for everyone I thought that it was time for a change in topic.

Since my pretty little trailer came home I've having fun getting it set up. My idea is to have some items that stay in the dressing room so that I don't have to remember everything. Right away I put a lead line, leather halter, lunge whip in the room. I then purchased a grooming kit, feed bin, water bucket and a fold up step stool. And the best clinic/horse show chair ever:

Mine is red but otherwise the same

I've been trolling the internet for ideas.Shannon wrote about this folding camp wagon. I immediately went out and purchased it:
its awesome, it folds up small and can carry up to 150 pounds
There were two things that I wasn't happy with. One is that the spare tire is in the way. A friend suggested that I put it on the outside. And I may do that but becaue my trailer is shiny and new I'm relunctant to put holes in it. So Ed moved the tire for me to be more out of the way:
my chair, whip, stool wagon , bucket and grooming kit all organized. 
The tire used to be where the bucket is now.

 I also want more places to store things. I found a system at the organizedbarn.com site. But it was expensive and once I factored in CAD pricing and shipping it was not feasible. Olivia at DIY horseownership is a genius at finding ways to duplicate or make her own things. She was my inspiration so I looked at the system and decided that it could be duplicated.

We already had a wire rack (like for store displays). So I had Ed and Andrew mount it on the trailer wall just to the left of the door. That space seemed like wasted space to me- the trailer came with small shelf at floor level but the rest of it was wasted. I went to the store and bought some baskets to hang. I have more to get but doing it this way  has cost us no more than $50 and time:
I have purchased more baskets since this photo. 
This is all making my inner hoarder very very happy. I have one more thing to hang up in the trailer but I haven't decided where to put it yet:
It folds down when not in use. From Lee Valley

Does anyone have other trailer/barn organization hacks that they can share?

Sunday, August 28, 2016

It's Not You

It's me.

I asked Cynthia's daughter, Ashley to come and ride Carmen for me. I wanted to test how well we've been doing by having someone else ride her. Up to now it's just been me or Royce riding her. Ashley is a nice little rider and I had no worries that she could handle Carmen. But I figured that Carmen would be good for a few reasons:
1. I had already ridden her that day
2. Irish was going to be in the ring with her
3. (this was my hypothesis) Carmen would be on her good behaviour with a new person.

I wore my riding pants just in case but I didn't have to worry.,Carmen was very well behaved. I shared about the 'whoa' and 'easy' buttons. It was great to be on the ground and watch Carmen try so hard to figure it out what was being asked. I was delighted to see that the work had really paid off. Here's a short video of them going through the trotting poles:

As you can see she wasn't stretching out her stride to do them and so had a little bobble in the middle. But she didn't freak out, she just adjusted and carried on.

There was just one spook and it was small (and a work evasion spook) but there were no issues with any part of the ring. Which was what I half-expected. I was suspecting that a lot of what I was dealing with was a behaviour pattern- not true fear.

So today, armed with that knowledge I brought Carmen up to the ring. She was nice and calm when I mounted but as I started riding her I could feel her tensing up.  I realized that this was our pattern and I needed to adjust for it. Royce had told me this already so it wasn't new information. But I can't unknow what I know - she and I both expect her to spook at specific areas and so she does. so I just needed to get this dealt with. I essentially ignored any and all spooks and just fixed what the issue was- coming off the aids. I remember listening to a horse trainer (I think Buck Brannaman)who said that when a horse starts to spook or resist the next thing you know you are far away from whatever the original 'ask' was. I stayed focussed on the ask and kept on it.

She resisted at first, for a long time. The ride was far longer than I wanted it to be. But I finally had her through and listening. I have been trying to get her to stretch into contact- I don't want to hold her in. Throughout the ride I kept giving her rein and asking her to come to the bit. And finally she stretched out over the back and reached for it. It was not consistent but that was okay.

I also have introduced the idea of lengthens but it's a  pretty new concept for her. I worked on shortening her stride on the short sides and then asking her to take bigger steps down the long side. At first she just went faster - which is totally expected. I had to keep my post rhythm steady. But finally I could feel her stretching forward a wee bit. I praised her and let her know it was the right thing.

We ended with stretchy trot circles up at C. This is really coming along. The errors that she makes are either trying to grab the bit down or coming up. But she keeps the pace and shape so the errors are correctable.

After all that work I rode her down from the ring and we rode around the yard- by the garbage bins, under the flag, around the trees. She was listening the whole time.

So it really is the combination of Carmen + Teresa + Ring. That's because of the past but that's okay. I would actually be more worried if she was still afraid.

This is habit.

And habits can change.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Continuing Education

Today was a very interesting ride and it taught me a few valuable lessons. I wanted to ride early before it became too hot. Also, I had made some plans for the afternoon involving Carmen and a young woman named Ashley (that's for a different post).

The face flies have been horrible lately. I really hate them and how they sting. When I brought Carmen in her fly mask was covered with them. I had ridden her before with the fly mask over her bridle so decided to put it on today. In the ring when I was hand walking her by C she gave a big spook and bolted by me. Nope. Not acceptable. So we did some ground work getting her to yield her hind quarters and listen to me. Then I got on. As we progressed in our warm up she was becoming increasingly spooky. I did all my strategies with some success but she wasn't doing well.

Have I mentioned it was windy?
No? Well it's been the windiest summer I remember and today was no exception.

The neighbour started banging on a something metal and suddenly she was bolting sideways and I had no steering at all. I don't normally worry about that (anymore)- I just ride it out and get her back. Except that she was careening towards the cavallettis. And I knew she wasn't seeing them.
My life flashed before my eyes.
No, that's not true. My death flashed before my eyes. I was visualizing us crashing and falling into the cavellettis and being broken and impaled. I learned that my last thought before death is 'seriously?' 

Fortunately, I'd been working on teaching Carmen to whoa when I lose my balance and grab her neck yelling 'WHOA' (Royce taught us that). This got her to slow up enough so I could steer her around the poles and get my breath back.

I put her into work and, while it was sort of working, it really wasn't going in the direction I wanted.

I had to do some thinking. My first thought was that I was so totally sucking in my riding that I was making Carmen regress. My second thought was that she was just always going to be this way. My third was that I needed to get Royce out. My bank account groaned at that idea and it wasn't my first choice because I need to ride her. Keeping her in training forever would not make sense. So I could either give her to Royce or figure this out.

Hmmm. I had an idea.

I rode her over to the gate, reached forward and unfastened her fly mask. I took it off and dropped it on the ground. She relaxed immediately. I walked her forward, she dropped into contact and marched forward. After that there was not one issue. We went everywhere in the ring with no drama. I was able to work on transitions and she was using her hind end just like I wanted. We did serpentines with no trouble switching bends, the trotting poles were easy. She was stretching into contact and sensitive to my seat. I was thrilled when we stopped. She was relaxed and willing for the post fly-mask ride.
The difference between the two parts of the ride was like Jekyll and Hyde.

I guess that the difference to her vision with the fly mask was enough to increase the scariness factor of everything. Once it was removed she could relax and work. I learned how important vision is for Carmen and she needs to 'see' to relax. That is probably why she reacts to blowing grass- she can't 'see' what is causing it.

I also learned that thinking is not always a bad thing.

pretty girl in her tiara, 
After I hosed her off and let her graze. I've been working on taking her to different places in the yard to get her used to it. I've been walking her under this tree to get her used to the branches touching her and not freak out. She used to rush away, here's she grazing quietly and doesn't care. 
the wet is from where I hosed her off. 

My last piece of learning from today? That riding a reactive, sensitive mare requires tact and analysis.  And guts.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Busy Brains

That's been one of my mantras - focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it's worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains. Steve Jobs
So Carmen and I both think far too much. Some of you are probably chuckling and thinking 'it' taken her this long to reach that conclusion?' I swear that I am well educated and have a mentally demanding job,  but sometimes I am not the brightest bulb in the box.

I dream of the day when I can have a relaxing warm up on Carmen. You know what I mean where we walk on a long rein and slowly bend and get into work. The problem is that all that walking gives Carmen too much free time to think. And what she likes to think about is what could potentially eat us.  Yesterday was hot but very very windy. I knew that it would be harder to keep her focussed and I was right. She was busy looking everywhere. So I had to keep us busy.

But the reality was that, although she was very tense and tight, she didn't really do anything. So while I couldn't work on some of the things i wanted to, I never felt like we were going to explode. And we used all the ring. It's kind of interesting- finding the work that keeps her brain busy but not so hard that we have a wreck. One exercise that really worked was leg yielding 3 strides in, straight 3 strides and 3 strides back to the rail. What I liked about it was that I could drop down to walk if I needed to.

We had moments of relaxation that I tried to enlarge on. When I was done, I dropped the rail and we walked down to the barn and all around the yard.

Later I dragged the ring and set up some trot poles.
love the lines from dragging. My very own zen garden

Cynthia was coming but I started without her. The wind had settled but was still there. We were warming up with trot- tons of small circles, changes of directions etc to keep her brain on me. I finally decided to trot the poles. As we approached I could see that her brain was on the far trees.
You better pay attention, there are poles. 
OHOH, I'm sure I saw a troll!
*trips on first pole*
I told you to pay attention
*pins ears and trots remainder of poles.* Who put that there? It's a hazard! 
I tried to tell you. 
This is all very annoying. How's a girl supposed to look for danger?
Well you could try paying attention inside the ring!

Then it started to rain. If you recall, Carmen is freaked out when it rains. I figured what the heck, might as well work on this too. She was appalled at the idea but soon settled into work. Again we were able to work in all areas of the ring. I got to use pretty much all of my strategies and they all worked. 

After Cynthia and I went to a big hunter jumper show in Chester. We walked around the stunning property and ran into horse friends. It was fun to watch and see people I hadn't seen in a while. I was stunned by the 'tack stalls' and how the stables had decorated them. I had to take a photo of this one- 

Someone had brought in hanging baskets, landscape bricks, sod and mulch. Maybe someone from Hunterland can tell me why? Is there a prize? It seems like a lot of work. But stunning. I figured that this would be a great show to bring Carmen to hang out- she would see a ton of things.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016


Spookology: noun, humourous: related to the study of a sub-set of behaviors of the horse (equs ferus caballus), triggered by the presence of, or perception of, a real or imagined threat. 

The other day Cynthia and I were riding. Carmen was quite tense and required a lot of work to settle. Once, when Cynthia and I passed I could hear her muttering that Irish was sleepwalking.
Wanto to trade? I called out facetiously.
Well I would but I dont' know your cues with her!

That got me thinking- I have learned a number of responses to her spookiness that I am now doing wihtout really thinking about it. I thought it would be a good idea to record them in case I needed to refer to them at a different time. It's was also kind of fun to write them out- sort of like a trouble shooting manual.
Issue: Horse is generally tense and looking around. Attention is not on a rider and she seems annoyed that I keep interrupting with silly demands like whoa, go, turn, etc.

Solution: A)  Get horse moving forward. I cannot access her brain until I access her hind end. It seems counter-intuitive but I have found that the slower the gait the greater and more dramatic the spook. I've been teleported 10 feet at a walk but at the canter we've only ever scooted a couple feet. Lots of directed movement- circles, changes of reins and transitions will get her back on me.

B) Also, do not clamp on inside rein- give room for horse to move forward and not give her something to 'fight'. Outside rein can control the pace and inside rein is forward so horse doesn't feel trapped. You can raise it up a bit and place it on the inside of the neck as a barrier.

In fact it's more critical then ever to ride to the best of your abilty. It's easy to get tense and harsh in reaction but breathe, lighten your seat and project a calm aura (that the horse will see through but will still appreciate the effort).
Issue: Backing off the pace when approaching a specific area of the ring.

Soultion: A) bring horse (or let horse come)  in off the rail and leg yield towards the trouble spot. Sending the horse directly at the area can lead to an unwanted confrontation. The leg yield (or side pass) helps the horse to appraoch more indirectly. Praise and/or pat when horse is at the spot so that they know they did the right thing.

B) use these areas for resting so horse feels positive about them.


Issue: Horse slams to a halt and refuses to go forward.

Potential Solutions: I say potential becasue it's going to depend very much on the context. First, check out what's freaking them out to see if it's valid. From there determine what is best but here are some options:
A) gradually work the horse closer to the area in a series of 10 m spirals
B) give them a boot and tell them to get on with it (really only if you know they know this thing and you're not worried that the horse will rear).
c) turn and back them towards what is spooky.

Issue: Horse leaps away (either forward or sideways) and bolts.

Solution: A) halt them as quickly as you can (installing a whoa is priceless) and back them up. Halt, count to 5 and then carry on.

B) Fix the shoulder- even better if you anticipate that this may happen stop it before hand- Carmen's 'tell' is that she drops her inside shoulder when she's thinking that a quick escape might be necessary. I ride with a crop to tap that shoulder when it drops- that makes it harder to do the sudden drop-spin-bolt that she's so good at.

C) ride shoulder in with head/body tilted away from the spooky thing. Works the mind and keep the body in a position that makes the bolting much harder. Note that it may not be a pretty shoulder-in but at that point you can't be fussy.

Issue: horse scoots away from something.

Solution: if it's a small scoot ignore and carry on. You may want to circle back. If they horse goes into a faster gait- go with it and make them work at that gait. That takes a lot of fun out of it and helps you to connect their brain to their body (see above).  If it's a big scoot, halt and back them up. Repeat a couple times and carry on.

Issue: Horse flinches but otherwise carries on.

Solution: Praise horse and carry on. After all this is what you've been working for all along.

General Tips and Tricks that I've learned:
  • Focus on the work, not the issue. There doesn't need to be two beings looking for danger at every stride. 
  • Don't feed the drama llama. Carmen can a little full of herself and needs to be settled. Or, as I like to think of it, there only needs to be one hysterical mare in the ring. 

  • Breathe. And ride. Just ride. Sit up, be clear with your cues and if you need to be a bit harsh to cut through the noise, then do it but always go back to light. 
  • I know how the ride will be from her behaviour in the barn and up to the ring. I am firm expecting  manners and will spend the time on the ground. 
  • know how incredibly awesome she can be work and help her bring that out of herself. In spite of herself. 
  • Celebrate the progress we've made . 
some days it just feels so good

Sunday, August 21, 2016

The Horse Husband

I saw this photo on FB and thought that it would make the best Christmas present for Ed:
see- it's perfect for my female horse friends. You're welcome :)
Ed has been the most supportive of husbands of my horse passion hobby but he really came into his own when we moved to our farm. He repairs, mows, paints, feeds, mucks out and listens when I recount the details of my latest ride.

He enjoys the horses and interacting with them.
Ed: I've taught the horses a trick
Me: Oh?
Ed: Yes. When I'm in the garden they have learned to come to the fence and get a carrot. Yesterday they came three times! 
Me: mmm. that is good training! (note that I didn't say who was training whom. I get points for that right?)
as long as they are all happy I guess it doesn't matter

Ed also is a great person to sack out your horse. But you have to understand that he doesn't really know that he's doing it so you have to be ready. Ed is very task focussed- when he's on a task he doesn't always stop to think that it might be spooky to the horses.

Here's a story to help illustrate my point.

Carmen has been in heat for the past few days. She's not at a point in her training where I can truly tell that there is a difference in her when she's in heat- she's more easily distracted and reactive. Which means that I have to be on my game. The last two rides have been good but she's needed to be managed in the warm up so that she can focus on the work at hand and not spiral.

This morning I got her ready to ride. My plan was to work on transitions and having them back to front. She has a great little booty and needs to learn how to use it. I also wanted to work on straightness. As I headed out of the barn I could hear an ATV up by the ring. People have been out on their ATVs and I figured that people were riding on the next property. But when I came up the hill I could see that it was our ATV. Ed had it up there and was painting the boards in the ring. He was letting it run to recharge the battery.

I figured that this was good- I could work on her getting used to more distractions. I just asked him to move it out of the ring and carry on. He said that he was almost done and was just finishing up. I got on Carmen and she immediately noted the following:
1. the old horse blanket that was over the rail was now draped over the upside down wheelbarrow. Carmen does not trust the wheelbarrow so with the blanket it was doubly dubious.
2. there was a small metal container in the ring and was likely a bomb or some such thing (it was the paint can)
3. some weeds by the ring were now in bloom.

All of this would have made riding impossible before. But now it just made it more tight. I ensured that my aids were clear and worked on keeping her mind busy. Keeping her mind busy requires many changes of directions and asks so that she doesn't have a chance to worry about other things.  I let her come over to see what Ed was up to. She stood there like a trained horse. I then noticed that he was standing on the circle of death  hula hoop that is filled with sand. He was standing on it so that it was upright. I've done a lot of work with Carmen with this but I didn't want a blow up.
Ed, can you be careful that you don't accidentally rattle that hula hoop? 
Huh, what? 
As he asked this he moved his foot and the hula hoop fell, rattling loudly, to the ground.
Carmen spooked in place- all four feet rattled but she didn't move her position. What the heck is he doing now?! 
I had to laugh and I gave her a big pat for being so awesome. After that I decided that neither one of us had to worry about Ed or other things. We went to work and Ed finished up and left.

Ed says that he has no interest in riding. But I wonder if I just found the right horse.......
from our trip to Arizona this April

Friday, August 19, 2016

Turn That Frown Upside Down

The weather is not as humid so it's much more comfortable to ride.  In the afternoon I sent a text to Cynthia enticing her to come ride.  She was part of the distance to my house but didn't have her riding clothes. But I reminded her that she has left breeches at my house just for emergencies like this. 

A few more persuasive texts later and she and her husband were coming for supper. The guys were making some modifications to my trailer dressing room while we rode. After we are they shooed us out to ride while they cleaned (major husband points were being earned).   In the barn both horses were half asleep. Irish was chilled enough but Carmen gave me her 'less than  impressed ' look that only a mare can pull off.

You can't be serious?
It's a lovely day. It will be fun. 
I'm not in the mood for work. 
I'm not planning on it being hard but I guess that will be up to you. 

She was quiet getting ready but not too happy.  When she was a bit cinchy I was wondering if she was in heat.   I decided to spend some time doing groundwork before I got on. It didn't take long and she was with me. When I got on she felt a bit sluggish. I spent some time trying to get her loose and making sure that I was keeping my riding form. It became apparent that I needed to work on straightness. Carmen has a tendency to throw her haunches in- most often when traveling to the right.  I really really really want to correct it by pulling on the inside rein but that doesn't work. If I just use the outside rein she falls in so I have to use inside leg to outside rein. The other issue (related) is that she's a bit hollow on her left side and I tend to sit more left. It takes concentration to stay even in my hips and I'm not always sure if I am or just think I am. All these thoughts are probably why Cynthia posted this to my FB page:

By Sara Lee Equine Artist
What I've been trying to do is keep my focus on my plan and not let her distractions derail me.  And this really works- she comes back to me rather then me chasing her attention.  I even managed to work further into the area at C with no issues- other then her going hey this is the REST AREA.

After she yawned and yawned in the barn. She looked sleepy and happier.  She also confirmed that she's in heat.

What was excellent was that it took very little to get her working with me. She didn't stay grumpy.  While she started sluggis, I didn't have this huge battle to get her forward. The balking seems to be a thing of the past. Spooking occurs but it's not  life threatening or frightening. I've been trying to keep this idea in my brain:

Emily Cole illustrations/

I guess what I'm saying is that she's more rideable. Which means that my accounts might be a lot more boring.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016


Monday was a much better day weather wise so I decided to ride after supper. I talked Cynthia into coming out as well (not that she took much convincing).

In the barn the horses gazed at us sleepily. Obviously they had different plans then we did for the evening. When I brought Carmen out she was relaxed and stood there quietly. She gave a big sigh when I put the saddle on.

When I mounted she walked off before I asked and tried to go through the reins when I asked her to stop. I backed her up and made her stand where I started. A few episodes of this and she stood still with her ears on me. After that I asked her to walk off and we started schooling.

To be honest I was not riding my best. I felt like a sack of hammers. But I kept trying. It occurred to me that I might be riding the way that I always do - but now I'm aware of how much I suck. Either way I just kept reminding myself to put my pelvis, arms, legs where they were supposed to be. In spite of my less then optimal riding she stuck with me. There were times when she tried to distract me with dangers but I kept to my plan and ignored these gambits. After a while she didn't even try- instead she stayed on with what I was asking her to do. Before she would have blown me off and thrown her fits. Every time she tensed I relaxed and gave her the inside rein. This gave her a place to go and so there was no point in running away.

We worked for about 15 minutes at walk and trot when I brought her up to C to rest. She was resting when she spied an area that the deer had flattened down the night before. She gave a big start and stopped. She then did it again- splayed her feet, snorted and opened her eyes wide at it. I didn't do anything but sit relaxed. Suddenly she gathered herself together and MARCHED up to the area. I didn't even try to stop her to shorten the rein. I let her be brave. She came up beside it, sniffed and then relaxed. I was thrilled- instead of running in fear or me helping her to approach the area , she was brave and I was simply her back-up.

We went back to work and she was with me. I kept the work simple- figure 8s, serpentines and easy transitions. I don't know how long we were riding but I was feeling like we were working together. She asked me if she could stretch out when we were trotting. I haven't really allowed her a long rein because that has led to problems. But I decided to see. I put us on the centre circle and established our trot rhythm. I then asked her to take the rein down and stretch out. In the past when I tried the trot stretchy circle we would lose our shape, rhythm and she would either root or invert. This time she would follow the rein and not root. She didn't stay stretched out evenly, she would pop off the bit and I would just gather her up and ask again. Slowly we had moments of true stretchy circle. While our contact was not consistent our rhythm and shape were. She never faltered or used the long rein to run out of the circle. I was thrilled. After a few minutes I asked her to walk and then we rested.

Cynthia joined me and she dropped the gate. I walked Carmen out first and, instead of turning towards the barn, the turned towards the path we take around the field. She didn't even want to wait for Irish. We walked around and she was strode out like a brave pony. She was curious about things but didn't waver. At the end she came to a halt beside the garden.
This is where we stop and I get my carrot. 
Yup, I created this monster- I taught her to go to the garden and rewarded her by picking a carrot for her.
What are you going to do when the carrots are gone? Cynthia asked.
I will probably have to 'plant' some out here I laughed. It seems a small price to pay.

While from a training perspective this ride was not stellar but there was a lot to celebrate:

  • Carmen and I stayed on the same page instead of on two different books
  • There was no drama (yay for drama free rides)
  • She is starting to show bravery (like a real Andalusian)
  • I am riding with confidence and no longer feel like I have to gird my loins to ride.
  • Carmen is generally happier- she's been getting happier around the barn but not she's happier in the ring too. The ring is not the negative space for her that it was.
  • she stayed soft on the bit

I hesitate to say this but I think that Carmen and I may actually be connecting. Heaven knows I've been working at it so I shouldn't be surprised but I am weird like that.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Sticking to the Plan

Horse camp is over. I took my niece to the airport Friday night. I really enjoyed having someone to share my knowledge of horses. We both declared the camp a success and decided that next year Caelen would come for a month.
Irish enjoyed Horse Camp too. 
Cynthia came out on Saturday morning to ride. I was hoping that Carmen and I would be able to carry on with our work. I have to be honest and share that I worry that we might backslide. Logically I know that we can have some bad rides but not go to back to the total breakdown in trust and communication that we had before. But logic is sometimes overruled by worry.

I gave myself a pep talk and reviewed what I had to keep in mind:

  • stay calm and focussed on task- do not buy into her drama
  • ride correctly from the beginning- make sure that my position is correct (well as correct as I can anyway) and my aids are clear
And guess what? It worked. I didn't focus on getting her to ride into the spooky areas- I focussed on riding the gait/pattern I had in mind. It didn't take long before she was tuning into me and not the potential dangers. I also had to stop her from swerving up towards C (our new rest stop). That felt so good to have this as a new issue. I even started to chip away at the 'rest zone' with work. I"m hoping that soon we won't be doing that at all. 

I wanted to work on getting her to lengthen stride but it was not a huge success. I needed to go back to walk-trot transitions with them coming from behind. Once I had that I took her across the diagonal and felt her actually stretch out into a slightly longer stride. I stopped and let her rest with lots of pats. 

Irish and Cynthia were rocking it as well. We were both done and then we went out around the field. I kept a short but following rein but she was completely relaxed and enjoyed the walk. 

Saturday night Ed and I went out to celebrate 29 years of marriage. It was a delicious dinner on the Lunenburg waterfront. this morning we awoke to the sound of rain. It was a great sound- we've not had any real rain for weeks. I was hoping for a rainy day but it stopped around noon. I went out to drag the ring thinking I would ride but it was so hot and humid it felt like a sauna. I was sweating just driving the tractor. The  horses were smart and hid in the barn all afternoon. I've been riding pretty consistently this summer- sometimes twice a day so I gave myself permission to take today off.  Carmen and I have had some intense rides this summer and now I believe it's time for her to learn that it can be fun, not a battle. 

Friday, August 12, 2016

The Secret to Happiness

You know when someone says something that makes you stop and think? Well I had that experience yesterday. Of course you know my tendency to overthink things and sometimes I have too many thoughts. Usually those are not the right thoughts.

But I digress.

It all started with a photo that Caelen took from my lesson the other day. I really liked it so posted it to FB.
Sue Leffler (the one who did the Centred Riding clinic a couple weeks ago) say it and commented:

Sue Leffler She's really starting to look happy in her work!
Teresa Alexander-Arab yes, I'm feeling it too-now that she's not worried about all the bad things that can happen she's enjoying it
Sue Leffler When we're riding correctly we pass that confidence on to our horses. Her confidence is a direct result of her being able to trust you and your good riding!

My initial response (in my head) was well it's a circle- it's hard to ride correctly when she's spazzing out. I have to get her to be calm first and then I can worry about how I ride. To be honest, I thought that I had even posted something to that effect but it didn't seem to get get on there. I didn't worry about it.

I have not really been worrying about my position but focussing on whether she's attentive and obedient in the beginning. And that is fair because of our history. But I kept returning to her comment in my head and when that happens it means that I am trying to work something out. What if I'm wrong I thought. What if it really is just what Sue said- if I ride correctly from the beginning would it make a difference? 

I decided to try it out. Today when I got on I started from the beginning focusing on my position. I did my best to make sure that I was riding as correctly as I could. I kept making adjustments. As usual Carmen started out with a shortish, stiff walk. I didn't worry about it- I just kept my seat following and encouraging her to step more under and through. I kept my elbows bent and ignored any head tossing. I breathed deeply and worked on not stiffening any muscles but not letting them flop either.

Carmen's ear began to twitch back to me and in no time at all was focussed on me. When she was diverted by something else and thought about fleeing I kept myself soft and rode her forward. And guess what? Not.one.spook. At all. Not even at C. She did leave once and we went to work and that was the end of that.

As we progressed I could feel her trying to bulge the middle circle towards C instead of away. First time ever. It was a happy problem to fix. The ride was not long because of the heat and humidity. Caelen was with us and after I dropped the gate rail.
Caelen: Are we just going down to the barn or do you want to go around the field?
My responses was let's not mess with this and just do the safe thing. 
Then I thought again- let's try it. If it goes wrong I can hop off and lead her. 
With that we went out - Irish and Caelen in the lead. I warned her to stop if she head me say 'whoa' and that I might used Irish's butt as a bumper.

But we didn't need to worry. She was fine. A little tight when we first turned right instead of left. But we walked between the fence and treeline and she was perfect. I even was able to stop and take a photo:
look at the listening ears. they were on me the whole way

I learned something today- I knew that riding defensively was not helping but I hadn't truly realized  that focussing on  correct riding can prevent issues right from the beginning. I swear that I should have known that but what can I say? It sometimes takes me a while.

So maybe it's not the secret to happiness (heck, it might not even be a secret to anyone else but me) but it is the secret to happy ears. And happy riders.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Lesson Recap

I had a riding lesson yesterday and it was incredible. It's the first lesson I've had in my ring that wasn't about being in the ring.

I rode Carmen in the  morning and we continue to work on changing her mind about the C end of the ring. And the approach is truly working- she's becoming happier there and when worried her ear flicks back to ask me if it's okay. When I tell her it is she relaxes. I am asking her to stay but I'm not making her stay, but given that the rest of the ring is the work area she's beginning to like standing down at that end. I'm liking it too. While I will use force if necessary it's not really fun if it's all the time.  I am startng to feel the connection and trust that has been lacking in our partnership. I kept the morning ride short becasue of the lesson that evening and because she was very cooperative.

When Karen arrived for the lesson Carmen was quite mellow. I did little inhand work and then I hopped on. I explained to Karen that the zone between R and C was 'rest' and between A and R was work. I also explained that if there was a spook I would be dealing with it and not to be alarmed if I suddenly did something different. I love that she simply said 'no problem. We will follow your program'. I knew that if she had concerns she would discuss them with me but there was no expectation that I would hand over all control to her-I had a say as well.

We began by walking a circle and focussing on my seat and encouraging her to walk from behind. It was helpful to pactice that and get feedback- I worry that I might drive too much with my seat because if one pound of pressure is good, 10 must be awesome (overachiever that's me!). I've been riding Carmen in the ring for a long time and I was thrilled that today (this morning as well) she was not cutting off the circle on the 'C' side. Instead she stayed right with me. We then went on to trot and Karen commented that she could see I had been working on my posting since my lesson with Sue. It feels great when homework is obvious. Karen had me stretch out my spine as I rose and when I got it, it felt very good and Carmen immediately rounded up her back and stepped through.

There was a small scoot down at the A end of the arena and I immediately stopped Carmen and backed her up and carried on.

We practiced sitting trot- I tend to let the motion be absorbed by my waist and let my hips move. It was interesting to try to figure that out. First I just stiffened my torso but my hips were still tight so I bounced. Carmen was not impressed with that- her ears came back and she was 'what the heck are you doing up there?'  By focussing on the inside hip I was able to get the motion and then figure it would for the otehr. I also stretched up my spine and immediately tucked in pelvis.It felt so much better for both of us. But it required the use of different muscles so was difficult to maintain for long.

I needed to talk to Karen so  took Carmen up to the rest stop and we chatted there. Once we talked through the exercise we went back to the work area and I alternated posting and sitting. That made it easier to spend time doing it 'right' rather then struggling when it went wrong.

Before I knew it 45 minutes had passed. I was happy to end it there and Karen and I talked about it.
I was thrilled that we spent all that time on training and not on getting/keeping her attention. Carmen was with me the whole time. Her moments of worry were brief and we carried on. Overall she was calm and relaxed. Evn more important was that she was happy in her work.

I'm going to carry on with my work to make C the happy place but will slowly increase the work zone until we can work and rest in all areas. I put her away and started supper for everyone while Cynthia had her lesson. Irish was great and perhaps I'll get Cynthia to do a guest blog post. :)
When I came into the house Ed asked me how it went and I exploded into a excited and happy rendition. He probably didn't get the dressage stuff but the not spooking stuff her understood and he looked happy and relieved.

photo credit to Caelen
Thanks to Royce I have a sensible horse and I have tools to deal with her. Thanks to others like Roz, Sue, Karen, Joanna we will be tackling the finer points of riding correctly.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

This and That

I have so much to write about that I'm just going to give some quick summaries.

1. The Quest to take back C is continuing to work. Yesterday I could feel Carmen actually thinking about what I was asking and that life might actually be better at the far end. It was an incredibly windy day and normally I would expect a ride full of spooks and mini bolts. But not yesterday. I am sticking to the plan that all the work happens in 3/4s of the ring and all the resting in the last quarter. I could feel her actually begin to head that way when she was feeling the need for a rest. I have decided to stick to this plan. Yesterday went so well that after I took her outside and into the tall grass where she grazed without a worry. Before she would stand but not graze.
Caelen took this photo-look at Irish's outraged ears at the unfairness of it all

2. Horse Camp is going well. There may or may not be slave labour (painting the ring fence) and there may or may not be ice cream bribery. But it's all fun.

 Caelen is like a sponge absorbing what I'm saying and then putting it into practice. Irish is having a blast too. Yesterday Carmen and I were standing up by C (she was happily resting) and I explained the counter-canter loop to her. She didn't understand the loop idea so I had her trot it first and then I asked her to canter it.
And she did.
The first time.
So Sis, she needs to start riding at a dressage barn when she goes home. She's a natural.
After they go for a ride around the fields. I grabbed this video of them:

Irish has a bandage on his bandage on his left fore because he has a big sore on his fetlock and the flies were getting in it. I want it to heal first.

3. Olympics: Last night I was playing the video of the Cross Country through my laptop to the TV. It seemed less dangerous then previous courses but I don't know a lot and could be wrong. But a Canadian rider was first and I realized her horse, 'A Little Romance' is half-sister to Irish. So that was cool.

4. I received a special package in the mail yesterday. I entered a contest on Olivia's blog a few weeks ago and I was one of the winners. We got to pick our prize and I picked a stall sign for Carmen. I asked her to use my banner photo but she had other ideas so this is what arrived in the mail:
In a letter she explained that she felt it should be a photo of Carmen not Steele. And she was exactly right- Carmen is not Steele. So she took a photo from my blog of Carmen that she really liked and used that. Which is funny because I also love that photo and almost sent that one. And, because Olivia is intrinsically kind and knows the pain of losing a heart horse she added this in:

I love reading Olivia's blog and her adventures with her mule and mustang. One day I'm going to drop in- I swear it. There are a few bloggers in California that I would happily invade. 

Tonight Karen is coming and Cynthia and I are having a lesson. I cannot wait. 

Sunday, August 7, 2016


Today I was having family for a BBQ so I  got up early to ride. I wanted to carry on with the work I had done yesterday.

I mounted by the barn and rode up and didn't have to deal with tenseness or silliness. In the ring I started with the warm up by the in gate and we ran into the same issue with going to C. So I repeated everything that I had done yesterday. It was hard work- the area between R and C was the 'rest zone' and the remainder of the ring was the 'work zone'. I had to make it 100% clear. I would ask her to stand in that zone and as soon as she turned away I would take up the rein to complete the turn and dig my heels in her side and go down to the other end where we got to work. If she spun and bolted I went with her and encouraged her to go. We even galloped at some points.

 And in the end we were able to walk calmly and quietly in that area. I was very happy and I was going to finish with a halt and a rein back. But when I halted there was a sudden noise as my neighbour used a hose on the side of his house (I think it was his house). Carmen flinched but didn't move even though we were in the 'really scary area'. I hopped off right away and gave her lots of praise. By then we were both soaked.

As I was cooling her off Royce called and asked how it was going. I explained what I had done and he said that I had been doing completely the wrong thing. Which got me upset. I understand what he's thinking so let me see if I can explain it.

First here's the idea in a video:

With everything that Royce has done and taught me I can ride Carmen up at C but I can't get her to relax there. I need her to not 'tolerate' being there but be willing to go there. So I'm trying to get her to think that this is the place to be. What I believe Royce's objection is that I am teaching her it's okay to run away.  I tried to explain that I need her to change her attitude. Essentially he said that her issues up there are because of the way I ride her. I pointed out that I can ride her everywhere else in the ring without those issues but that end is her freaky spot. So I'm not necessarily buying that it's me. I believe that Carmen has it in her head that she doesn't go there and no amount of relaxing her elsewhere is going to transfer there for her. We discussed what I should do and I agreed that I would ride her again tonight and let him know how it went. But I wasn't convinced that I was going to do what he wanted me to do which is to avoid that area until she was relaxed and then ask her to there. If she got tense I was to leave and relax her again. I was afraid that that would teach her that the other areas were the places to be. 

I hung up frustrated. I'm sure he was too. I probably didn't explain it well. 

We had a great afternoon with the family and when the left Caelen and I got the horses ready to ride. I did some ground work up at C and then mounted. I did some warm up at the walk at the in gate and then I asked her to walk up to C. 

And she did. I halted her between R and C in the centre line and she breathed out and cocked a leg. I slowly walked away and we did some work in various area. I think I did maybe 2 mins of trot work, the rest was walking and bending and leg yielding. And her ears were little satellite dishes. there was one spook when a crow flew up out of the grass down at the other end of the ring - it startled me too but she went right back to work. After the 6 or 7th time of going up to C  her walking calmly by the grass while checking in with me with her ears constantly instead of locked on the dangerous grass I hopped off. I think I rode about 20 minutes. 

I do love data- I'm always going on about it at work. I don't have much data but here's what I have:

    Day                Time to get her relaxed at C
Saturday                        90 minutes
Sunday Morning            45 minutes
Sunday Evening              0 minutes 

I will see what happens tomorrow but I am encouraged. 

you can see how tall the grass is. Her ears are up but her hind leg is cocked.
If I touch a rein her ear will swivel back 'what do you want?' 
She and I hung out by the mounting block while Caelen and Irish played in the ring. She nibbled on grass and relaxed. At one point she brought her head down to my leg and gently nuzzled me. I rubbed her forehead and she sighed and relaxed. 

relaxing and enjoying the evening

 I called Royce and gave him the update. He said that he was glad that I learned something today. I don't think he understood what I understood but I'm okay with that.

can I have cookies now? 

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Winning Without Fighting

Carmen and I are working away at our rules of engagement. Mostly I've been getting my way. Today I had a bit of a set back.

It all started yesterday- I rode early in the morning and she was a bit reluctant to go into some parts of the ring. But I worked with her and in the end we got it done. Royce came last night and I figured that she would be better because a) tired and b) we just did that. Royce wanted me to get on first and I did down by the barn. The tall grass at the 'C' end of the arena was blowing a lot and she was not happy to go up. Royce told me to side pass her up and I tried and he kept telling me I was doing it wrong and I would try to fix it until it became apparent that I had no idea what he was asking me to do. I did what I always do, which is stop and tell him 'I am not understanding what you are saying'.  He said I see that, I thought that with all your years of riding you would know how to do this.' So, to be honest I got a bit miffed but then I worked out that he wanted me to ride her in haunches in up the path to the ring. So now I understood and explained that he wanted me to ride her haunches in but said side pass so I got confused. I still don't think that he understood that I was confused by what he said and I think he thinks that he taught me haunches in. Whatever. A few times up and down the path like that it worked to get her brain on me and not the scary troll living in the grass.

In the ring I had to work very hard to get her attention. but with Royce's help I got her listening. WE even did this fun activity where I had to circle him at a canter but he kept moving around the ring and I had to move with him. Carmen seemed to find this fun and when he told us to go straight past him she was all 'no, the little man is getting away we must go get him!'. 

However, she spent the whole ride avoiding that far end. Royce told me not to worry about it but I worried about it. He pointed out that when I get my mind on something (like going to C) and her mind is on the opposite (like not going to C) then we get into a fight and that is not productive. So I had to work with her pretending that I didn't want to go to C but end up at C (if that makes any sense let me know).

He's right that my fighting with her is not productive- but neither is avoiding places - that is how I ended up last year not going anywhere off the middle circle. Nope, not going back to that. Not gonna happen.

This morning I got her ready and I could tell in the barn that she wasn't really in the mood for a ride. She might have a been a bit sore from being ridden twice yesterday but nothing seemed sore. I got on by the barn and when I rode up to the ring I put her haunches in. At which point she began to spin and then threaten to rear. So I hopped off and we did ground work by the tall grass. I made her back into it and stand and then come out and go in again. I brought her into the ring and we did a whole bunch of ground work up by the grass and then I got on. I repeated what we had done yesterday in 3/4 of the ring and ignored C. Every now and then I would take a little foray up- at which point she would get tight and tense and hard to ride.

Now here's the thing- I've ridden lots of horses over the years and i know how to get them through scary spots. Most of the time you just work them gradually closer and they become acclimated to it. For whatever reason Carmen is the exception to that rule. All that she learns is that she doesn't have to go there.  You can think that I'm wrong (many have) but I've been riding this mare for over a year now and that is what I have experienced. Maybe there's something traumatic for her that is triggered by the grass blowing I have no idea. But there is no progressive desensitization technique that works with this.

So I could feel myself getting to the place of 'FFS horse, we've ridden up there a gazillion f-ing times and nothing has EVER attacked us, ever so could you just suck it up and pay attention to the very simple thing I'm asking you to do and get your pretty gray ass up to C?????!" 

But that might seem like be taking on a battle and I'm supposed to not do that.

Not going to C would simply reinforce that we don't go there, so I stopped and thought. I then remembered Warwick Schiller's approach and decided to do that.

I started by doing a trot circle in the middle and then I did a turn and headed up to C at a walk. I felt her suck back and I did nothing but gently urge her forward with my legs. When she began to turn away with her hell no attitude I let her and as soon as we were facing away from C I put my legs on and urged her up to trot. Good idea. That spot looks dangerous. What is way better is to do a bunch of trotting at E. Let's go. And I trotted her and trotted her, then changed direction and trotted some more.  I then turned up to C and went to walk. We repeated the above. But this time we cantered away. And we did lots and lots of canter at the middle. When I felt her wanting to slow down I faced C and brought her to a walk. This time I got her to almost to C and then halt. We stood there and I let her rest. Her ears were up and she was staring hard at the grass. I did nothing to hold her there. When she spun of her own accord to leave I put in my heels and we cantered back to the middle where we went back to work.

I have no idea how long we did this or how many times we repeated this. But it was a lot. In the middle we cantered and trotted and changed direction and basically worked very hard. All the rest happened as we went to and stood at C. Slowly our rest times became longer. I never argued when she wanted to leave. As soon as she turned around I dug in my heels and we went back to work. I didn't get frustrated. If you were a troll lurking in the grass you heard things like:
Good idea, lets run away. 
You know what's fun? Canter trot transitions that's what! 
Oh, it feels good to rest doesn't it?
Enough rest? You're right, back to work we go. 
Phew I'm tired, it's good to stand here. 

Finally she stood there and didn't move. Not a bit. Something rustled in the grass and I felt her tense to leave and then she let go. You could see her brain go 'oh forget it'. I then asked her to walk out on a circle at C. I didn't hold her there and I didn't shy away from any of the scary corners. I could feel her tense but she didn't do anything. What I managed to do in this ride is make the scary spot the best spot on the ring because that's where the rest happened. And after being 90 minutes in the saddle (guessing at that) rest was a great thing.

On another note I decided to not do the show- primarily for financial reasons. I've spent a lot of money on horse training this summer. So as much as I want to go I'm not going to. If you have a ring though and want to invite us over that would be very beneficial. 'Cause every ring needs a dramatic Spanish mare with a cursing Irish rider in it. Amiright?