dancing horses

dancing horses

Saturday, October 28, 2017

The Answer to Dressage, Training and Everything

Is more leg.

Well that might get me some interesting feedback.

I am not actually claiming to have unlocked any great secrets that will guarantee that you will achieve scores of 10 in dressage competitions.

A better title is probably the key for me and Carmen in training is 'more leg'.

A little geeky aside here: scientists have found that the actual answer to 'life, the universe and everything'  really is 42

For me that has been a great revelation brought home to me in my last lesson with Shanea. See when Carmen is nervous and/or thinking of spooking she shortens her frame, gets tight and goes behind the leg. I shorten the rein, get tight (in preparation) and take my leg off.

Funnily enough none of that helps.

What Shanea was trying to get me to understand is that when she sucks back, put my leg on, give her some rein and ride her forward (not curled up like a monkey)  to the location I have chosen.

Frankly, this takes a lot of bravery on my part. When I first started putting my leg on she got tighter and faster and was still behind the leg. Carmen is really good at being fast-behind-the-leg.

I felt it work in the lesson and I've been consciously trying to do the same in my rides on her. As soon as I feel her curl up I urge her forward. I'm not always really good at giving her the rein too but I am trying. And it really is working. And as it works I gain confidence that it will work.

I haven't been able to ride much- Ed has been away and between my job and the chores it hasn't left a lot of energy or time to ride. In the past that would be freaking me out because I have this clinic coming up:
it's getting real! And can we reflect on how perfect my ride times are? 
But I know that for Carmen the amount that I ride doesn't really make a difference in whether she's spooky or not.  Drilling her would not make the clinic a better experience for us and likely would make it worse. I had planned to ride on Friday. It was a blowy day and the first day of hunting season. When I looked out later I could see the horses by the barn. And they stayed there all morning looking really agitated. I decided that riding would be an exercise in futility and decided against it.

Today the horses were much more calm. The weather was a perfect fall day: warm sun, crisp air and no bugs. Carmen and I had one of our best sessions since our lesson. She was forward, responsive and willing to listen. Her hesitations in the corner were just that and we rode forward. I was so happy with our work that I ended it after about 45 minutes.

I spent a long time in the barn just giving a nice grooming session and enjoying spending time with her.

So that is my answer to schooling. Have you found something that really makes a key difference in your rides?


Tuesday, October 24, 2017

The Perils of Optimism

This is us boldly going... where exactly? 
I consider myself an optimistic person. I tend to believe that things will work out. This keeps me persistent when things don't always work out the way I want. the upside is that this sense that it will all work out has helped me with Carmen.

I have kept my clinic experiences with Johanna and Sue Leffler with the purpose of improving my relation with Carmen. And putting on miles. This has really paid off. I am a firm believer that money is best spent on regular lessons rather then clinics. However, on my last trail ride with Nancy I commented that I felt that I could now take Carmen to a clinic to focus on advancing our skills.

Which brings me to Jacqueline Brooks. She comes to Nova Scotia regularly to teach clinics and they are always full. I have seen Jacqueline ride and I quite like her style and how she seems to just love riding.
guess who else love riding? Me. 

In the summer I was talking to Julia (who hosts the clinics) about things in general. I mentioned that if there was ever room I would love to do one of the clinics. I felt it would be a fun stretch for us. 

An easy thing to think when you don't believe that there would be room. Unfortunately I was unable to do the Joahanna clinic this fall because of work and personal commitments. And I seem to be missing doing it. So when I saw that Jacquie was coming in early November I figured I would audit. I mentioned it to Shanea and she suggested we do a semi-private.  I thought that sounded great but figured it wouldn't happen. 

Even though I e-mailed Julia and asked if I could join the clinic, I still .believed it wouldn't happen. 

I was resolved to be graciously  disappointed.

Then I received an email from Julia: 
"Amazing news. I was just talking to Jacquie. She says she will fit in an extra lesson. You guys are in!"
um, what? 

And that is how I ended up in a clinic with an international dressage olympian in about 10 days. 

I blame my optimism. 

Truthfully, I am excited. I think it will be a great opportunity for us. 

But what am I going to wear? 

So if you are in the neighbourhood of Sheffield Mills, NS on November 3 & 4 stop on in and audit. Jacquie is a great teacher and there will be some very nice horses there. Not to mention a fiery Spanish mare.


Sunday, October 22, 2017

The Brain is Connected to the Hind End

I was not only able to arrange for a lesson with Shanea on Saturday, a friend also came to watch and take photos. It was an excellent lesson and she even took video*!

Carmen seemed to be a bit tense in the barn so I decided to lunge her first. I finished up just as Shanea arrived, so good timing. I spoke to Shanea about how Carmen had been quite challenging in the ring recently with lots of spooking.

We got to work right away, essentially working on the answer always being forward. When Carmen gets tight and tense I tend to tense and shorten the reins. Mostly because I like to live. But Shanea wants me to push her more forward (not faster) so that she's carrying herself.

As we worked on that I could feel how well it worked. This clip starts right after Carmen did a big spook in the corner.

You can see how tight she gets in the corner but as we work she relaxes more. While there's a lot to improve in my riding (isn't there always?), I see that my hands are less 'bouncy and I'm not over posting as much as I used to.

Essentially getting Carmen's hind end engaged is the key to getting her brain in the game. I knew this from before but knowing and putting into practice are two very different things.

I really wanted to work on leg yields. They are 'easy' for Carmen as long as she is relaxed. Shanea wanted me to put more 'sideways' into them now. It was interesting - she had me get Carmen started and then when she was going put on both legs. I had not been told that before but it really worked - Carmen kept going sideways and forward. It felt like floating.

Our canter work is coming along. She's carrying herself straighter and I'm doing somewhat better at laying off the inside rein.

Both Cindy and Shanea noted that her trot after the canter was nice and forward. Which is good because it felt fast to me and I might have been shutting it down.

By the end of the ride we were both sweaty and tired.

Me: 'okay, so what should I do for my homework?'
Carmen: 'I shall nap now'
Before you feel sorry for tired Carmen- she got to go out in her field (after a good groom) while I still had a long list of chores to complete.

This weather is great for continuing schooling. I am going to make the most of it.

(*I'm putting the videos to be honest and show where I am as a rider. Any advice is welcome but I have a trainer helping me and she's the one I take advice from. )

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Working on First Level

I've not been riding with the same intensity as I had been earlier this year. I am actually okay with that. Work is busy and I have a rather large, sometimes goofy, puppy to train.

yes, I took Guinness to a local brewery. We both approved of the Jesus Murphy Red
In my rides I start off seeing where she's at in terms of suppleness, attention and tension. And then from there I figure out the warm up. Sometimes it's for her body to get it relaxed and flowing.

Sometimes it's for her brain to get her focus on me. Sometimes that discussion takes a long time. Sometimes I have to be really firm with it.

But I refuse to end the ride until I get to work on some piece of first level. And this is not about being driven (although heaven knows I can be that). It's about not making the ride about being ridden. We've been there and done that. Carmen can be reactive. And, frankly, sometimes it seems to me that she looks for things to spook at. It's not unusual to hear me say 'uh-uh' when I can feel her planning to duck. She's learning that I will follow that up if she escalates and is actually responding to just the verbal (so yay, progress).

Things that we are working on are trot-halt-trot, lengthens (those are hard but are getting easier). I do baby counter-canters (to quarter line and back). Those are not hard for her at all. Cantering into the corner is a whole 'nother deal.  Simple changes through trot are old hat and she barely registers them. Leg yields are 'okay'. The straightness part is the problem- it's so easy for me to get her crooked.

It's fun to be working on First Level. I know she has so much talent and that the limiting factors are me and her tension. But we're on our way.

I'm sure as she's grazing she's thinking about how to improve her First Level moves. Right? 

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The Contradictions of Carmen

Heads up: this post is going to ramble a bit. It feels like a good time to summarize where Carmen and I are right now and my musings might help me to get some clearer understanding.

 October continues to be a spooky month for Carmen. After a stretch of pretty calm rides I am not sure what has changed. Perhaps her last heat of the year? Or the (theoretically) cooler weather? I feel like I am at a point that I can seperate out behaviour from training and I don't think that it's the weather. She is feeling more twitchy in general which makes me think 'heat'. I may explore using Regumate next year to see if it helps.

Essentially Carmen understands what is being asked of her and if she doesn't understand she will look for the answer. But if it doesn't come soon she will get pissed off and I need to regroup. I have grown to appreciate what riding such a reactive horse has taught me. Irish taught me to sit a buck and Carmen is teaching me to sit a leap. Carmen's bucks are small little things that make me giggle. Her leaps though- those are athletic and strong. Sometimes it feels like I'm being hit by a bus. I have learned that when she tenses to sit up and back and be bold. Not tight and perched like I want to do. I still do the perching thing but now I catch it sooner and sit back. It makes an amazing difference.

My rides on both Saturday and Sunday were 'interesting'. Saturday was with Cynthia and this time she was spooky at the opposite corner to Friday. Sunday I was by myself and the corner had flipped back to K. Sunday was also a foggy day and I noticed that as soon as I got on she was pretty sure that going to the far side of the ring (at A) was a big 'nope'. I don't accept her 'nopes' anymore because in Carmen's world it seems that if I avoid a place it becomes a spot that we never go because that's where bad things happen'.   This is where walking the line between and insisting and not fighting come into play.

Carmen: Irish can you tell if she has a halter or a carrot?
Irish: You are on your own.

After the first couple times by 'A' a squirrel started cursing in the woods and she gave a big leap forward and tried to run away. I know that if I shut down the bolting early I can keep a lid on it. It's like if it works the first couple times then it's an option for the rest of the ride. This time I managed to get her stopped in about 2 strides (go me!). As I'm bringing her back to me I am also speaking to her: it's a squirrel Carmen. My god, it weighs less than a pound. Get a grip. 

 And one point on Sunday after we'd gone past A for about the 20th time she pitched a real fit and tried to run off. I find that this is where I have to be clear about the ask and not get frustrated. In this case I was asking her to spiral down from a 20 m circle to 10 and then leg yield back. An exercise well within her repertoire and one that I find helpful to focus her. This time when we hit the 10 metres she was determined to look at the woods and had a tantrum when I said no. The tricky part is to release as soon as I get what I want and not hang on.  We then picked up a canter and I asked her to lengthen and shorten her stride going to the right while maintaining straightness. I wasn't expecting much - which was good because I didn't get much. That wasn't the point- the point was to say 'hey focus on this please'  And it worked. After that she settled quite a bit.

nope, don't wanna go there. 

What would never have occurred to me is that I could have feisty rides on Carmen and still decide to drop the gate and go for a hack. Saturday was simpler because I had Irish and Cynthia as back up. Cynthia had a jacket hung on a standard outside of the ring and that had caused some issues for Carmen. After I dropped the gate I walked up to the jacket, picked it up and delivered it to Cynthia in the ring. Going out with Irish she is happy to lead or follow- it doesn't matter. I was able to ride with a long rein.  We picked up a trot coming home and Irish had to canter past us (whee I am a race horse!). Carmen just asked 'Should we canter?' and when I said no, we could keep trotting she was fine to let him canter away from her.  Sunday in the woods she started a little tense but quickly relaxed and we walked out and home at a sedate pace. Even by the spider shed.

It seems strange to me that she is so much calmer when there are far more things that can 'surprise' us. My only theory is that she has had no bad experiences in the woods and the demands are so much less so she can chill. I have thought about hacking first but I think I'm going to leave it at the end for now as the 'reward'.

Carmen is starting to enjoy meeting others at the barn. A friend of Ed's brought our his grandchildren for a visit to see the horses. As always, Irish is the greeter for this but Carmen was quite intrigued. One girl just loved her and Carmen let her stroke her face and was quite tolerant of the sudden movements. I think she surprised herself.

these human foals are quite lively aren't they Irish? 
I am liking that I can reach through to her even when she's trying to shut me out. I am liking that I'm not frightened by it anymore. I like that I feel that I can honestly evaluate if I should dismount- not because of fear (although heaven knows I don't want to get hurt) but because it seems to be the smarter choice. 

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Friday the 13th: Lesson Recap

Yes I know.
Like, who books a lesson on Friday the 13th?

Turns out that I would. I never even thought about the date- I was only concerned about the weather and it was going to be beautiful. The night before I had thought that I would ride but I was too tired. Instead I decided to do some ground work. I took her out of her stall and right up to the ring.

But she was off. Just a wee bit, but still not right.

I checked her over and then noticed her right foot. I picked it up and saw that her shoe was twisted and partially off. She must have caught it fooling around in the pasture.


I called my farrier but I wasn't holding a lot of hope since he lives far away. He told me to remove it but I wasn't comfortable with that. But I remembered a friend who does his own horses and sent out a plea. He came the next morning to remove, straighten and reset the shoe.  I am eternally grateful to him for doing that. (note to self- see if you can learn how to do this). Even better was that Carmen did not seem the worse for having a twisted shoe.

I get on Carmen about 15-20 minutes before Shanea arrives to do a warm up. Carmen was a bit spooky at the far end of the ring (down by K). Little sparrows were flying around feasting on late fall berries.

Well I saw little sparrows. Carmen saw small winged velociraptors.

I was doing a walk leg yield when Carmen spied Shanea walking up the hill towards us. She suddenly wheeled to the left and tried to leave. I have figured out that to deal with this I need to bring her around but opposite to the way that she tried to leave.

Other then that our lesson went really really well. The goal was to get her forward and relaxed through her back so that we could get her working from behind. Not that those are completely discreet things- they are very inter related.

Shanea complimented me on my inside hand- it no longer crosses over the whither when she's tight or trying to bulge in. I thanked her and told that it still took a lot of conscious effort to not do that. Unfortunately my inside hand is still rogue in the canter- it wants to take too strong a contact. It will also do that at the trot but I'm really struggling with it at the canter.  I believe that it's a hold over from when she would gawk to the outside and then bolt. It was to try to keep her from looking out.  Which is not a bad thing but it's adding to her being crooked and not helpful.

We did a lot of work on the canter getting it forward and straight. Carmen wanted to fall to the inside down the side by the trees so Shanea had me turn her down the quarter line and leg yield her over to the rail to keep her straight. Which is why my leg was back in this photo below. Probably too far back but look at her stepping through:
see me working on keeping that left hand forward?
It's not easy. 

see- too much left hand and causing a head tilt. sigh. 
The canter is our homework to work on being straight. 

We also did some work on the stretchy trot. Getting Carmen to stretch over the back without falling on her forehand or jerking the rein from me is not easy. My task was to not let her go too far- just enough to keep her balance. It really forced me to use my seat to keep her balanced and not let her get fast. We had some really nice stretches, as well as some crappy ones. But it seemed that we were starting to figure it out. 

not bad- just a bit behind the vertical, I need to encourage her to get her nose out more
The nice thing is that I don't worry about giving her rein even when she's up. Not that she won't spook but I don't worry about it and so my seat stays relaxed and so she rarely does. 

Our trot work felt really really good over all. Shanea has me riding her forward into contact and this helps me to not pull to get the contact. The more she seems to suck back the more I urge her forward and give her a place to go. That positive ride gets her mind on me and not on whatever she's worried about. 

not a bad shoulder fore, I like how she's listening and moving softly

more push from behind (compare to below)

not quite through here- she's not so sure she wants to trot to where the birds are 'lurking'
you can see her tighten her top line and step shorter

going forward with confidence

We finished by playing with some trot lengthens. Because of my rogue inside hand I was interfering with the flow and giving her a head tilt. But still she tried.  
We did have a couple really good lengthens (for her level of training) where she coiled up with her hind quarters and then stretched out and really elongated her frame. 

It was a great lesson. As I was cooling out Shanea said 'I wish you should see your smile right now'. 
I love the trajectory we're on right now. It's so much fun. 

Monday, October 9, 2017

We're Going and We're Going to Have Fun Damnit!

Years ago, when the children were small, I made plans for us to go the beach for the day. Alec asked if he could invite a friend and I said sure. After he phoned he came and said 'Kyle* says he wants to go to the lake not the beach' (*name changed to protect the not so innocent).

I explained that we were going to the beach and that Kyle could come or not but I wasn't changing my plans. Then Amanda's friend wanted to play video games rather then go to the beach. Before I knew it I was embroiled in this discussion and getting more peeved by the minute. Finally I snapped "We are not going to the lake, we are not playing video games. We are going to the BEACH and WE ARE GOING TO HAVE FUN. Now get.in.the.car'. 

Perhaps not my best parenting moment. But once we got to the beach much fun was had and everyone was happy. 

Which really proves that mom is always right

As you know, Carmen has been a bit of a dingbat lately. So putting her on the trailer to go out for a trail ride might not have seemed like the smartest move. 

I didn't care. We were going. 

And we were going to have fun. 

As always, Carmen loaded and unloaded just fine. As I took her off of the trailer a young woman said 'oooh'. I looked up to see her looking at Carmen with unabashed admiration. 
'Do you want her?' I asked, 'Because yesterday she was FREE'. 
Everyone laughed in sympathy. Horse people, they just understand. 

I groomed Carmen before we left so all I had to do was throw on her tack. 
do not let this expression fool you- she was completely relaxed in the stall,
just not happy that I was interrupting her snack
Nancy and I headed to the trails. The fall colour is hitting it's stride and the woods were beautiful.

Add caption
Carmen started off a bit tight and tense but soon relaxed with a happy expression and a long rein. I could feel the tension that had built up between us dissipating. We walked, trotted and cantered along the trails. Nancy and I chatted lightly. We both love going into the trees. We went into a big field and walked by some houses. Carmen could have cared less about the back yards, she was too busy giving some white rocks the stink eye.

On the way back we stopped to play in the hunter ring. As soon as we entered the ring Carmen gave a big spook at some decorative flowers. She was back to the tense, tight spooky horse of yesterday. I just kept working her. There was one moment when I was cantering and then she took off towards Nancy but there was a jump in the way and I was all 'No no no! We are not jumping that!' I managed to steer her around and got her back to control.
I took this driving out- this is the ring we were playing in
As soon as we were back in the woods she gave a big sigh and relaxed.
So happy here

I shouldn't be surprised but I am. It just seems weird to me that the ring is the scary place but the woods are fine. But I am happy that we both love going in the woods.

A post shared by Teresa Alexander-Arab (@teresaalexanderarab) on

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Drama Llama Ding Dong

oh oh oh oh
I got a girl named Drama Llama, Drama Llama Ding dong
She's everything to me
Drama Llama, Drama Llama Ding dong
I'll never set her free
For she's mine, all mine

Today was the day we were having Thanksgiving dinner; the kids were coming and so was Ed's mother and sister. I had everything planned to the minute so that I could squeeze a ride in before everyone came. I was prepared for Carmen to be a bit of a idiot after yesterday but she was really mellow in the barn. 

However, up in the ring she began to ramp up again. Now, in her defence, it was very blustery and the  biting flies are fierce this year. In my defence, it's been windy lots of times and the flies, while nasty, don't seem to be a real problem when she's grazing.  However, there was this one big gust of wind and we found ourselves in a maelstrom of leaves. 

This was the final straw for her. Clearly I was crazy and she was having none of it. I spent some time trying to get her to pay attention to me and NOT let her gawk to the far field. This just pissed her off. 

Now I could totally ride this out and work through it. But I didn't have time. Instead I dismounted and headed to the barn. There I removed the stirrups from the saddle, hooked up some side reins and headed back up to do ground work. I don't normally lunge in side reins but I wanted ot make it clear that she doesn't get to look to the outside and that, yes, she CAN actually trot forward with a proper bend. I know that she's had them before and she was perfectly fine with them. They really weren't tight- they just came into play when she tried to llama or turn to the outside. 

I'm glad that I did that because it was a faster way to get her tuned in. After lunging I did some basic ground work of yielding her quarters and shoulders, leading and ground tying. Now the mare that just .could.not.horse was able to stand like a rock while I flipped the lunge whip all around her. 

And I had time to come back to the house, shower and finish cooking. 

I had been neglecting the ground work lately (bad me) because I've been enjoying the riding so much. Clearly I need to make it a priority again. 

Tomorrow we're heading off property to go for a hack in the woods. And I am not worried about it. However, I'm ready to get my not-drama-llama back. 

Hopefully by tomorrow. 

Saturday, October 7, 2017


This weekend is Thanksgiving in Canada. I love having a long weekend- since I don't work on Fridays having Monday off is wonderful. The weather has been beautiful allowing me to get a lot done.

this is the view on my morning commute. Don't hate me

I am enjoying my rides on Carmen. I forgot how much I enjoy just schooling. Cynthia came out on Thursday and we had a short ride followed by a hack in the woods. Carmen led the whole way without a blip.

Saturday was warm and sunny- a perfect morning. I washed towels and hung them on the line and then went and got Carmen ready to ride. She was perfect. It was one of those rides where everything aligns and it all seems so effortless- leg yield, shoulder in, trot poles, walk-halt transitions, simple changes. We were just in sync. I dropped the gate and we headed down into the woods. She was alert but clearly happy. As we came out of the woods I asked her to trot up the hill- she dropped her head, lifted her back and power trotted up the hill. I dismounted feeling completely happy. Carmen seemed pretty happy as well.

Today was another beautiful day but I waited until the afternoon to ride. I had a lot to do so was planning on just a short ride. Carmen however, had other plans. She was spooky and tense and clearly not so in the mood. Gone was the soft and willing Carmen of yesterday. However, also gone is how this used to get me tight and tense. Instead we just worked. And worked.

Here's an example:
I had set trot poles on the center line. The plan was to trot over them to C, turn left, trot back, turn right. As soon as I started down the center line Carmen went into Llama mode, fixated on C where clearly danger was lurking. She was so fixated that she tripped over the poles because she wasn't watching her feet and then got pissed over the whole thing. I asked her to halt at C facing the letter and we had a five minute discussion that no, I did not mean sideways. I then stepped the exercise down a bit- doing a figure 8 each time approaching C and changing directions. First at a walk, then a trot. Then we did the poles which she executed perfectly.

She did a bolt when we were doing a shoulder in and as I rode it I found myself rolling my eyes. In the end our ride was 90 minutes. Which is a big difference from the 30 minutes I had planned. But I wasn't getting off until she was listening. I refused to believe that she was scared because this was home and yesterday C was fine. Today she just had a bee in her bonnet.

After I gave her a bath. I figured it was my last opportunity. She was completely relaxed and I dropped the lead line while I soaped her up and then hosed her off.

Before I would really bummed and think that it meant that nothing had changed. Instead, I realize that there are just bad rides. It's not about whether a ride is bad or good. It's about whether I can handle the good and the 'bad' and just figure out what she needs.

On another note I found one of my flickr photos being used for article on how to take photos to sell a horse: Horse Nation: A Picture is Worth a Thousand Bucks

Kind of cool.


Friday, October 6, 2017

Feisty Redheads

hard to believe that this face could be bad
Irish has had very little riding this spring/summer. Mostly because he's been unsound (those dang feet). But it's have a negative impact on his muscle and topline. Not that I expect him to look how he did 'back in the day' but I know that horses need to keep moving to keep going.

Last Saturday I had just finished a good ride on Carmen and was back in the barn. Irish was looking at me with a grumpy face. He's been a bit cranky lately. So I decided to take him out for a short hack. I figured I nice little spin in the woods might help him to feel less restless and grumpy.

I also felt that it would be good for Carmen to be the horse left, rather then the horse leaving. She was less than enthused about that idea but I was impressed. Other then a few forlorn whinnies she didn't have a total melt down.

I tacked Irish up and hopped on him right outside the barn. He was on high alert and do his best Llama impression as we walked up the hill. To be honest I'm more worried about his tripping then doing anything to unseat me so I let him have some rein as we marched up. As we headed around the outside of the ring he stopped dead. Guinness had left his favourite toy there on our morning walk (he likes to take it with us but sometimes gets distracted).
this all that remains of the jolly ball but he loves it
Irish took one look at that red thing laying in the grass and decided that it clearly dangerous and did a spin-bolt. Except that it's Irish and he's older and unfit and not that coordinated so it was the slowest spin-bolt in history. Kinda like a person sprinting with a walker. I was laughing so hard as I brought him around again. When Irish was younger the technique I used to get him past spooky things was to  walk him towards it and halt before he was going to stop. And then ask him to go forward, then stop until we were by it. As soon as I did it the first time he totally knew what I was doing and marched right by the ball (although he gave it the stink eye). 

We headed into the woods and played on the new trails. It took a while for him to relax. 
does this look like a horse happy to be in the woods? No, it does not-
it's the look of a horse convinced you've taken him to a bear infested wilderness
There was a big rock on one of the trails that caused some snorting (even though he has been by it a dozen times before). But it felt good to get him out and moving and as we walked he began to enjoy it a bit. 

We finished up back at the barn and I turned him back out to enjoy the grass. I might be biased but I think he looked much less grumpy then when we started. 

And one more photo of Guinness- he's turning into a very handsome dog. 

Monday, October 2, 2017

Gaining Ground

I have already written about Friday's ride in which Carmen was a bit up but totally listening.  On Saturday she was bit more up but still responded really well. I honestly thought that I might get a big spook or two but it didn't happen.

On Sunday I had a lesson booked for late afternoon. As always, I was excited to continue our work. I had Carmen ready and up in the ring ahead of time so I could warm up before Shanea arrived. Up in troll corner Carmen began to have a melt down.

 I looked over and I realied that she was looking at the trap we had in the empy paddock. Now let me back track a bit and explain that after FOUR (count 'em- FOUR)  run-ins with the porcupine Guinness has not seemed to learn his lesson. So Ed hired a guy to bring out a humane trap to catch and relocate the porcupine. It might not be fair because it's Guinness' fault but he's strong enough to break away on the leash if you are not expecting it and, often I let the leash drag. I could see that the trap had been sprung since I had checked it in the morning. Inside was Chester (my cat) and he was not looking so impressed. I thought that I could carry on and get Shanea to let him out. I was quite happy with how I was riding through her antics. She was not impressed and thought I was crazy but there was no big bolt or spook on her end  and no grabbing on mine. But then Shanea texted that she was running late and I started to feel guilty.

I dismounted and Carmen and I walked out of the ring, into the paddock and up to the trap. She was hesitant but followed. I let Chester out and he took off with an accusatory meow. Carmen then proceeded to check out the trap.
Hey, did you know that there are apples in this? 
Why yes, as a matter of fact. 
How do we get them out? 
We don't. They are for someone else. 

We walked back to the ring and back to work. She wasn't super impressed with that idea but settled in soon enough.

Shanea arrived shortly after and we talked about my goals. I said that I really want to work on lengthens. I'd been playing with them but wanted some help. The first step was to get Carmen marching forward in the walk. She was nice and forward and reaching for the bit. Her back was soft and swinginging and it felt great.

And then the trot. I had put down my crop but had to pick it up becasue she was not interested in trotting right now, thankyouverymuch.  It didn't feel like she was tired or sore, just that she was not really sure that she should go forward. So I picked up the crop, asked her to go forward and then gave her a tap behind my leg. She kicked at the whip and then went forward. Going to the right, Carmen tends to lean her weight to the inside and you feel like you are always pushing her over to the outside. The crop behind my leg really helped with that. After a few times of her getting irritated with it she began to realize that it was just an aid, like every other aid. And then she started to relax and listen to the inside leg to outside hand and the crop was just there to refine.
yay for hind leg engagement

I have to say that I had some of the best trot work I've ever had with her. As I got her onto the outside rein and going around the circle I could really feel the push from the hind leg into the bridle. At times she would get heavy or behind the bit but that was just her trying to figure it out. We both could feel how much easier everything was and the spooky corner just disappeared. Not that she wasn't aware of it- she totally was but by riding her forward into the hand and not stiffening it became not important.

We did some work at the canter as well. Going to the left was much better but it's all about the straightness. So to the left it's pretty easy to keep her straight and when her haunches do come in, it's easy to get her out. To the right is much harder. I had to feel like I was almost counter-flexing her to get her straight and aligned. She wasn't counter-flexed, but we've both gotten used to the feel of her being over bent that it felt weird. She was not so sure she liked it at first but then we could both feel how much better it was. Certtainly, our trot-canter transitions have improved a ton. I have to remember to not take back when she curls but to push her forward and let her take the bit. Not so easy when you have a horse that was a bolter and much harder to the right. Even she got a bit confused 'what are you doing? You're supposed to hold me in!'  But it was so much better as we progressed.

curling behind


honest to goodness uphill canter
Finally we began to work on some baby lenghens. At first just around the outside and really it was just a tiny amount- looking for her to stretch out her frame. We then went across the diaganol: balance and shorten through the corner and ask her to go out.   The first time she was crooked and nothing happened. The second time I over did it and she broke to canter. Which is no big deal and I just rode it for a few strides through the turn and then brought her back. However, she began to think that that was the idea and got angy when I said no. Carmen likes to know the answer and gets upset if she doesn't understand the question.

So I brought her back, regrouped and made sure I had her straight out of the corner and simply gave some rein to move into and put on my leg lightly. And by heavens she lengthened out her frame and pushed from behind. It was awesome. She could only hold it for a few strides but that's okay- that's a strength thing and can be worked on.
reaching but not quite understanding the question

Trying and falling on forehand- My posture is not helping

curling behind

We were both very tired by the end and I don't know about Carmen but I was so happy. We had some great work and moved closer to being able to show First Level next year. There was a time that the whole cat-in-a-trap thing would  have made her impossible to deal with. But not now. Now it's just a blip.

 I felt like I rode better-more in control of my core and hands. A few times I caught my rogue left hand trying to cross the whithers but at least I'm starting to notice it. Carmen wasn't perfect- she really wanted to dive towards Shanea and get some love. She also expects that if we stop at the gate I'm going to open it and leave so I have to work on that. Even though I never open it and leave. Mares.

If I can hold it together with my position I know that First Level is well within our grasp. I'm wondering if I can access an indoor for this winter to keep us going.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Blessed Be the Broodmare

Blessed are the broodmares in the field,
Patiently carrying their heavy load
Without complaint waiting for the big day,
When they, without a sound, lay down in the straw

Carmen with her dam, Adurina
Carmen's dam, Adurina, passed away this week from a twisted bowel. She was one of three mares imported from Spain as part of a group of Cobra mares.  I remember meeting Adurina when I was in Virginia to try out Carmen. After we had reached a deal and I was getting ready to head back to the hotel I went into the paddock to see Carmen again. I was greeted at the gate by a mare who was clearly in charge. She was not aggressive or even pushy. She simply looked at me calmly and wanted to know who this person was coming into her herd. I gave her a greeting and, after a sniff, she let me go by and watched as I went to greet her daughter. I remember thinking at the time that I hoped Carmen developed this same level of confidence and presence.

We often talk of stallions but the mare is as important, if not more, as the stud. She not only needs a good conformation and movement but she needs to raise her baby as well. I know that many believe that the mare passes along her temperament. I am not a breeder so I do not know if that is true or not but it seems that a mare is critical to having a quality horse.

This video is a sale video for Carmen (Charlante is her registered name). You can see that Adurina has quality movement.

Karen, Adurina's owner is understandably devastated to lose her mare. Not only was she a foundation of her breeding program, she loved her. These horses, they work their way into our hearts and leave such a hole when they go.

God speed Adurina. I will be forever grateful for the gift you gave me.