dancing horses

dancing horses

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Clinic Weekend Part 2: Persistence

Where was I?

Oh, right- I had eaten two breakfasts and taken Carmen to the outdoor.

 I spent the morning chatting with others. This is why I enjoy horse events. As much as I love having my horses home I miss spending time with other horse nuts enthusiasts. I was really enjoying watching the others have really good lessons. I have ridden with Jane a few times and I love her teaching style- she is tough and positive all at the same time.

Carmen and I were scheduled for right after lunch which was perfect- I could lunge her and get warmed up before the lesson. I grabbed a quick bite and then got Carmen ready. She was pretty focussed during our lunging. Jane came out as I was finishing up and watched us for a bit. She asked if I ever used side reins. I have never used them with Carmen - before I'm not sure how she would have taken them. Jane thought that they would help Carmen stay focussed. I didn't explain that Carmen was being brilliant compared to other times. But I can see her point and I may try them. I will confess to being a bit on the fence as to their usefulness.

I brought Carmen over the mounting block and Jane asked if I needed help. I told her I didn't and of course Carmen shuffled away when I stepped up. I hopped off the block and brought her back and she stood still.

And then we worked our butts off. Jane noted that when Carmen was being looky to the outside I turned my body to align with her rather than for the way I wanted her to go. It took a long time for me to align so that my shoulders were turning towards the inside instead of the outside. As with anything new, it felt like far more turning then it actually was.  As I was improving I could feel how this helped Carmen to turn and not do her bend-to-the-outside-and-spook thing.

Also, stay off the inside rein- I could ask her to bend but then release (not a new lesson for me but hard to get embedded). Other then the shoulders (which was huge by the way) it was repeat of things I know but forget to do: keep my legs at the girth, don't push her above her paces and give to let her follow the bit.

The arena at Five Fires is beautiful- light and airy but there is a lot to look at. And Carmen was being quite spooky about the ramp and  the observation room and somewhat spooky about C (there was a strip where she could see outside). Other areas that came and went were the opening between the kkckboards and the wall and other things that I couldn't see but were a concern to her.

And we weren't allowed to avoid any of it. Jane helped me to understand that Carmen locks her jaw and neck and then can pretty much go wherever she wants. I had to keep the outside rein and get her to bend o the inside and move forward- not faster or slower but at the same pace. This came in handy down by the ramp because she had decided that 'hell no, I'm not going there and you can't make me'. Turns out I can; but I wouldn't have been able to without Jane coaching me that I was doing the right thing I just had to stay the course. That's  hard to do when your horse is freaking out and you are demanding that she bend her neck and move ahead. I tend to second guess myself that I'm doing it all wrong and ruining my horse. But I trust Jane and I followed her instructions and it worked.

But do you know what? She didn't bolt and we worked through it. I'm making it sound more confrontational then it was (I think). We worked up and down the ring and addressed issues as they arose but didn't drill anything. As soon as she improved we moved on to something else. We worked on getting her to stretch to contact and not be inverted and to use her hind end and step into my hand. We did lots of patterns and changes of direction which were good to keep us thinking.

Jane had me alternate between sitting and posting trot to the right and then asked me to cue for canter and it worked really well: instead of the fussing about the first canter depart she just popped into with no fuss. And she stayed straight. To the left, the first time I asked she kicked out but that's because I asked to hard and she (rightly) lodged a protest (or a 'mare-pinion' as I've taken to calling them).  I asked her again (lightly) and there were no issues. Cantering to the left up at C created some issues so we were repeating what we had done down by the ramp. It was interesting to feel it working. Up to now with our canter she would be all over the place but establishing the whole 'inside leg to outside rein' was really helping us.

She did do one big spook as we were cantering by C but that was totally my fault. I felt her suck back and I totally dropped everything so she had no direction. I was able to regain it and carry on and I called to Jane 'that was my fault- I let everything go' . Jane said 'that's right but it's great you realized it'.  Love that she didn't call me dumb because it was a dumb move. But that was a small bobble and we carried on. I need to drill it into my head that Carmen needs me to ride every stride with her - not holding but with intention. If I drop everything and expect her to carry me she won't. She doesn't know how. At some point I might get away with it but not now.

Our lesson ended soon after that and I was thrilled. Carmen and I schooled in every part of the ring despite our bobbles and I felt like I had some tools to use when we return to show. I didn't become frightened or frustrated or any other negative emotion. Jane is so calm she helps others stay calm but I also think that I have made strides in that direction.  I also established some patterns in the ring that I hope will help us school through issues (if they arise). Because that is my goal in the show- to do the best we can but not be afraid to school when I need to and not care about the score.

I cooled Carmen out and then put her in the stall while I packed up. Nancy helped and I simply threw everything in the dressing room. It was NOT as neat as it was when I arrived. I thought about asking for help to load Carmen but decided to not assume I would have an issue. And she walked right on as cool as a cucumber. The drive home was uneventful and I was much more relaxed then I had been coming there. I'm hoping that my anxiety is getting under control.

When I got home Irish was inside being fed supper and he started yelling his head off as soon as I pulled in the driveway. Carmen answered him but waited for me to back her off and was very calm.

I am thrilled with this first trip off the property and how we both handled ourselves. We are not anywhere near perfect but we're not the train wreck we were last year and I will take it.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Clinic Weekend Part 1: Trust

I'm  going to apologize but I have too much material for one post (unless you want the War and Peace of all posts).

Friday morning Carmen and I had a short ride before leaving. I thought that it would help us both if she was a bit tired for the journey. Our ride was pretty good- we're definitely growing in consistency in our training.

I finished packing the trailer and ate a quick lunch. Carmen self-loaded on to the trailer which I was pleased with since this was our first trailer trip of the year. The drive was uneventful. If you don't count my anxiety about trailering. I was exhausted by the time I got there. But Carmen travelled beautifully and unloaded like a dream.

Here's the thing that got me excited: In the past every time I take Carmen to a new place she requires a lot of persuasion to enter the barn. She will balk and often I need someone behind me to assist. It can take a long time to get where we need to. That happened when she first came home too. This time she walked behind me. When she would hesitate I would stop briefly, let her look and then put a gentle pressure on the the halter. As soon as she yielded I released. It was a testament to the trust that we have built up that she walked quietly (albeit tentatively) behind me, past all sorts of bags, horses, and barn 'stuff' and into her stall. After getting her bedded in and relaxing, I sat outside her stall and ate some egg sandwiches I had made. Carmen hung her head out of her stall and we kept each other company.

After a bit I took her into the arena to lunge. Five Fires Equestrian Centre is relatively new venue and it has a beautiful indoor- light and airy:
photo from the website

There's a para rider who rides there and so there's a ramp for her to use to mount. Underneath makes good storage. For Carmen it was very freaky. As was the observation lounge windows. Another spooky spot was the far end where there was daylight showing out of the door. I was thinking that I wasn't riding because I was all alone but then a young girl came and was riding a really cute little bay QH. I quickly tacked up and headed back in. Carmen was spooky in the same areas but I was able to gradually ride her closer to the 'scary places' and there were no big spooks or bolts. I didn't ride her long but I was thrilled with how she was willing to trust me. 

I put her in her stall, left some hay to be given to her later and headed to my friends' house to spend the night. They had supper waiting for me so technically I had two suppers. It was great to catch up on what was going on and see how great they are doing. I headed to bed early and ended up sharing my bed with one of their dogs on one side of me and a cat on the other. It was very cosy. 

The next morning I gassed up the truck and bought a coffee and yogurt to take with me. I had already had a muffin and coffee at my friends house so I technically had two breakfasts. I'm essentially a hobbit. 

At the barn Carmen nickered when she saw me. I fed her and picked out her stall and then hung with her drinking my coffee. She tried to steal the granola topping for my yoghurt. After I took her out to the outdoor ring - which will be the warm up ring for the show. I was so impressed with how quiet and calm she was in the outdoor. She was curious but not worried. We lunged out there briefly and I then put her back in her stall so I could watch some lessons. She called a bit in the morning but was not too bad. 

exploring the outdoor

I was thrilled with how relaxed and curious Carmen was. She wanted to meet everyone and was generally just on her most charming behaviour. I was starting to really look forward to my lesson.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Operation 'Do all the Things' is underway

Back in January I wrote a blog post about my goals for 2017 with Carmen.  I've started with the regular lessons. But those goals also included showing and going off property.

I sent in my entry for the show May 13-14. This weekend there's a clinic at the venue and I signed up for it. I really like the clinician and I think it will be good to expose Carmen to the place without the pressure of the show. I'm going today, riding tomorrow and then coming home.

Last night my mind was reeling with all the things that I don't want to forget to pack. I think I need one of those lists on a wipe off board so that I can relax. I so admire the bloggers I read who seem to be able to pick up and go without all the excessive planning that I feel I need to do. I think once I get going it will get easier.

Wish us luck. I will tell you about when I get back.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Positive Energy

I've been doing some thinking lately about energy and how critical it is to the riding/training experience. This has probably been brought home due to my last three rides on Carmen and the fact that I think far too much at times.

With Carmen I am always trying to find the line between 'not avoiding' and 'not confronting'. Starting with the groundwork I can quickly identify the potential 'trouble spots'. I don't want to fall into the whol chicken/egg discussion but I look for where Carmen seems more relunctant to go and/or is doing far more looking. Once those are identified, when I get on her I am trying to feel where the point of her openly objecting will be and then cutting that argument off before it begins.

For example, if the trees blowing in the wind at A are a problem, when I head down to that area I am feeling for her reactions and before it gets to the "NO!" I cut across the ring. Over time we get closer and closer. In this way I'm working at maintaining the positive forward energy but not putting her in the place of feeling overwhelmed. Over time we get closer to that end. If (as I used to) just stay on the 'safe circle' we never get to that end and she never stops fixating. If I get on and say 'damn it horse we're doing down there because it's all fine' we end up in a fight.

Now that we have started navigating the ring better I am putting more emphasis on the actual training pyramid. I start off with looking for forward, positive energy. Carmen is a fit and athletic horse. She can can move fast but it's not forward and it definitley isn't positive. She can be stiff and spooky and bolty. When she's slow/balky it's not positive either. Obvioulsy what I want is a horse that when I put a leg on  she goes forward and steers.

I've ridden her three days in a row: Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. On Sunday she was relunctant to trot and move forward (the whole mare in heat thing). My crop had fallen out of the holder so I would have had to dismount to get it and we all know that I'm lazy. I decided to work through it. The goal was gentle cue-no response-kick-response repeat until she was going forward with the gentle nudge. It was interesting because she went from ears back I hate you to ears forward sure let's go.  All in the space of 5 minutes. We had to repeat that couple times over the ride and each time we ended up in a good place.

On Monday the weather was a lot warmer and she was not keen to go forward at all- on the lunge or under saddle. My habit is to lean forward when a horse is behind the leg but I've been working on that I just focussed on sending her forward. Because she felt a bit stiff to me as well I spent a long time at the walk just getting her to stretch and bend and loosen up.

Once we had forward things were going really well and it became apparrent that I need to address straightness. You see, when Carmen is not sure that she wants to go towards a specific spot in the ring (on monday this was the small trees where birds were fluttering in and out) she will throw her haunches in and then follow in. It's gets worse the faster the gait. So we were cantering down the long side, then her haunches went in and then the rest of her follows and we're looking a giant C going down the quarter line.

 For whatever reason my body thinks that the right response is to pull on the inside rein and push with the inside leg. While getting stiff and grabby.

That's the wrong answer.
not from this ride but see the siffness in her neck and posture?

Everything becomes stiff and flailing and I feel like a sparking wire rather then an enclosed system. I decided to address it this ride becasue it's getting to be a problem. I came back to walk and down the long side insisted that she keep her haunches on the rail by using my inside leg to my outside hand and only using the inside rein if she went to look out (she had to keep her eye on those little feathered demons- they may be small but they are clearly dangerous). At first she overbent her neck and did all sorts of wiggles to avoid going straight down the line but I was insistent in my corrections. Once we good at the walk I did it at the trot. If I lost it completely, I came down to walk, fixed it, went back to trot. I don't want her thinking that the straightness or the gait are optional but I can't always fix both at the same time. As we went along I was able to keep the trot the whole way around and maintain the straightness or a slight shoulder fore. I tried it at the canter. The first few times I had to drop down to trot and even walk, fix it and go back. I think that we've gotten into the habit of this and I need sort it out. I tried to keep it simple- a few strides of straight canter, then trot.

 In the end I had a horse who was soft and foward. The energy was positive- it was frenetic or frozen. If I put my leg on we went and if I stilled my seat we slowed. When this mare is listening and not tight everything feels so dang easy. Even when the cat springs out at troll corner and makes her jump in place. We just held it together and carried on and then we stood for a while looking at Chester until he was like 'what? Why are you guys staring? It's weirding me out' 

postive energy
Which brings me to Tuesday. I took the afternoon off and decided to ride. It was still sunny but the wind was cold and brisk. Carmen was much more on edge from the beginning but I decided to ride anyway. We all know how she is with stuff blowing in the wind. On the 'old' Carmen I would be expecting some major spooks and bolts. I decided to see if I could turn this negative energy into positive. I decided that if I could get through the whole ride without a major blow up or bolt then I would count that as a success.

It was not easy. Walking was a disaster becasue she was too distracted by the universe. I asked for a trot and she shot forward. Which is better than balking but still not great with the stiffness. I just kept wth the program: asking for transitions, changes of directions and that she listen to me. I wasn't going to be upset that she was worried about the waving tress but she still had to listen to my inside leg. I wasn't afraid to kick her with it either when she blew me off. Interestingly enough this didn't piss her off. It was more like 'oh right. You're still there'.

I played with straightness again and we practiced some small leg yields both away and towards the fence. It was not always pretty (it probably was mostly not-pretty) but we got it done. And do you know what?

Her spooks were very minor - flinching rather thant spinning.

And there were no bolts. Not one. There were times where she was contemplating it but I made sure that i had the outside rein (sometimes quite firmly) and didn't grab the inside. I was pleased by this because it could have been a disaster and set us back. Instead we worked thrhough it and no one died. I did opt to not ride the bridge that day though.

I'm find that this concept of positive energy is really helping me work with Carmen. It's moving me away from the 'go but don't go that fast' idea which was probably frustrating her. I don't know if that makes any sense to you guys but it's working for us.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

An Update on the Old Guys

My blog has been a bit heavy on Carmen and Guinness lately so it's time to talk about the more seasoned  (4 legged) residents of Oakfield Farm.

Irish is doing very well this year. He weathered the winter and managed to keep his weight up. The only problem was that with his regular incontinence I couldn't keep his back legs as clean as I would like. I took advantage of every warmish day I could but it still built up to a gross amount. FYI- Dawn soap works really well on gunk like this. But other than that he's been really quite healthy and sound. Well, as sound as a 17 year old horse with a neurological issue that is most likely arthritis in his spine could be.

he is still the one to forge the path through the snow and
takes that job very seriously. 
He has been enjoying his rides this winter as well and I've made reference a few times  to his 'happy face'. Here it is:
He enjoys 'teaching' others and tries very hard for them. Sometimes too hard but that's part of his charm. I'm finding that having a senior horse might be heavy on maintenance but they are so charming that it's worth it. Irish comes up for his face rubs in the pasture and is generally easy to work with. His only issue is that he's getting cranky for not being allowed over into the grass pasture and all of my explanations about waiting for the grass to get established and be growing fall on deaf ears.

Irish and I have been together since he was three years old and understand one another. I love that he's still with me and will do my best to keep him healthy and happy. He knows that he's not going anywhere.
Irish and Steele and I - photo by Kat 
d'Arcy is going to be 13 soon. I've picked him out of a litter and I remember my excitement 

d'Arcy has lived life to the fullest, always doing things 100%. 

Which has led to things like this:

His motto has always been 'it's just a flesh wound' and he can't understand why he can't carry on. This has always been my favourite photo of him because it sums him up perfectly:
And led to him being on a soda bottle:

However, d'Arcy is starting to feel his age. We've also noticed that he's losing his hearing. I was getting so annoyed with him earlier this year when he would be completely ignoring me while 50 feet away. Now I realize that he probably couldn't hear me. I have to make sure that he sees me first. He needs help getting upstairs and doesn't get up with me. I think he doesn't hear me but he notices when Ed gets up. That's okay- it gives me time to get the puppy calmed down before he comes out. This morning Guinness and I were finished the chores and no sign of d'Arcy. I figured he and Ed were sleeping in.
Let's go get the lazy bones up I said.
Lazy bones! BREAKFAST! Lazy bones! BREAKFAST! BREAKFAST! Guinness bounced to the house.

Ed was sitting on the couch and I asked if he let d'Arcy out. He realized that d'Arcy was still upstairs sleeping. He called him down and let him out to pee. We watched from the window as he slowly and stiffly made his way to the barn. He was slow but he had a job to do and he was going to get it done. I had tears in my eyes because, for the first time (to me anyway), he looked like an old dog.

I realized that he was looking for me so I went outside and called him. He didn't look up until I bounced up and down and waved my arms.
Oh, there you are. Everything looks okay here- I just checked. 
I brought him into the house.

d'Arcy is on medication but he's still sore and stiff at night. I know that the vet wants me to really limit his exercise and I sort of do. But I refuse to keep him in the house or tie him to stop him from running. I still throw a ball or stick for him because it makes him happy. And I'd rather have him happy for a short time then miserable for a long time. He has perked up with the puppy because he joins in on the short and frequent exercise and that is probably way better for him.

from a couple weeks ago
So at Oakfield Farm we are mix of young, old and middle aged. Some of us need some medication to keep going while others are young and bouncy. All of us are full of piss and vinegar.  It does keep things interesting- and well stocked with various remedies.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

A Dry Run

After a wonderful and warm weekend the temperatures dropped to below normal again and the cold north wind returned. I had no plans to ride Tuesday so that was fine. Wednesday I did a groundwork session with her (I don't want to lose that piece) and finally I rode on Friday.

Cynthia brought out Julia- a young friend of Ashley's who had ridden Irish before. She was needing some horse therapy so Cynthia graciously gave up her ride so that Julia could.

I didn't need to do much on the ground to settle Carmen so I mounted up shortly after we got up there. As we walking off I started to give Julia some advice- Irish was being short strided and heavy on her hands. As a result she was getting stiff and tight arms and no one was happy.

As  I was talking to her and walking beside her Carmen was trying to do her normal I'm stiff and worried and might spook at any moment.  I completely ignored her and kept riding beside Julia talking. I had one hand on the reins and the other was gesturing (because I can't explain stuff without gesturing).
hey, are you paying any attention to me? 
hmm, what? we're just walking. I'm helping Julia right now
but I might spook AT ANY MOMENT
Nah, there's no point. 

I then returned my attention to missy and realized that we were just walking around on a loose rein with no drama.  I started our warm up and then asked her to trot. She was resistant at first- I find that when she's in heat she doesn't want to trot at first. Those of you with mares, have you experienced that? I picked up the crop and asked again and then gave her a tap. She kicked out but trotted out and I praised her. One more tap and I had settled the whole 'let's go forward' thing and I could drop it.

After our warm up I decided to run through one of our tests- Training Level 1. It's not hard to memorize and I figured that if I ran into an issue I could abort it and focus on that one issue. But we were able to run through the whole test. There were a couple bobbles on the transitions to canter but I was able to get her back and moving forward. To be honest, although it wouldn't win me any great scores I was pleased with how she stayed with me through the whole thing and we could work together.

I loved that I could ask her to relax her neck and reach for the bit and she did without any fuss. It's hard for her to maintain it- it's a strength issue but it will come with persistence and patience. I loved that when I took her to the spooky corners she would still listen to my leg asking her to bend and carry on. I gave her lots of praise.

Near the end of our ride she alerted to something in the field next door and I saw Chester, our cat, bouncing around the tall grass and then sitting to watch us. In the past that would have had her completely freaked out. I let her look at him and then, when she stood quietly, I clicked and gave her a treat. (I have been introducing clicker training with her to help her understand and feel positive about things). We went back to work and she was completely fine about the cat.

We finished up with me playing with some trail class obstacles- moving a jacket from one post to another (doesn't care) and then walking over the bridge (that's fine too).

 I love riding when it's so much fun. In fact at one point Cynthia said "When you are done smiling I have a question for you". I hadn't realized that I was.

I love finishing a ride where we both feel happy and positive about it.Letting her eat the green grass helps too of course.
Love this mare

Monday, April 17, 2017

The Gift

Life is often busy and mundane. Other times it is stressful or overwhelming or heartbreaking.

And sometimes the universe sends you a gift.

For me it was this weekend. I'm sitting here trying to figure out what to type so that I can convey the deep seated contentment and happiness that I am feeling without sounding like some sort of inspirational poster. Or that I'm drunk. Or a drunk person writing inspirational posters. 'Cause what could go wrong with that?

It's not always easy to enjoy the moment- worry about work or that something awful will happen can interfere with enjoying the now. I try very hard to not do that. Yes it might rain tomorrow but it's not raining now and worrying won't impact the chance of rain. Rather then rehash my entire 4 day weekend in detail I will just share some of the reasons why it was so lovely.

The Weather was incredible. The sun was shining and it was warm every day. This meant that there was a lot of time spent outside. I ended each day dirtier then when I started and that makes me happy.

the place restores my soul

Ed and I were able to spend time eating and drinking with family and friends. It was Alec's birthday this weekend and we celebrated it with Ed's mother and sister. It was a great time. On our way back from the city we watched the temperature climb from 10 degrees to 22. 

I was able to ride every single day. Like four days in a row. Cynthia rode with me once and then Ashley. My friend Karen came today and she helped Carmen and I work on some things. Overall my rides on Carmen were terrific. She's really starting to listen and try to figure out what I'm asking rather than freaking out or shutting down. 

Our partnership is continuing to grow and that makes me happy. I love being able to ride regularly again. After today my core was burning and so was Carmen's (or so she told me). But we were pretty happy with each other. At the end of the ride I rode her across the bridge and she crossed it without batting an eye. I hopped off and let her graze. 

look how dark he's getting. 

I could not be happier with this puppy. He's smart, funny and loveable. 

loveable? Are you sure? I find him irritating

 I sometimes feel that I'm trying to fit everything in and it's hard to enjoy the moment. I think that was the greatest gift of this weekend- time. It was a gift to have the time to ride; time with my children, my husband and my friends; and time to play with my dogs. 

Time to be. 

Saturday, April 15, 2017

On Discipline and Bridges

"Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishments" ~ Jim Rohn

Spring has decided to make an appearance and stick around. The peepers have started which is how I know when it's spring.  If you don't have peepers- they are tiny frogs that start to sing in the spring evening. I love the sound.

And I've actually ridden 4 times already this week. (pause for dramatic effect)

 Isn't that wonderful?

Our rides are going very well. There are a few dramatic moments but we work through them and move on. I can get her into spooky spots with gentle persuasion and sticking to the plan. Yesterday, while Cynthia and I were riding our husbands were tightening the fence in the back pasture. Apparently that was incredibly scary when they were down by the woods and Carmen bolted and almost took Irish with her (sorry Cynthia). We got it back under control and then returned to work. Not that there wasn't some tenseness at times but she didn't lose her mind and we were able to carry on working with stuff.

Working with Carmen requires that I practice self-discipline. I can't let my emotions take over and I can't be buying into her drama. But I've noticed a big change this year in my own confidence with her. And as we deal with things successfully our confidence grows. Where last year a bolt would have killed the whole ride and probably made me dismount- now it's just a bobble in the session and we can carry on.

I carry treats in my pockets and when she's being very very good about something I stop and give it to her. She likes this and will nicker as I bring my hand forward. It's really cute.  Her freaking out is no longer freaking me out - I just give a laugh and we carry on. I'm not laughing at her and no I don't think leaping sideways is a good thing but she wouldn't be Carmen if she wasn't dramatic and I'm not going to argue with her. I'm just trying to show her that it's all okay. We even went on a little ride around the field with Irish this week. She spooked at a stick on the ground and danced sideways. I straightened her out and gave her a pat It does kinda look like a snake, doesn't it?  and we carried on. She walked on (albeit a bit briskly).

Earlier this week I was riding her and she was being very good so I stopped after about 30 minutes. I took of her saddle and bridle and put on her halter. I then took her out of the ring to the bridge that Ed had built (I finished it last week). My goal is to have a little set up of obstacles outside of the ring so that we can train inside and play outside.

I wanted to start working her with it- I had no agenda with this obstacle- I planned to start slow and see how far we could go. I thought I would approach it the same as with trailer loading- make each step small and easy. Carmen followed me up to the bridge and I let her stop and look at it. She was uninterested but we'd been walking by it for months now so that made sense. I asked her to take one step and put a foot on it. And then back off. Then two feet. Then all four. Then I asked her to walk over it and she did. There was zero drama, my lead line was loose for all of it and we were both very relaxed. With each step we stopped to graze as a reward. We walked back and forth and few times and it was a total non-event. I would have been fine if we just had a foot (or two) on it.

I'm fairly sure I could have gotten her on it last year but it would have been far more dramatic. Now we cross that bridge on our way in and out of the ring and it's easy. I haven't ridden her over it yet but that is soon. And I don't think it will be a problem. But if it is I will dismount and we will try again because that means I pushed her too fast.

Yesterday I received an email that we could now submit our entries to the show. It's great- we can actually do it on-line which makes life so much easier. I sat down and filled out the entry and hit 'send'. And do you know what? I'm excited. Not because of any shiny ribbons we might win because I don't care.  I strongly suspect that our scores will vary between 3 and 8 depending on the movement (or lack thereof). I want us to take our show on the road and have some fun. I enjoy showing and I have missed it. For a horse like Carmen I believe that she's only going to learn to do well at shows by showing.  So we're going.

I'm working on it.

and for those of you who want to know how Guinness is doing (looking at you Farmbuddy) here's a video- look how much he's grown!

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Getting Our Heads in the Game - Part II

Writing a whole post about a warm up to a lesson seems quite indulgent so thank you for not calling me out on it. But it seemed like it was significant to me and the post was going to be horribly long if I kept going. I'm also thinking that I may have found my approach to warm up at a show. We shall see.


Shanea arrived and I gave her a rundown of what we had been up to since she was there last (not much because of the weather) and our warm up. She asked if I had been all over the ring yet and I said 'oh yeah. I'm making sure that we go everywhere from the start' (which is true, however, I might gradually make my way to the scary end and I don't drive her there from the beginning).

I talked about how I'd been playing with the shortening and lengthening her steps and my talked about my worry about Carmen's head carriage. Now don't jump on me- I'm not talking about head set but with her conformation it's very easy for her to lock her neck and look engaged when she's not and it's easy for her to curl behind the contact as well. I want her stepping forward and reaching for it. Add in her tension and her diminishing but still there tendency to root at times and it becomes quite complicated. I can't give her too much rein because it makes her more nervous and more likely to spook and I can't hold because that makes she tense as well.

It's a work in progress.

We started by practicing our walk -halt-walk.
I'm not sure that this is the safest place to halt but okay
This a photo of one of our halts. She's square but not really reaching- see the loop in my rein? Her instinct is to halt and then lift her head to scan the environment. However, as we progressed and she began to relax into the halt and stay lower. My struggle is to give the support but not over do it (can all those who over-do raise their hands?).

In our trot work it's clear that reaching for the bit and that elusive 'acceptance of contact' is a work in progress. She can definitely go above the bit and I tend to let her do it because I don't want her to curl. She can hold that and then she tires, if she doesn't go up she goes down:

rooting down and then gaping her mouth because I'm not letting her go lower. And of course I'm looking down. 
On the plus I'm not pitching forward and not rigid in my shoulders. She's stepping through with her right hind.

This is the same spot a little later - we've just come through troll corner with all it's associated drama of stiff neck and bulging in but look: we're getting it back together and neither of us look horribly flustered. In fact as we worked away the outside of the ring disappeared and both us were focussed on the inside. Carmen's attitude shifted to really trying to listen to what I was asking and then giving it to me. I like how her neck is soft and I don't have a death grip on the inside rein. It's a bit loose but she's starting to reach for it. 

I like this one- she reachign for the bit I have a steady contact. I've moved my elbows forward to let her come around the circle. While she's thinking that maybe right  would be the better way to go she's listening to me. 

I love the next two photos for the overall impression and demeanour. She's accepting contact and we're acting as team. 

the magical browband of  peace and tranquility is totally woring here. 
Shanea remarked that every time she comes we're more relaxed and calm. when we finished Carmen was loose and relaxed and ready for a good groom and lots of cookies. I felt the same way.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Getting Our Heads in the Game- Part 1

I had arranged for a lesson on Sunday with Shanea. I was really looking forward to it and I have to tell you that it did not meet my expectations.

It exceeded them.

I headed out the barn early so I could spend some time trying to get the winter's worth of grime off. I cannot wait until I can give them a bath. I also wanted to spend some time. In the past Carmen has appeared to be annoyed by grooming but lately she has been showing signs of enjoying it more- even showing me her itchy spots. I do not often spend a long time grooming before hand but this time I was a good 45 minutes. Even teasing the tangles out of her hair with my fingers.

I decided to leave Irish out in his paddock while we worked. I knew that he might be a goofball but I figured that he had burned out some energy in the morning. I was not wrong and he carried on like his little world was ending. However, Carmen has no issue leaving him and ignores his shenanigans.

I was careful in my warm up on the ground and, while she was bit looky, overall she was listening really well. I played a bit with half-halts from the ground using my body language. It was really cool- when I shortened my pace and tightened my core so did she- when I strode out so did she. If you lunge try it and see what happens.

Just as I was ready to get on I received a text from Shanea that she was running late. I decided to get on and do a long slow warm up. Carmen was definitely leery of troll corner but we were still able to walk all over the ring. When she lost her attention I was able to get it back.  We were circling at the end of the ring and she alerted to the road. I then saw that there were two horse and riders coming down the road.

Uh oh  I thought. I sat up, breathed deep and waved. Carmen watched them walk down the road. I could see Irish watching too. Irish usually loses his mind when horses walked by but Carmen not so much.

I seriously thought about dismounting. Like really seriously. Instead I asked her to walk on.

And she did. With no drama. However, troll corner was still being a bit an issue. Not a huge one but something was there bugging her. Probably mice or birds.  We were walking across the diagonal towards the corner  and I could feel her tensing. I breathed deep and focused on walking her forward without me getting tight.

Carmen showed her athleticism by suddenly spinning around and we were facing the other way. I was literally half off - leaning at a 45 degree angle, had one rein and no feet in the stirrups. WHOA! I said. And Carmen slammed to a halt. Had she continued to bolt I would have landed on the ground.  I resettled myself in the saddle while she waited for me.

 I reached forward and stroked her neck. Because guys, this was HUGE. Carmen could have completely dumped me but she didn't. Because I said 'whoa'.

thank you Royce.

My heart was still pounding from the adrenalin rush but I turned her around and we carried on through the corner and continued our warm up.

But with more confidence.  Shortly after Shanea drove up and it was time to start my lesson.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

The Placebo Effect

Oh my god- could it be spring is finally arrived? After another stint of cold weather and an ice storm things seem to be warming up. It even stayed above zero the past two nights! I have ridden Carmen twice now in the new browband.

The first time she was relaxed and forward and having fun. I joked that it was the new browband working it's mojo.

Because of course it couldn't be all that work I've been putting into our partnership.

That would be a silly idea.
the magical browband of peace and tranquility.
Note how it matches the saddle pad- what is happening to me?

Yesterday it was supposed to rain heavily all day but be warm (FYI warm by Nova Scotia April standards is over 10 Celsius). But it looked like it was trying to clear so Cynthia decided to risk it and come for a ride. Before she came the sun came out and it was beautiful. Just as we were getting the horses ready it began to rain. So we groomed the horses and then brought Irish out to wash his back legs. With his incontinence problem he gets a build up a gunk on his legs. With the winter I couldn't wash them as often as I liked.  Once he was all clean the rain had stopped so we threw on their tack and headed up to the ring.

Carmen was still miffed about being left in the barn while Irish left and anything could have happened to her but did I care? Obviously I did not.  (note to self- Goal this year is to get Carmen used to being left alone in the barn). However, during our groundwork she was pretty settled so I hopped on after a short time.

She started all tense and looky. You must be getting bored with hearing that- I'm getting bored writing it. I'm just ignoring it in the sense that I'm not going to worry with her. Instead I focus on the getting her forward and asking her to stretch. It's hard to give her rein to stretch into when there's a very solid possibility that she will spin and run away so that's a work in progress. But I didn't just stay on the middle circle but got us working all over the ring right away.

To be honest we had some very nice work- when she's listening it's so easy. But listening is really really hard when you're Carmen. At one point we were walking up by troll corner and she was convinced there was something in the grass. I believed her I just didn't think it was a danger. Irish came cantering by and as he left she bolted after him.

HEADS UP I called and for a second I thought that we were going to run up his butt.  I got her stopped  pretty quickly and then realized that for the first time I hadn't had that moment of panic when she bolts (of course she hasn't in a while)- I just rode it out, got her back and we repeated the circle up at that end.

Our transitions have been much better lately- very little drama and when there is, it's short lived. We picked up a canter and it was a bit wooly at first. We did a series of circles working our way up to troll corner.  The canter was pretty nice and then she decided that she must look to the right while going left and have her body bent as far away from that side of the ring as possible. I am suspecting that counter canter is not going to be an issue with this girl. I repeated the circle, this time making sure I had the outside rein but not over do the inside. And we had a lovely bendy canter circle with no drama at all.  I brought her back to a walk and we finished there.

Magical browbands aside, I am pleased with how things are going so far. There were times in the ride where she stretched over her back and reached for the contact. I'm trying to encourage that by riding better and NOT falling forward onto her forehand.

Hopefully the trend in Carmen and the weather continues because our first show is 4 weeks away.

Thank god for the magical browband of Peace and Tranquility.

show? What show? What do you mean 'show'?

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

From the Ground Up

It's no secret that I am a fan of ground work. It has been the key to unlocking Carmen under saddle. And I definitely did not do it alone. Royce and Johanna spring to mind as being the most instrumental in teaching me how to work with her.

I now cannot imagine working with her without ground work. For me it starts when I go to get her. How she responds to my cues and body language gives me valuable information on what I need to work on.  For myself I try to keep the 3 C's in mind:

1. Clear- I need to know what I want from her and ensure that I am asking correctly. When she doesn't respond the way I want I stop to think whether it's because she's tuning me out or if I'm being fuzzy. Or on some days it's both.

2. Consistent- It starts in the barn with the ground tying. If I put her feet in a certain spot she doesn't get to shuffle around. When I lapse and do let her do that it colours the rest of the session.

3. Calm- I need to be calm and not buy into any drama no matter how tempting. I'm find the sponge vs mirror imagery working well for me.

Despite my best hopes,  the weather on the weekend sucked. It was cold with a bitter north wind adding to the weather.
at least one creature is enjoying the snow. 

Saturday I was determined to work with Carmen. It was clear from the beginning that she was wound tight. Her entire body was rigid as we walked up to the ring and the wind was blowing (not as bad as the day before but still it was a stiff wind).  I worked with her helping her to stay in control and minimize her reactivity. She spooked and scooted quite a few times and tried to bolt a few times but I was able to get her back each time. Not too long into the session I decided that I was not going to ride. There really seemed to be no point. It would have been an awful ride for both of us. Instead I focussed our session on our partnership from the ground.

She never truly relaxed. But we were able to stay in step and she was being prompt and obedient to my voice and body language. I called it a good session and we headed to the barn. I realized that her poll was very tight and stiff. Chicken or egg? Who knows. But I spent some time gently rubbing it and asking her lightly stretch. I then spent a long time grooming and fussing over her. In the end she was a sleepy puddle of a horse.

Sunday was a write off- it was snowing and cold. Sigh. But the kids came to visit and Alec brought his puppy so it was a fun day.

Monday, of course, was lovely. I left work and decided I was not doing exercise class but would ride instead. Carmen was more relaxed from the beginning. Not too bad in the barn although she needed a few reminders to not move around it was less related to tension and more to 'hey Irish still has food I should help him'.  It was breezy and she was thinking that she should be spooking at stuff. I was sure that she didnt' need to and after a bit of ground work she was fine with all of it.

I mounted and she became stiff again. Tight and looking at stuff, ready to run away. I kept my seat in the saddle (no tightening) and rode her positively forward. Or is that forward with positivity? Never mind, you get the idea. Last year I would have gotten upset and tense too.

But not this year.

 I know that Carmen can be brave and calm because I've seen it.  But that's a story that requires it's own blog post so I'll leave it for now.

In the past as she would get wound up I would try to ride 'softer' and 'gentler'. But that never worked . This time I put my leg on, put my seat firmly in the saddle (not in a half-seat) and rode her forward. I felt her immediately relax. She needs to know that I'm there. I believe that my attempts to be softer left her feeling rudderless. Now she was not always in agreement with where we were going and thought that a complete counter bend to the right when we were going left would allow her to watch those trees that obviously were not to be trusted. I could care less about the trees but I did care about the bend so I fixed that. And fixed it. And fixed it again.

And in the end I had a horse soft and listening to my aids. I found a spot and jumped off. I thought that I hadn't been riding for long but when I checked my phone it had been a lot longer then it felt. I rubbed her poll and it was soft.

I know that I am afraid of history repeating itself. But I'm going to not worry about what might be and take it one session at a time.