dancing horses

dancing horses

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Clinic Report Day 3: Mind Melding

My mind to your mind. My thoughts to your thoughts. ~ Commander Spock

Yes, I am using a Star Trek reference to illustrate this post. I'm a nerd, remember?

No one would be surprised to hear that I spent the rest of the day /evening/night reflecting on my rides and how to get my crap together.

I tend to be fairly logical and it was bugging me that she was throwing her haunches in again. I wasn't arguing that my hip was tight- I have bursitis in that hip and I spend a lot of time stretching it and I go to massage therapy to keep it loose. My thoughts were that Carmen should be well used to that by now. However, since I was sitting 'deeper' in the saddle maybe it was bugging her more. Which led to the thought that my hip is my hip and it may not ever be really good because of my physical limitations. I decided that I would broach this with Johanna on my sunday morning ride.

Over dinner my friend commented that I should be happy with my rides- that she had seen a change in Carmen's way of going and my riding since July (she was at the Centred Riding clinic with me). That made me feel good but something was still bugging me and I needed to let it percolate.

At 3 a.m. I woke up with theory. Of course.... I thought and then drifted back to sleep.

Sunday morning I arrived at the barn and Carmen called a greeting. I let her out while I cleaned her stall and hooked up the trailer. When I brought her back in I went into her stall to groom and spend some time with her. After I groomed her I stood beside her and rubbed her withers. She flapped her lip enjoying the scratch. I quietly and gently ran my hand down and under her belly. Her ears pinned and she snapped at the air (not at me at all). That was my confirmation- she was feeling ulcery. Which made sense- with the travel by herself, leaving Irish and then the new place were causing some stomach upset. Even though there were no outward signs of worry it obviously was affecting her. That explained the balking at going forward- it causes discomfort and she doesn't like that.

I took her outside to lunge and warm her up before my ride. She was completely tuned in. I decided that I would be better off letting her graze and get some roughage in her belly. So that's what I did- grazing as a warm up: it's now a thing.
now this is training I can get behind
When it was our time I came into the arena and mounted. When Johanna came in I started by explaining about my hip. She listened very carefully as I explained about my hip. 
Does it hurt?  she asked. 
I had to laugh because I know that wasn't what she meant- she explained that she meant that now that she knew that we could figure out how to work around it. I then explained about my thoughts that Carmen was having some stomach issues. Again she listened carefully and respected my thoughts. 
What do you want to do? 
I said that I was fine working at the walk and maybe trying some trot but I didn't want it to be worse for her. 

And that's we did. I had to work on my breathing again but this time I could feel it resonating with me and her. 
As she would stiffen I would breathe in and (try to) not tighten my body. As a result she walked around calmly and her ears were little satellite dishes going back and forth. 

We practiced Shoulder in some more- I realized the I was not asking for enough bend and that was setting us up to be wrong. I was to get the bend and then just let the shoulder in happen. 
ta dah
We tried a trot and, while Carmen did move forward she was chomping with her teeth. I stopped. I don't want to do this to her just for a lesson I said so we went back to walk.  

The goal was to have Carmen lengthen and shorten her stride. The first ask was a disaster. She thought that I was asking for a trot and reacted. You know I'm not asking for that, just walk okay? 
noooo, you're asking me to trot and it huuurtts, meanie! 
calm down 
Johanna had me take a deep breath and bring it down a notch. 
This time when you ask for her to take a longer stride don't do anything. No, that's not right. She stopped trying to figure out how to help me understand. 
Don't do any drastic I ventured helpfully. 
Yes. don't be drastic.  she agreed. 
So I'm walking along trying to figure out how to help Carmen take longer steps without getting her to overreact. What I did was centre myself in our walk rhythm and then visualized me taking longer strides in the the rhythm. And she followed my thoughts and took longer steps. 
That's it!  called Johanna. 

We did that a few rounds. I stopped by Johanna- which was Carmen's favourite place the whole session and that was adorable. 
I don't know what else we can work on Johanna said. 
And I completely agreed. 
Although I had a whole ride in walk it felt like we had made quite a few breakthroughs. Mainly- that was the first time I ever could ride her at the walk without her getting frazzled and wanting to spook at things. The next was learning to use my seat and breath in an effective manner. I felt so much better about everything. 

Going home Carmen had a second thought about getting on the trailer but walked right on on the second try. When I got home there was no one at home so I undid the butt bar and walked up to back her off (which is how I do it). At that point Irish screamed and she began to pul back before I could undo the trailer tie. It did what it's supposed to do- breakaway (love these trailer ties). Unfortunately I didn't let go of the lead line soon enough and got some major rope burns on both hands. As soon as she was off she stopped to graze. I picked up the lead line and we spent the next 10 minutes going on and off the trailer like a civilized equine. She resisted at first but I was firm. I was also completely calm and unflustered by this. After she had gone off and on a few times I brought her to the barn. 

It was good to be home.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Clinic Day 2: Awareness

I spent Friday night at the home of friends. They are generous with their hospitality and I always enjoy spending time with them. We don't chat often enough but it's nice to catch up when we do get together. My only complaint I have is that many of my horse friends live a long distance away. I slept very well that night and even had a kitty for company.

I was excited for my ride in the morning. It felt luxurious to sleep until 7 and let someone else feed my horse. Carmen seemed happy to see me- it was a beautiful September day- sunny but not hot.

Carmen was a bit girth when I tacked her up. I took her to the outside ring to lunge. She was looking around but listened to me fairly well. The outdoor ring had no fence but there were bushes in each corner. Carmen was quite suspicious of these.

At the start of our lesson Johanna asked if I had any questions. I didn't. She asked me what I wanted to work on and I said that I wanted to carry on with what we were doing and I really wanted to focus on getting my seat in the saddle and using it correctly. I started by walking her around and warming her up while Johanna was quiet and watched us.

I did my best to keep her listening and not worrying about the ring. The sun on the metal sides of the arena was causing it to expand and it was making noises.

looking out the door checking for trolls
A friend had my camera and was taking photos of us. To be honest I was really worried to look at them later- I hate photos of me riding. But to be honest although there were some where I look awful, overall I wasn't as awful as I thought. Except for here- what the heck am I doing?

perched seat, piano hands, could I look more awkward? 
You can tell by Carmen's expression that she is not so impressed either. Johanna was reminding me to breathe (honestly, how can that be so hard?). Johanna is what you would call a 'classical trainer'. Which means that she believes in working slowly, with the horse and that it must be harmonious. It can't be rushed. I cannot tell you how many times I heard the phrases 'calm your breathing.' 'ride with your seat' 'stop using your hands' 'soften your aids'

We were working on 10 metre circles and then shoulder in up the long side. I know how to ride a shoulder in.

Except I don't. It seems that I know how to use excessive amounts of tension with an over use of hand and leg to do an awkward shoulder in that was in no way acceptable. Johanna chewed me out for using my rein to pull her around on a 10 metre circle. She was right but I honestly didn't realize that I was doing it. I took a deep breath and focussed on using my seat and inside leg to get her to bend. Turns out that I really was not getting enough bend on my circle.

 Getting better with the bend.
And then there is was:
with easy aids and no stress she did it. I actually laughed when we got it (dressage riders are the nerds of the horse world).

Then we tried to trot and the wheels came off- Carmen began to throw her haunches to the inside.  Johanna told me to stop doing what i was doing but I didn't know what I was doing so it was hard to stop. We talked about and I shared that I thought she was being resistant. My friend made the observation that I was tightening my left leg and hip (which you can see in the photo).

Add caption
I couldn't feel it. I dismounted and Johanna took Carmen for a walk. 
Carmen explaining her troubles to Johanna
She then got on and rode her for a bit at the walk (no photos because it's not fair to share photos of others without permission). Carmen was good and demonstrated lovely flexibility.  

I was disappointed- things had been going so well and then they were not. My fellow clinicians were very supportive and tried to get me to focus on the positives. I tried but inside I was not so thrilled. I wanted to do better than better.  

Not that I have achievement issues. Nope not me. 

That afternoon I had planned to ride again. I had brought with me a western saddle to try but unfortunately it didn't fit (back to the drawing board). But I put on my english tack and took her out. We lunged for  bit and then I got on. Let me sum up my ride- Carmen was spooky and bolted twice. Both times I managed to stop her and go back to work. I kept focussing on my seat and helping her relax. Finally she settled and listened to me. One cute thing- where the ring was not fenced I decided to walk her in and out of the ring. She was a little weirded out by that- in her mind there was a fence. But she trusted me enough to go in and out. 

I spent that evening thinking about what happened at the end of my lesson. I wasn't arguing that I was tensing but the truth is that I didn't think I was riding different then usual and I hadn't had that happen for a long time. Later that night (well around 3 a.m.) a theory started to form.


Sunday, September 25, 2016

Clinic Report Day 1: Keep it Simple

I've been away since Friday attending a clinic with Johanna Beattie Batista. I've had a few clinics with her since Carmen and I have started together. Right now my brain is so full that I'm not sure I'll be coherent.

But it's not sunday without a blog post so here goes.

Thursday I had one of the worst headaches I've had for a while. I managed to get everything ready but there was no way I could ride and I decided to forego tack cleaning. Friday my headache was gone but I had that post-headache hangover. I don't know what else to call them- my head doesn't ache but my head and my body feel beat up and out of it. I finished getting the trailer packed and then loaded Carmen. She walked right on with no fuss and we began our trip.

It's a 2 hour trailer drive to the location but it almost all highway and so we sailed along with no disruptions. Carmen unloaded easily. She hesitated a bit going into the barn but followed me along quietly. This was a big change- the last time we were there I needed help to get her to walk into the barn. I set her up in her stall and put my stuff away and then had lunch. Seriously- this was such a nice leisurely, stress-free clinic. I was riding at 3:30 so there was lots of time.
this is the view from the outdoor ring- this place is a jewel.
That's a golf course along the river. 

I was able to lunge and quietly walk Carmen around before the lesson started and I took full advantage of it. Johanna wanted to know my goals and I told her that I wanted to work on straightness and smooth transitions. I explained how Carmen gets crooked when she's tight- she calms when I can get her straight but she also fights that. Johanna advised me to ride her with lots of changes of direction when she gets crooked- do small circles, large circles and changes of rein. She then told me to go play with that.

I should explain that what Johanna does is explain something and then lets the rider try it out and see if they can figure it out. She will watch for a while and call out small adjustments (or large). I could feel it working- Carmen was getting straighter. Johanna then began to talk to me about keeping my brain clear and simple.

Apparently I think too much. Who knew? <-----sarcasm font

Seems that Carmen gets confused by all the thoughts roiling around my head. Of course she has lots too so the too of us can get ourselves in a mess. But, since I'm ,theoretically, the one who can consciously change it has to be (sometimes it's just not fair).

So my job was to ride Carmen, keeping my intent clear and not hold my breath. I worked on that and it really did work. Johanna pointed out that as I was doing that Carmen was no longer spooking and looking around. hmm.

Then we worked on getting my pelvis more engaged. I tend to ride with too much weight in the stirrups and not enough on my seat bones. I will blame my early hunter jumper training but I've been riding like this for years. Which makes it impossible really hard to change. I've been starting to get it on my own but in this lesson I could really feel it. All of sudden my seat bones were moving with the horse and I could feel her back through the saddle. And the transitions were soft and forward. It felt so cool.

Carmen was really tuned in and we were dancing around the ring. I would get it-lose it- get it but more and more it was starting to really sink in.

I asked for a canter and the wheels fell off the bus. She was very resistant about going into canter. We thought that with my deeper seat she wasn't sure how to carry me. We left it alone and finished up on a great note.

This is not a photo from that lesson- it's from the next day but I it shows how it felt to me.
trotting on sunshine :)

Wednesday, September 21, 2016


Snowflakes come in a variety of sizes and shapes. Complex shapes emerge as the flake moves through differing temperature and humidity regions, such that individual snowflakes are almost always unique in structure. ~Wikipedia~

Carmen is in heat. If memory serves there are two heats that are troublesome for her: the first one in spring and the last fall one.

She's hormonal and horny. Ask Irish if that makes her difficult and he'll back me up. Or at least back up so he's behind me.

Yesterday was warm and humid so I waited for after supper to ride. Poor Carmen was jumping out of her skin. I kept myself on track and tried to keep her with me. And she was trying bot OHMYGODTHERESSOMUCHTOLOOKAT!

She was experiencing all the emotions all at once.

I kept chipping away and we would settle and then unsettle.  Things that were unsettling included ( but were not limited to):
-asters. Those wee purple flowers WERE NOT THERE YESTERDAY
-the wheelbarrow. Sure, it's been there since May BUT NOW IT LOOKS DIFFERENT AND DID IT JUST MOVE?
-birds. I thinks she's hacked my Netflix account and has been watching Alfred Hitchcock movies.
- me patting her, stroking her etc.

And then a fire truck went by and set off its siren right as it passed the ring.


No reaction. She didn't even blink.

So we carried on making what could only be considered circles and transitions if you didn't actually know what those were. We did our Spirograph circle thingy at E and as we approached the gate she came to a sudden stuttering stop.  Her eyes bugged out at - wait for it- two happy little weeds dancing in the sunshine by the gate.

I dropped the reins and let out a loud belly laugh. She flicked her ears back
What? They frightened me 
I laughed and snorted
All right. 
I kept laughing tears streaming
Ok ok, you made your point. 
Oh honey, you are a special little snowflake, aren't you? 
Is that an insult? 
Only if I drop the 'snow'
T We finished our ride- sweaty and tired but with no real disasters

She is my own special snowflake and I bet you all are jealous

Sunday, September 18, 2016


I've been pretty busy lately- both at work and in my personal life. It seems that I consistently over-estimate how much time I have available. As a result I often end the weekend more tired than when I started.

Today it caught up with me. I was dragging from the minute I got out of bed. I know my body well enough to know that when I feel like this and I don't rest I will get sick. So today I decided to slow down. My kids came for lunch and I made a nice light lunch of potato and leek soup, cheese biscuits and blueberry pie. I would normally have rushed to ride before they came and then cooked. But this time I decided to wait.

In the end I didn't ride. Carmen seemed confused by this. Overtime I went outside I would catch her watching me quietly. When I was getting the stalls ready for the evening she came to the door and watched me for a bit. Then she quietly walked in and stood by me. She kept softly blowing on me and hanging out. When I blew back in her nostril and gave her a scratch she seemed satisfied.

Carmen and I have had a busy and intense few months. It seems like a good time to take some perspective. When I rode her on Saturday she was a lot more alert- it took a lot to keep her attention and she was quite 'flinchy' and tense. But we worked through it.

What I realized that I was classifying that as a 'bad ride'.  But a few months ago that would have been a good ride.  No bolting, we were in every part of the ring and finished on a good note.

I can now get reliable transitions and most of them are good. The straightness thing was driving me a bit nutty but up until last month I couldn't even begin to work on it. Now we can and it's improving.

 I am taking her out of the ring and into the big outdoors and no one is dying. I've not yet done it on my own but I'm making plans for others to take us out and into the trails.

I am no longer afraid that I'm going to be hurt riding. Even though I came off not that long ago, the fact that she stopped beside me and waited was huge. Because I'm not afraid I'm able to not enter into the drama.  And frankly, the drama feels more like habit and not true fear. As Cynthia said 'it's not that she won't run away but now she's trying to save you too'.

It's feeling more like a partnership. One in it's early stages but something to build on. She has a ton of talent for lightness and elevation. Now I need to help release it. We're heading to a clinic next weekend and I'm really looking forward to it.

I just have to make sure that I'm feeling well.

Speaking of Perspective:
this is Carmen in May 2015 (approx 2 months after she arrived here)

This is Carmen from July 2016: 

Also, her papers arrived in June -finally and after many frustrating interactions with USPRE. But thanks to her breeder I finally got her ownership card: 

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Finding the Happy Medium

On my last post Linda commented that I had found the happy medium between too much control and being safe. I liked how she put it because it made sense to me- Carmen needs to feel support from me but doesn't like too much pressure. Sometimes she requires more pressure to make a point but it can't stay on. I have keeping the idea of a 'happy medium' in my mind for my rides.

On Thursday Carmen was fabulous. She was tuned in and listening and we were able to work on our straightness issue. I tend to sit too much to the left and Carmen tends to throw her haunches in going to the right. The problem with working on it is I can't trust how it feels- because it feels normal to ride over to the left and awkward to straighten up. I just keep correcting it. Carmen and I were having so much fun in the ride that Cynthia even asked if I had given her more of the 'chill' supplement (I hadn't).

Friday was beautiful September day- sunny but not too hot. In the afternoon it became quite windy and that's when Cynthia and I rode. Carmen was much more tense in the ring- wanting to look and freak out about all the wildly waving grass. This was a great time to practice getting the right amount of support. I realized that I wasn't worried about what she 'might do' at all. I was aware but not tight about it. Nor did I stare hard at the same things she was staring at. I would look and then carry on. She kept bulging in her shoulder along the tree side- more outside rein made it worse, with more inside rein and she very happily turned in away from it. My inside leg was getting too tight with trying to help her stay out on the circle.

She was getting tighter and tighter and the trot felt terrible- it was like riding in a wagon over a bumpy road. So I pushed her up into canter and let her reach out and work out some of her kinks. At first the canter was pretty awful- she was so balled up she couldn't go forward and even gave a couple grow hops. I put on my leg and let her have some rein and off we went. It took a good many minutes of canter before I felt her settle into work. With all the work that we've been doing over the summer she's very very fit. She can canter and trot forever and not be out of breath. Did I mention that there was also a helicopter flying around?

Finally she settled and we could work on straightness and suppleness. She was so tight I knew that I had to help her loosen up and now she was ready to tune in to me rather than argue. ( I was also happy that I never argued with her at all, and just stayed pretty calm).  I've been working on leg yields for a while. At the walk they are pretty good now- I can stop her from blowing through the outside shoulder and going crooked. At the trot they are good as long as it is a way she wants to go (like towards the gate). If she's not sure about the way we're going she will either speed up and/or refuse to move over.

Yesterday seemed like a good day to work on this- we started at the walk and when that was pretty good I asked her to trot. As soon as I asked her to move away from my leg she sped up. I realized that she was a bit confused as to what I wanted and I had to figure out how to help her figure it out. Opening the rein to the way I want to go didn't help- she hates that and ducks out. More leg made her go faster and get tight. I finally figured out the timing of inside leg, outside rein, half-halt, repeat. When necessary we dropped back to walk and finished the leg yield. What I didn't allow was for us to zoom to the far end without going sideways at least a few strides. Suddenly she seemed to get it and we were able to get some real trot leg yields (probably a 6 in a First Level test. She can do much better but we'll start there).

I also worked on the 'free walk on a long rein'- now that I feel okay giving her a free rein it was time to help her stretch out. This is fine along the rail but across the diagonal we look drunk.  The trick was to essentially point my pelvis where I wanted to go (say K) and then when the wondered off path give her a gentle bump with the legs. I Think Jane Savoie describes this as making a chute with your legs. I only used a rein aid when I had too. After a bit she figured it out. Interestingly enough she also stopped snatching at the rein.

All our rides with Cynthia end up in a small hack around the fields. This time we went the opposite way. Other then a bit of confusion when we passed the barn (why aren't you getting off), she was fine. Irish wanted to head into the woods so we followed. She was a bit concerned but not too bad. I haven't been brave enough to go on my own yet but I'm getting closer.

I was so happy with both of my last two rides. The first one because she was so calm and the second because she wasn't but we worked through it without too much drama. Earlier this year I had observed how much happier and calmer Carmen was in the barn. That disappeared under saddle but it's not starting to come there as well. I'm no longer feeling a complete lack of trust in me- instead she's tuning in and trying to figure stuff out.


Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Plugged in

I tossed around lots of titles for this blog entry and in the end settled on this one because it seemed to be the most relevant to our ride today.

After our very busy weekend I gave Carmen two days off. It worked for me too because I two very long days at work. Yesterday I spent some time grooming her. Today I came home from work with the plan to ride. It's been very windy (what a surprise) so I had a bit of an expectation that she would be a bit more spooky.

In the barn she was very mellow and when I started with her bridle she reached down and picked up the bit. We walked to the ring and I tried to keep myself steady and calm. When we got there I saw that a big piece of paper had peeled off one of the sonotubes. This was a big deal last year. I walked up and picked it up. She gave a snort and then checked it out. I put it under a rock to anchor it outside the ring.

 After my work at my friend's place I realized that I needed to give her space and not try to hold her too much. This is incredibly difficult as I know how fast she can spin and leap.

As we started our warm up I made sure that my seat was engaged and helping to set the piece. I find this difficult (although it's getting easier)  because it requires balance and just the right amount of tension to follow and support. Gah. the more I ride the more I realize how freaking hard it is.

She was starting to repeat our usual warm up of 'I'll be nice for about 3 minutes and then find what's really scary and start to fixate on that. From there I start to fixate on it too and then we start to argue.

Nope. Not gonna buy into this. Not this time. 

I decided to not engage and rather then tighten her rein agains the next I held it there but she had room- this gave her nothing to fight. Well not much anyway.  She gave a couple scoots and I stayed focused on following her with my seat but restricting the fast, choppy movement.

And my god. It worked. And it worked at trot and canter. It wasn't magic but it was pretty darn close. the more tight she got the more I tried to keep my seat plugged in to the saddle and follow the movement. When ever she stretched into the contact and lifted her back I gave her rein and let her reach. When she tightened and hollowed I shortened the rein but kept my hands on her neck so that I could give her some room but not be left with no escape.

The other aspect was that I had to refuse to fixate on things that she decided were spooky. Instead I stayed on task and kept asking her to transition/bend/go forward- whatever it was that I wanted to work on. Again, magic. This helped to break the feedback loop that we have.

And what do you know- we were able to do honest-to-god back to front transitions instead of spazzing leaps and leg yields that felt like leg yields and not drunken staggers.

We worked our way down towards troll corner. She was tight but walked right into the corner, giving a sigh of relief when we passed it.
that's my girl, they will write songs of your bravery. Songs!
hmm, I detect sarcasm
Who me? 
Yes- EEEK!  we scooted forward.
Well maybe they will write silly songs

possible trolls but checking with me as to what to do

We finished up on a good note and I dismounted.

I was happy that we had managed a stress free and confrontation free ride. Neither of us was freaked out or dripping in sweat. Instead, because I stayed plugged in I could get her to plug in too. 

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Operation Slow and Steady

I'm two minutes from having a nap but am also too excited to sleep until I tell you about my weekend.

As you may recall I had Irish and Carmen grazing in the ring earlier that day. When I tacked up Carmen and brought her up it was apparently completely new and she had never been there before and didn't know what I was talking about. 

She was practically vibrating whenever she looked up at Troll Corner. I did my ground work and got on. I decided to treat it like I had earlier- every part of the ring was work except for that far part. We would have beautiful work until she felt she was too close to that area, at which point she would turn into a stiff-as-a-board pony with a jarring trot (my teeth rattled).

I just kept working and we got closer but not up deep. I wasn't too worried, I knew I had to just stay the course.

That night Cynthia and I had a 'date night': we went out to dinner and then saw a theatre production of Beauty and the Beast. It was fabulous.

I stayed overnight with Cynthia and came home in the morning. She was coming shortly and we were both going to ride. I really wanted to tackle the corner. I had some Omega Alpha 'Ultra Chill' and I decided to try it. When Cynthia came we got the horses ready and I headed up to the ring before Irish and Cynthia.

Carmen did not care a fig for that corner. At all.
So I got on her and she was-well- fine. Relaxed and easy going. And stayed that way throughout the ride. She was responsive and alert but not panicked and we worked the whole ring with no issue. Yay. That's what I wanted. I didn't want it to always be a fight- I wanted her to figure it out without the drama and hysterics (from either of us).

It was stinking hot and humid and after 50 minutes I was ready to fall off. So we went for a hack around the field and she led again. We even trotted for some of it.

That was all very exciting because I had something special planned for Sunday: A road trip!

I hooked up the trailer and got it all packed for the next day.

The day dawned foggy and drizzly. Oh no you don't! I thought.

My plan was to trailer to a friend house. She lives about 5 km away from me so it a short jaunt. the other nice part is that she does not have an indoor. She has an outdoor with trees all on one side.

When it was time to leave Carmen self-loaded. Without Irish having to be on first. I was thrilled. I closed it up and we made the trek. I let Carmen settle on the trailer while I chatted with M. Her two mares were quite excited and there was a lot of calling and prancing going on. She has a welsh cob that I plan to steal some day and a beautiful warmblood as well.

I had a sort-of plan. The goal was to work with Carmen on the ground and only ride if it seemed that it would be a good idea. I was fully prepared to only do ground work. I started by walking her around the ring. She was looky but listening. The ring was great: M drives her cob so she has cones set up and flags attached to fence posts and even umbrellas.

After walking I hooked up the lunge line and we went to work. I was so impressed with how well she listened to me despite there being horses nearby and then not as they were led into the barn. M. had her cob tied to the outside of the ring and groomed her well we worked and then took her inside.

I also walked Carmen along the outside of the ring and down a short trail that she was concerned about when in the ring. She was so well behaved and, while reluctant, did not refuse to follow me.

I decided that it would be great to ride. So I unhooked her from the line and let her chill in the ring while I got stuff organized.

don't leave me! 
While I organized M went in and played with Carmen and the umbrella. 
You can see that she's sort of concerned but not really. 

I tacked her up and got on. As soon as I mounted she tensed and M noted that her eyes got hard. I used to take lessons from M (before she retired) so it was helpful to have her there to help. She stood in the centre and reminded me to relax and let her move forward. Slowly Carmen began to unwind and listen. There was just one scoot. What I found was the same thing as at home- she wasn't bothered by any of the things in the ring, just the trees and leaves fluttering around.

I rode her for maybe 15 minutes and when she was soft and relaxed I stopped and got off. It seemed to me that we had accomplished quite a bit today. I untacked her and cooled her out walking around the ring. I then let her loose and went and chatted with M for a bit. Carmen nibbled some grass, peed, and then started running down to the far (scary) corner and looking at it hard, then turning and running away. I was pleased to see her challenge it.

What i realize is that if think of her as a 4 year old (which is where she is in her training) it's much easier. I said as much to M who agreed. She also observed that I can be a bit intense.
who me? Next you'll be saying that I am ambitious. 
She laughed.  I just might. but you are also dedicated and are willing to put the time in with her. Not everyone would be. 

Carmen walked right on the trailer to come home. When I pulled up to the barn I decided to try unloading her by myself. I haven't done that yet. I undid the butt bar and then went up to her head and  asked her to back off. She stood until I told her to come off. Irish was happy to see her return.

I was so thrilled with everything:

  • I did productive work on troll corner
  • I travelled off property and back by myself
  • Carmen learned that she can travel out and life is okay. 
  • Carmen can self-load and unload with no fuss
I'm calling this weekend a win. 

Friday, September 9, 2016

Quirky Carmen

In keeping with the 'my horse is weird ' theme let me tell you about her and the CHASM OF TERROR.

Ed, at my request, had mowed down the tall grass on each side of the ring. I was concerned about deer bedding up at C and and bunnies moving in at A.  Carmen could care less about the mowing at A but is completely unhinged by the open path now up at Troll Corner.
Carmen: OH MY GOD- the trolls have built a road! We must flee. 

I am pleased with how I am not freaked out by this. This is Carmen and I shouldn't be surprised- she was doing well with that part of the ring but now it's changed. I'm simply doing what I had done before- making that area the 'rest' area.

Yesterday Cynthia rode Irish with us. I did some lunging up by the Troll Highway and just was clear that her main worry was me and not mythical beasts that cannot possibly hurt her because they are not real.

During our ride she was okay- tense but okay. I kept my seat engaged and did my best to not tighten up and perch in the saddle. If she gets tense and I get more solid in the saddle she calms down. She's also making me more aware of how frequently I've been dropping contact on her. She does not like that. She did a couple mini bolts but I was able to stop them quickly and back her up. Throughout the whole ride her ears kept checking in with me which is exactly what I want. We had some wonderful trot-canter-trot transitions that were actually straight.

I used Irish to help her walk up around the chasm and that helped a lot. I then rode her over to open the gate. She was fine letting me open it from her back but tried to go right out and became irked that I wouldn't let her. We then spent some time walking, trotting and cantering up past the gate until she gave up on trying to dive out. Then we marched out with Irish behind. I turned right for us to go around the path and she took the lead.
This should be interesting I thought but decided to let her do it.  I figured we could switch up to her following if necessary. Irish was surprised but followed along nicely enough. Carmen was more alert and I could feel that she was a bit on high alert. But we walked the whole way and it was all fine.

Me: So let me get this straight- walking by the woods with the wind blowing is perfectly fine but mown grass by the ring is terrifying? 
Carmen:  DON'T JUDGE ME!

So today I put her and Irish in the ring to eat down the grass that's trying to move in. This is Carmen and Irish grazing quietly by the Chasm of Terror.

see how scary that tall grass is? 


Wednesday, September 7, 2016


Last week I decided that I want to spend one session a week just on groundwork. I wasn't planning on that day being today. The heat and humidity has returned so I figured that this would help me. Carmen was fine being tacked up. I saw that my sand delivery had arrived (I buy a load every year and move it up to the ring to replenish the sand as needed). I thought that Carmen would be a bit spooked by it but you can see her reaction below:

'why is this sand on my grass?'

On monday I asked Ed to mow down some of the grass around the ring- I was pretty sure that bunnies were trying to move in there and I didn't want them tunnelling under the ring. Carmen was fine except that the grass down in troll corner kinda freaked her out. I did some work with her but she stayed tight. I knew that I could get on her and work through it but it would probably be a big battle that wore us both out. Instead I went back to the barn, untacked her, put on her halter, the lunge line and grabbed the chain lead as well and headed back up. 

We started by working around the path Ed had carved in troll corner. She was kind of freaked out about it and kept trying to blow by me. I just kept calm and had her focus on me. I had to put on the chain shank so she didn't drag me around. I kept the lunge line so in one sense it was like a double rein- the easy lunge line with the chain as back up. Finally I had her walking calmly (although not happily) around and around and around the path. 

We went in the ring and played some more with her staying tuned in - and she was fine. I played with the hula hoop and she was all 'whatever'. I even could lay it over her back with no issue. 

We then headed out and went to far side to play on the second path. She really didn't care. So we went walking around the field in and part way into the woods. She followed me calmly, looking around and now worried.

looking around, alert but not worried
We need up at the end of the driveway and out on the road. No big deal. We walked up by the ditch and across the front of the house. I couldn't resist snapping a shadow selfie: 
she's just walking calmly along on a loose line. 
In the barn she was relaxed and it seems that she enjoyed her walk.

I finally realized that Carmen truly is a good horse in most circumstances. It's the ring. sigh. I know, I know- that has been pretty obvious for a long time. But I guess I truly didn't believe it until tonight. I always figured that how she was in the ring she would be everywhere.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Time in the Saddle

I have ridden 3 times since 'The Incident' on Wednesday. I obviously have been thinking and analyzing. A few things bubbled to the surface: 

 Carmen has been 'cinchy' of late. Last time she was like this I gave her a stomach supplement and it disappeared. I wondered if she was a bit acidy of late which was making her uncomfortable. I figured that I might has well try it. I also approached it from a behavioural perspective as well- I held a crop and when she pinned her ears and turned her head at me I gave her a smack. That got rid of the behaviour but not the ear pinning. But by today it was all gone- last time it took 3 days of the supplement to see a difference too. I suspect I will be keeping her some sort of maintenance schedule for the supplement. 

The other thing was that the weather is cooler and the horses may be more energized with the cooler weather. I always do some ground work but I decided that I needed to do more before I get on. So Thursday I put her on the lunge line and did direct work with her before I got on. 

I need to pay more attention to her shoulder- she was blowing through my aids and ducking inside. So I got out the short crop and started carrying that. I can get a much better tap/smack with the shorter crop then with the dressage crop. As soon as her shoulder bulges in I get after it.  

I need to fix my seat and then deal with her- not the other way around. I have been very very focussed on ensuring that I am getting my seat in the saddle and my legs around her. I keep my hands close together and don't let them get wide (this gives her an escape). 

And lastly, I need to trust that I have the tools and just get on with it. On Saturday when I rode I actually had butterflies in my stomach. I think I was still on adrenaline on Thursday, but that was all gone by Saturday. I still got in the saddle though so that's a plus.  
So with all that how did it go? 

In a word- better. I've ridden twice without Irish (Thursday and Sunday) and once with (on Saturday). She's being spooky about the blowing grass and I'm just working us through it. I have been finding the balance between not backing down and not picking a fight. It's not easy.  

Cynthia loaned me the book 101 dressage exercises and it's been great. I have been picking out exercises that work on her brain and her body. My favourite so far is 'The Needlepoint': 
- a reverse on the long side - 15 meter circle on the short side and then another reverse on the other side. It's perfect to keep her engaged and listening. I move it around the ring and I can find her settling in to me. 

Interestingly enough when Cynthia and I hack out around the field which is between the fence and the woods she's not a nut bar- which I think she would be if it was just about the trees. 

Today we were doing okay but she was being very resistant to the far end (not troll corner, apparently they have moved). I patiently kept working towards there and then down there. At one point I asked her to whoa and she was as stiff as a board with her neck rigid. 
'what do you think is going to happen?  I asked her 'have I ever let anything bad happen to you? Do you really think I would do that to you? 
As soon as I said that she relaxed and let go. 

Yup, that's right- I played the relationship card. Guilt is a legitimate training tool. 

More likely what worked is that I stayed on task. When I felt her backing off and getting 'bouncy' instead of tightening and leaning forward I sat up and back and put my seat in my saddle to go with her not against. Immediately I felt more secure and she became more 'steerable'. When I felt myself getting flustered I took a deep breath and returned to the task. 

I wanted to work on lengthening and shortening her stride. I took her the middle circle and used my seat to ask her to come short and then lengthen out. We've been working on this with limited success. Today after the second circle I felt her lengthen out, lift her back and stretch her neck into contact. I was thrilled and praised her. I asked her for this two more times and then brought her back to a walk for a break. I then changed direction and we tried it going to the right. This is her harder way and she struggled with staying straight. Without straightness there is no way to really lengthen so I would get her straight and ask. Finally she figured it out and we had some success. 

I called it a day after that. 

That afternoon I volunteered at a dressage show. I had really wanted to go to this but couldn't justify the expense. I was sad about that for a bit but figured I could at least help. It was nice to catch up with friends and celebrate their successes. I learned that some friends are thinking of having a fun dressage show in October. If that works out it will be great for us to go to. Another kind horse person said i could come to her place too to put some miles on her. 

'you're just not giving up, are you?'
The truth is that she's a ton better than she was 2 months ago. But as I get more, I want more.