dancing horses

dancing horses

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Working on the Foundation

Before I get into the post let me share with you this adorable video of Guinness. I was watching Jacqueline Brook's freestyle and it caught his attention ( you should totally watch it too she does it to the Sound of Silence and it's beautiful):

I can't believe that I actually was able to ride twice this week! Wednesday was a beautiful day and my work day ended up opening up in the afternoon. I sent an email to my boss and she gave me permission to take a few hours off. Today was warm and we were able to ride again. Ashley was able to join me on Sunday.

I have been finding my focus on riding actively really paying off. On Wednesday I had a mini-epiphany. Carmen gave a 3 part spook. You know what I mean- you are trotting along and then something catches your horse's eye:
*stutter step* WHAT'S THAT?!
*horse starts to go forward and then* 'OMG it MOVED'
*bounce in place* 'WE MUST FLEE' 
During this I  suddenly realized how I freeze and don't do anything (other then tighten every single muscle in my bod).  I could feel how Carmen was really looking to me for help and I was doing nothing.

 I know that may sound stupid but I never really was able to analyze what I was doing during  one of her big spooks. After when the dust settled it was a blank to me. So this was huge for me and it underlined how I need to be an active rider not a passive one. I pulled my socks up (figuratively speaking) and made sure that I never stopped riding. It was a great way to spend an afternoon.

I was excited to have Ashley come out to ride Irish today. I don't mind riding by myself but it's fun to ride with others every now and then. I was curious to see how Irish went because he's been looking really good. His incontinence is continuing to improve which is really making me happy. He's continuing to eat everything in sight too.

Both horses seemed happy to come in. Irish is always pretty happy to be fussed with but Carmen was being very mellow and reached for the bridle. Ash noted that she was a lot whiter and I told her that she was becoming a unicorn. I looked at Carmen with her ears back (not down, just her look when she thinks I'm being foolish) and laughed
Me: 'you don't need a horn you'd just stab people with it'. 
Carmen: 'humph'
Ashley: 'She would totally stab people with it' 

I didn't lunge her before I got on. I honestly didn't think I would need it. And I was right. Carmen was forward and relaxed. There was one incident as be headed to Troll Corner but I put on my inside leg and got her marching through. And that was it. A few times she wanted to look but it really was nothing. I am feeling optimistic about conquering that corner this year.

Carmen was really forward in the ride in a way that I rarely feel. She was all 'let's go do the thing' and I was 'could we half-halt?  and she told me I was a 'spoilsport'.  I wanted to make sure the footing was okay and it was a bit mushy in places. The far end was best so I finally said 'okay fine go canter' and she leapt into it with enthusiasm.

And you should have seen Irish- he was carrying himself better then I have seen in a long long time. He was clearly feeling as good as Carmen and was there to play the game. I stopped Carmen to watch them go and she was convinced we were done. Which led to a bit of a discussion when I wanted to go back to work.
Carmen: We're done. 
Me: No, that was just a break. We can do more. 
Carmen: Nope, your quarter is up. 
Me: C'mon let's do a little more. 

She got herself into a bit of tizzy over going back to work and I just stayed quiet and clear and didn't back down. I asked her to canter and she couldn't decide whether to kick, buck or canter so it was a bit spazzy and made me giggle. We got the canter rhythm and then I brought her back to walk, relaxed and then asked again. Ashley was watching and said 'she launched straight up into that'. It definitely felt uphill.

We didn't work on anything new- with such sporadic schooling sessions it's just about confirming stuff already established. What's neat about that is that I can feel that getting more and more solid.

I love riding when the horses are having as much fun as the people.
from before Christmas but it still represents how I feel

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Learning to Fly

Since the weather is still sucking I decided that this is a good time to share a story with you. 

Several years ago I took on a second job. I became a trainer in a specialized program for Speech Language Pathologists. It was a lot of fun- I got to meet all sorts of people and travel to places. In 2008 I had the opportunity to go to Ireland. The plan was to travel to Cork and teach for three days, have a three day break and then teach in Dublin. I was over the moon - Ireland was a dream place to visit. 

Upon taking the assignment I immediately began to look into options for horseback riding. I found a place on the outskirts of Dublin that looked promising and was highly rated. I contacted them and after numerous emails it was determined that I would contact them when I arrived in Cork and we would set up a time. Except that they never returned any of my calls or emails. None. 

And I began to panic. On my third evening I went onto the internet and found another place (Belair Manor) and sent a message. The next day after work there was a message for me and I returned the call. I spoke to a lovely woman who's name escapes me now (it has been a while) and explained my plight. She said that they could probably do something for me and asked when I would like to. I gave her the date I could do it (in between my teaching) and she said 'oh no dear, we have no room for you. We need more notice'.  I was so disappointed and I explained about how I had travelled to Ireland and it had always been my dream to ride there and I had no idea when/if I'd ever be back. She was silent for a moment and then said "okay dear, leave it with me. I'll get back to you".  

I was not sure if I would ever hear from her again but the next day she called and said that they could fit me in on Saturday at a 11:00. I thanked her profusely and asked what train I should catch to get there. '
Oh, there is no train to here. You need a car'. 
'oh' My voice was small and disappointed. 'I don't have a car and I'm terrified to drive here' (no joke, driving in Ireland is not for the faint of heart). 
'*sigh* Leave it with me' 

A couple hours after the woman whom I was starting to consider my best friend called back with a plan. And here's how it worked: Saturday morning I caught the 7:30 train from Dublin to Bray. At the train station in Bray I mean a woman named 'Maeve'. I recognized Maeve becasue she was in breeches. She drove me to the Manor. In the car she explained that she was not driving me back because she was riding before me and had to head right back, but they had worked out a plan. I didn't care, I figured I would cross that bridge when I got to it. 

I hung our at the Manor taking photos while I waited for my ride. Check out the website- this place is unbelievable. 

the stable yard

the view

Soon enough my time to ride came. I was mounted on a huge Irish sport horse named "Charlie" (hey Emma!). I had brought my boots and half-chaps and they loaned me a helmet.

do I look excited or what? Charlie less so

Before we left on the ride I was taken into a small ring so they could evaluate that I actually could ride. After a walk and trot around I was deemed okay and off we went. There was a small group of veterans riding with me and we headed into the Wicklow mountain. It was so beautiful and I cannot despcribe how full my heart was. We then picked up a trot and then I was told 'Teresa we're going to have a wee canter- just keep your horse behind the one in front of  you and it will all be fine'. 

The 'wee canter' was a flat out gallop over the mountain. Charlie was big and powerful and I really felt like was a flea. I had this moment of 'oh my god dying is a real possiblity right now' and my next immediate thought was 'And I don't care'.  I truly didn't. In that moment I was flying across the countryside and it was a moment of pure and unadulterated happiness. If I had died at the moment I would have died truly happy to the core of my soul. I got into a two point and loosened my hold on the reins. He flicked an ear back 'really?'  and I was 'YES, LET'S FLY'. So we did. Until Charlie started to feel like this was really all a bit of work. He was used to (I think) terrifying tourists not having some crazy Canadian on his back urging for more. 

We stopped half way and all shared a flask with brandy. And then we rode back, with moments of flying. Back at the manor I slid off and my legs almost collapsed under me. The adrenalin was still flowing. A groom took Charlie away to wash off and cool down. I offered to help but was turned down. In the manor house we all shared a lunch of brown bread, ham, potatoes and baked beans. It was the best meal I had ever had. We all talked about horses and it didn't matter what country we were from because the love was the same. 

Lunch was over all too soon and I found out that I was being driven back to the outskirts of Dublin by 'Carmel'. She lived in a suburb and was going to drop me at the train station. She apologized for not taking me back to where I was staying but I was honestly fine with it. I know we chatted on the way home. She was the wife of a former diplomat (retired) and had grown children and some young grandchildren. I think, looking back, that she and her husband were 'very important people' but you wouldn't know it by her manner. I was still in a daze and probably sounded very dull and uninteresting. 

I took the train back to downtown Dublin. As I was making my way back to my B&B I saw that the Art Gallery was having an exhibit of Impressionist Art. I detoured and went in. 

And that is how I had the most perfect of days riding in the mountains in the morning and looking at incredible art in the afternoon. All because of the kindness of a number of women who worked hard to make a stranger's dream come true. I will treasure this memory forever. 

There are very few moments in life of pure joy. This was one of  mine.

Saturday, January 20, 2018


My friend Cindy posted this cartoon to her FB page and it made me laugh. It reminded me of a certain mare who, while not as 'fluffy' as this one, shares this sentiment. 

After writing my last post I realized that I really need to get a handle on my self-judgement.

You see I've been feeling a bit guilty about not riding lately. Which is rediculous- the footing and the weather have made it impossible. But I have that voice in my head that says 'if you really wanted to ride you would find a way. You are being a chicken".  I really don't like that voice.  So one of my goals this year is to try to get that voice to shush.

Anyway, today the weather was warmer and the snow was soft so decided to ride.  Carmen seemed to be quite happy to be brought out and tacked up. The girth is on the same holes as this summer so that is good. I put her on the lunge line to evaluate her mood and the depth of the snow. It seemed to be really good except for one end which was a bit deep.

I hopped on and we went to ride. I am continuing to work on the goals of keeping her on my aids (which means I have to be making sure I'm directing her), not adding to the tension and not hang on to the rein too tight.

The interesting thing about riding in the snow is how it encourages the horse to really step up. On the lunge Carmen was really pushing. How that feels in the saddle is incredible. I realized that I have more fitness to develop in order to sit that. Initially she was a bit tight and looky but as we walked she became more relaxed and listening. There was a lot of power in her trot and it caught me off guard at first. My first thought was 'wow'. My second was 'oh my core'.

She started to blow out and I could feel wanting to GO. Like really go. I didn't let her - maybe I was chicken but I didn't want her slipping in the snow and injuring herself. So instead I said 'let's work on control and power. Speed can come later'.  I was really impressed with our work to the right- there wasn't any hesitation in picking up the trot like there used to be when we started back to work. We finished with a lovely canter in the snow. Again there was real power. Carmen wasn't even breathing hard.

I still suck at selfies. 
Back in the barn Irish was feeling a bit sassy. I looked at him and thought hmmm. I got out his tack and saddled him up. Carmen was funny- she was outside eating and then she realized what I was doing and started to freak out a bit. I mean I don't ride Irish. I ride her. But Cynthia is gone and Irish needs work so up to the ring we went.

Are you sure about this? 
Irish was a bit excited. I didn't want to put too much a strain on him with the snow. When I asked him to trot he gave a squeal and hop. Young Irish would have been a handful. Old Irish though can't do too much so I laughed and then he became insulted and finally we settled. He also wanted to GO and I let him pick up a canter. A couple circles took the wind out of his sails and we could do some work. I noticed that between E and C he was counterbent and looking out. I realized that this was what Carmen was doing too. 

Two very different horses, same issue. I wondered if there was a common denominator......

Yeah. Me. I realized that I was clamping with my left hand and thigh. So I fixed my position and surprise, surprise he became straight. This is a good thing about riding different horses. While I was riding Carmen just ate her hay- so obviously she wasn't too stressed. 

you can see her down at the barn

I really want to have a lesson (or two) but I need things to thaw. Come on spring.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018


This post has been rattling around in my head for a while. I am not the only one to write about it (like here- posted by Dom on FB). Even knowing that far better writers then me have tackled this topic I'm going to do it anyway.

rider hauling on her horse and causing her to invert OR
rider surviving a spin/leap/bolt and trying to get her horse back before someone
dies. You decide. Or rather don't. 
Lord knows I am not any shining example of perfection and poise. I have been known to swear - even in a show (in my defence I had gone off course and realized it).  I am the first one to admit that I have a lot of improvements I need to make in my riding. I am sometimes impatient and frustrated.

I am also sometimes able to ride with tact and responsiveness.

But here's the thing- whether I am sucking or rocking it, I am always trying my best. 

As I get older I get more and more irritated by people seeing a single moment/episode and making all sorts of snap judgements. They assume that they now know all that there is to know about that person and their horse. And of course they know what should be done.

We've all experienced it.

Remember my Trail Clinic back in August? I was so happy with that experience. Nikki (one of the clinicians) shared it on FB and that was then shared by someone else. Someone who added the following:
name blocked out because it's not relevant

The person who posted this appears to have leapt to all kinds of conclusions about my history with Carmen's training and is sitting in judgement. I thought about writing an explanation "actually I have done a lot with this mare and this clinic was another step on my journey to build our partnerhsip. In the end I didn't bother because I wasn't sure it would be a productive discussion. While part of me doesn't care, part of me is still rankled. 

We need to stop it. 

It's not fair. But worse, it's not helpful. It adds nothing to the discussion. In fact it stops any discussion dead.  We don't know what a person has gone through to get where they are. Maybe doing what they are doing is a result of a ton of work, sweat and bravery. And it doesn't matter that it could be better. It's enough that it's not worse. 

So this year I'm going to continue to work on being a cheerleader. I am going to assume that others are doing their best and that I don't know their story. I will not pass judgement and I will not give advice unless asked for. And even then, I will try to ask rather then tell. 

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

A Rose by Any Other Name...

There was a surprise waiting for me when I got home from work- Guinness' registration papers!

I was beginning to worry that they would not come. Ed wondered why they were even necessary- it's not like I am planning to show him and the breeding thing is off the table. But I paid a lot for a well bred registered dog and I wanted his papers.

I opened the envelope and I started to laugh.

You see, a few months ago the breeder said that I needed to pick a name for his papers that started with 'A'. All of the puppies had to be registered that way. I remember giving a few names but saying it really didn't matter as long as Guinness was his second name.

So here is what arrived today:

 I give you 'Awesome Guinness Von Narnia.'

That's right. My Guinness is officially awesome.

He's getting a big head over it.

That's Mr. Awesome if you please

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Holding Patterns

I was unable to ride again this weekend. Yesterday was torrential rain, but I am grateful that it was not snow. The thaw took the frost out of the ground so the rain could be absorbed somewhat. I could have ridden today but I had so many chores to do that I ended up doing those first. Normally I will ride first and then do chores but I am okay with not riding today. January is rarely a time where I make great strides in training. But now my barn looks much better with all the old hay cleaned up. 

My son is away for work and so we have his dog until the middle of March. I was a bit worried about it driving us crazy like it did last time but it's going really well. Being a year old makes a huge difference. 

She loves me 
 She and Guinness are great friends. I am getting lots of walking in.
'Hai. We see you are making lunch. We also like lunch"

One of my battles this year is keeping Carmen from her life goal of turning into a marshmallow. When she first arrived she was a bit skinny and (probably) ulcery. That is gone and she's maturing into a solid horse. Which is fine when she's in work. She does not appear to have any desire to run around the field and exercise herself. So, in addition to the slow feeder, I have taken to putting loose hay out in various parts of the field to get her to walk around. However, at night in the stall she is literally gobbling her hay. After much deliberation I decided to try one of the Tough 1 hay hoops:

I figure that at least it will make her hay last longer. I put it up yesterday and loaded it. As you can see by her expression she is not impressed with this development. 

Her position is that if she's going through her hay too fast that is evidence that I need to give her more hay. Simple equine logic. That evening as I filling her bucket she tipped over my bucket. Something she's never done but her look spoke volumes. Oh well. 

Despite the mild weather, Martin refuses to go outside for very long. 

I don't know what happens when we die but I'm pretty sure that Martin is going to become one with my sofa. 

Friday, January 12, 2018

Being Present

I swear that Mother Nature is messing with us this year. After bitterly cold temperatures we are having a bit of a reprieve. Yesterday was about 6 and today was a balmy 17 degrees (celsius).  Because we have no snow, yesterday was enough to thaw out my ring so I had some high hopes for today.  While it was a bit soft in places and had a few puddles, the footing was actually pretty good.  

I tacked her up and she was reaching for the bit before I had the bridle ready. Given that the the last time I rode was Christmas eve lunging seemed to be a good life choice. I've become very good at reading her so that while she started off pretty calm and obedient I was sure that there was a layer of tension under it all. Sure enough she suddenly bolted in response to...something. A bird? Waving grass? Invisible trolls? Who knows. I immediately stopped moving and stood calmly. Funnily enough I wasn't worried at all. I knew that was in there so it was more of 'I knew that was in there'. We worked a bit in the spooky corner (between E and C, which surprises no one).  We just kept working until she seemed to be more 'with' me. It took somewhere between 10 to 15 minutes. I decided that riding would be fine so I took off the lunge line and took down the stirrups. 

I also needed to think about my goals for the ride. I decided that it made sense to work on my riding goals (from January 10th post). Mostly I wanted to focus on the first two: having a relaxed and effective seat and being 'present' in the saddle so that I was always giving her directions. 

And do you know what? That really worked out well for us. Keeping my brain on what I was doing and giving her directions seemed to help me stay relaxed. Carmen started out tense but nothing too major. Whenever I felt her attention shift away from me I insisted that it return. I played a bit with riding a diamond pattern in half of the ring. This required me to keep her straight and then execute a 1/4 turn on the haunches at the pivot points. I could feel her becoming curious about what we were doing which was fun. We only walked and trotted. I had done some canter on the lunge but wanted to keep this easy.  Whenever I felt her bulge her body away I made sure that my seat was clear that I needed her to go back. She did give one big spin/spook (yes between E and C)  but I was prepared and actually leg yielded her back in mid-spook. That was the end of it. 

We finished by practicing a few shoulder ins to haunches in and vice versa. She did really well. Probably because I was present and giving clear directions. I could really feel how my seat needed to adjust to help her position her body. I rode for about 25 minutes and called it a day. 

After I gave her a good groom and she gave a shake like they do after they roll. That's when I knew that she had enjoyed it all too.

this is how spent the rest of the day because she exercised and
was without food for almost a whole hour! 
I don't know if I'll get t ride again, even though it's staying warmer until Sunday night. Tonight into tomorrow we're going to get torrential rain so I will have to check the ring. I spent the afternoon making sure that the rain had a way to drain away. Guinness 'helped':

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

2018 Goals: Going Boldly Forth

"Freedom lies in being bold"- Robert Frost

I do not know why I have been procrastinating on writing this post. It's not that I don't have goals- I do. It's not that I am afraid to write them down in case I don't meet them. I am okay not hitting all my 'goals'.

I think that the biggest struggle has been in identifying what I mean by a 'goal'. Last year it seemed pretty simple- I needed to get off property and expose Carmen to new things. This year we will be doing a lot of the same things but for a different purpose.


So far I am aware of 4 shows this year- two Bronze and two Scotia Series (these are at a provincial level and don't require a licence from Equine Canada). There's also a schooling show but it conflicts with one of the Scotia series. Which is really unfortunate- it's not like we have so many.

I am planning to do the four shows. My goal is to show at First Level. I think that Carmen will be better with more to occupy her. However, it will require us to really work on her lengthens.

I am also going to keep my eye out for other shows that might be fun to try.

Lessons & Clinics:
I am itching to start back with Shanea. But I need my ring to thaw first. I want to have a regular schedule so that I can really tackle my riding goals (below). In addition I want to participate in clinics. I find them a good way to stretch myself.  I am definitely planning to do the Johanna Batista clinic. It will be the long weekend in May.

I've already registered for another of the Ultimate Trail Clinics. This one is much closer to me then the one I went to last year so that should be good. I am so excited to do more of this.

I'd love to do another Jacqueline Brooks clinic if that works out.

Fun stuff:
I want to spend a lot of time hacking out. I hope to  join up with Nancy a few times. I'm also on the look out for more trail options as well. Overall I want to hack out on my property at least 4 times a month.

Fun weekends away- at Karen's or Rachael's or somewhere else. That always assumes that they want me.

It might be a crazy idea but I think it might be fun to introduce Carmen to some low level jumping. We shall see about that.

like this only, you know, taller
Those are the 'things' that I want to do. Obviously riding and training are much more then that. I have some specific goals for riding and behaviour.
Riding Goals:
  • I want to further improve my seat so that I can stay both relaxed and effective in the saddle. 
  • I want to fix my tendency to want to 'coast' and expect her to carry me. Instead I want to be giving her direction so that she doesn't feel abandoned and then make bad decisions. 
  • Let go of the rein. This is a hard one given Carmen's ability to duck behind the contact and then spin/bolt. Keeping a short rein keeps her from getting away from me but it's not a good long-term solution. This requires me to trust and ride forward. 
  • Increase awareness of my body and it's impact on how she's going. 
Carmen Goals:
  • Go forward of the leg. Not fast- forward, reaching from behind. 
  • Keep her attention on me and not on all the things that are obviously waiting to kill her
  • Develop her trust in me in new situations so that we can have successful shows/clinics etc. 
  • NO MORE SPOOKING BETWEEN E AND C. This is huge for us. 
  • Develop her push from behind so that she can collect/lengthen

So that's it. Those are my goals. I know that I will add more and there will be things that frustrate me and moments of real joy.

Come on 2018- we're ready.

Carmen: shouldn't you wait for things to thaw a bit? (PC Cindy M)


Thursday, January 4, 2018

The Great Lysine Experiment

I seem to be avoiding writing my 'goals for 2018' post.

Or I am still mulling.

Let's go with mulling.

We are getting hammered with another winter storm. For us it is all rain- no snow. Which is actually more difficult as the ground is frozen and not able to absorb it. I had to make sure that it had a path to flow so that the barn won't flood. I was probably worrying unnecessarily but hey, that's me and I need to go with my strengths. If it makes me feel better to be out in high winds and driving rain sticking a shovel into frozen ground to make the drainage pathways larger who is going to argue?

Not these two.
no more snow, just water running everywhere. 

As long as I'm not late with dinner.

Hiding inside from the weather gives me time to write an update on the red headed wonder: Irish.

Back in August I wrote a post about Irish and his incontinence. I purchased the boots and they worked really well to protect his legs from the scalding. His legs healed nicely and he was feeling perkier. But (why is there always a but?) wearing them 20 hours out of 24 was not good for his legs. He started getting some rubs from the boots. They also became very foul smelling (logical I know) no matter how often I washed them. So I went and purchased the Keratix Mud Shield powder. Now I do a boots every now and then and use the powder a lot. His legs look gross but it actually just rinses right off (unlike before).

Kris at Dancing Donkey suggested that some diet changes might help. She and I exchanged some emails and she suggested lots of things, the key being amino acids. These might be lacking in his diet. I am very careful with Irish's diet - given his history of ulcers and colics I don't make changes lightly. I did a lot of my own research. One issue is that getting supplements here in Canada is difficult , especially if you want a reasonable price.

Fast forward a bit and Cathryn at Two and a Half Horses did a post about her vet recommending Myoplast to help build Annie's topline. Reading that post and all the comments led me back to exploring some options for Irish. I then found a reasonably priced source for pure lysine in Canada (apple saddlery). I purchased it and have had him on it since November 8, 2017. I took some photos to document his progress.

Within a week I noticed something pretty amazing. Irish has always been a 'fussy' eater. In the winter he gets a lot of oats, fat and fibre,  free choice hay, soaked beet pulp and  alfalfa. Essentially he had food available 24/7. Rarely did he ever complete his grain/pellet ration. Nine out of ten mornings I threw out left over feed/beet pulp/alfalfa.

Now he finishes everything and is impatient for his breakfast and supper rations.

Guys this is huge. Irish never finishes his feed or hay.

In six weeks he put on 40 pounds.

Another thing I noticed (although not as quickly) was that his incontinence significantly reduced. It's not gone but it's so much less. I also think I see a difference in his topline- even though he's not getting exercised.

This week I checked him again. He hadn't gained any more weight which I found disappointing until I realized that this is the first time he didn't drop weight when the temperatures plummeted. He's maintaining his weight at 1098 (according to my weight tape).

 I don't know if the photos show anything at all. His topline looks better to me but I also want to see it. A few weeks ago when Shanea visited and Ashley was riding she commented that he looked good compared to the last time she saw him.

I have no idea what the scientific explanation is. My theory is that he was unable to extract the nutrients he needed so wasn't interested in eating. The lysine is helping him to do that. I cannot see it as a coincidence that after 6 years at home he suddenly decides to start eating (and longer than that but he was boarded so I can't swear to it).

Letting him build up weight and topline should make it far easier for him to be worked too.