dancing horses

dancing horses

Monday, July 30, 2018

Celebration Time

As you may recall Carmen and I headed off to a show this weekend. I was looking forward to it : many of my friends were going and it was a place Carmen and I had never been. Because we had no history it seemed like a great place for us to see how we were doing.

We arrived early Friday afternoon and I settled Carmen in her stall. The layout of the grounds was great: the barns, warm up ring and show ring were all close together. Everything is so convenient.
taken from the Central Nova Horse & Pony Club website
I walked her about so that she could see everything and she was totally chill. I made sure that in the warm up ring I let her check out the fence against the tree line. She didn't care and happily ate the grass. Later when I tacked her up and mounted she decided that she probably should be worried about those trees but I was 'you were fine 20 minutes ago with those trees so I'm not buying that you are scared now'. I just rode her forward and she became fine again.

The warm up ring became a bit full as other competitors came in so I made my way over the show ring (we were allowed to ride in it the night before). She immediately relaxed. I swear that she recognized that it was the show ring and was all 'I know what to do here'.  Carmen was a bit confused about the trailer at the end (for the judge).
Carmen: do I go in? I think you should duck then
Me: 'no, it's okay, just take a look at it. 
Carmen: 'ooookay.... I looked, now what?

We rode about 20 minutes and I dismounted.

The next day my rides were to be at 10:24 and 10:59. I figured to be on her by 9:45. She was a bit stiff in the warm up but slowly came out of it. Later I figured out that she was in heat but at first I wasn't sure what was going on. However, we warmed up and she was doing well. Even Jane (you remember Jane or 'my yoda' as I call her) commented that we looked good. Then it turned out that the rides were behind and in the end I started my first test at the time I was to start my second. We were definitely over warmed up given the heat and humidity. I find it hard to keep Carmen  soft and warmed up without getting her tired or thinking that she's done.

Anyway we went in and I walked around, making sure that she saw that there were now people in the trailer. Carmen found this curious but in a 'humans are weird' way not an 'oh my god are they armed?' way. I struggled a bit with her bend but over-all I was pleased with how we went. Our final score (I learned later) was 62. 96 with scores ranging from 5.5 to 7. Mostly what hurt our score was our lengthens. I really need to get on those.

After the steward's inspection I put her quickly in her stall to have a pee and a drink. I was pleasantly surprised to see that Karen came to watch us. It was wonderful to see her. I got Carmen ready again and went out to find out that we were on deck. Eek. The times were so mixed up I had no idea. Anyway I hopped on her and we went in to the show ring. I did a few quick walk-trot-canter transitions and the judge rang the bell. I squared my shoulders, picked up the trot and in we went. I say that because our entrance and halt at X earned us a 9! I've never gotten a 9 before. Carmen felt tired but she tried her heart out for me and we ended with a score of 64.219.

When it was time for the ribbons I had earned a 3 and 4th. I was a little curious about the 4th and went to check the board. That's when I saw that they had me down with a score of 57. I went and got my sheet and showed them the error. I honestly didn't care about the ribbon but I did care about the score. I haven't made a score below 60 yet this year and if I have one recorded for me I want it because I actually earned it not due to error. I felt bad and the show crew were very apologetic and got me my proper ribbon (third) and fixed the score.

That night I had reviewed my tests and wanted to improve my scores. The morning dawned misty and cloudy. Around 8 it started to pour buckets. It sucks to show in the rain but what are you going to do? Scratch? Not me.

While  I was braiding her I overheard Jane talking to another person who voiced what I was thinking. And she said something so incredibly wise. I won't get it all verbatim but the idea was that riding is the one sport that the moment you decide to try really hard is the moment that it all goes to shit. She said that if you wanted to do better you had to be softer. Riding is not like running, it's like yoga.  This immediately resonated with me and it helped me make a plan. Essentially, my plan was to focus on bending being soft. To stop trying to hold Carmen and to let her go.

Just as I was tacking up the rain stopped.
I took it as an omen
I was also determined to not ride for so long in the warm up again so I double checked the ride times. We were pretty much running on time and I had opted for a 30 minute warm up. I figured if she was hot I would just deal. Carmen started off really behind the leg (it was the morning cleaning out her stall that I realized she was in heat. I blame the cute gelding name Vinny who kept flirting with her. She was just as flirty back). I actually dug my heels in and told her to get going. She leapt forward into canter and I gave the rein and urged her on. I don't know which one of us was more surprised by that.
Carmen: Wait, we NEVER do this!
Me: I know!

I rode her into the test and it felt wonderful. Not perfect but it really felt that we were working together to the best of our ability. And it showed in our score: 64.815. Which was a full 2 percentage points higher then Saturday. I was thrilled. And we won the class so that was cool.

I had just enough time to put Carmen back in the stall to give her a chance to pee but she didn't. I think it's because I left the saddle on but there wasn't time. I had a few minutes to warm up for our next test and we went in. It was a bit of a struggle. But I didn't push her. I asked her to try and she did. Frankly  I think she was just out of steam. It didn't feel balky to me - it truly felt that she was giving me what she had. The score was 60.938 which felt a bit harsh. We netted third again.

But the judge did her job and I'm not going to argue. Judges score how they score and we can't expect them to all be the same.

Nevertheless  I was thrilled with our show. Not because of (or even in spite of the scores). But because we had an entire show with no shenanigans. Not one spook or evasion or argument. I never felt at risk or frustrated.

This is me, sitting on Carmen with my feet out of the stirrups and loose reins
chatting with the steward completely relaxed. (PC Karen P)

Because we felt like a real team.

I let go and let Carmen do her thing and she did it with style.

The rest will come.

In the meantime let's celebrate. Drinks are on me.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

On the Muscle

I consider myself a dedicated rider. This means that I obsess am diligent about training and making sure that I work on the things that have been taught to me. It is important that Carmen and I practice and that we are fit.

It's been a few years since I had a horse to train and show so I have been really putting a lot of time into it.  My thoughts have been along the lines of 'yay, training, riding, showing is fun! Let's do more!'

As a result Carmen is becoming very fit. To the point that a day off leads to all sorts of energy.
I had a lesson booked for today and it has been really really hot and humid. I know that my southern readers will laugh at me but once it gets into the 90s with humidity we all melt. I wasn't going to cancel today. We have a show this weekend and it's going to be hot so I figured it would be good to see how we do. 
I also had this idea that it would take some of the starch out of Miss Energizer Bunny. 

I was wrong. Essentially Carmen's perspective could be summed up with this: 
I am a horse of southern climes. The soul of the desert runs through my veins and I cannot be conquered by this heat.' 

On the plus side she was going to the bridle pretty much the whole ride. The tricky part was channeling that energy in a positive and not-bolting sort of way. Which is where Shanea is so awesome. She can talk me through and gives me confidence to let the hell go. 

The biggest improvement is in our canter work. She is so much straighter and our transitions are sharper- both up and down. It's so easy for her when she's mentally there. Here it looks like we're about to do a flying change but I'm just asking her to come back with my seat in preparation for a trot transition at X. 

She's understanding the work and, when focussed, it's so easy. Our lesson have been on the fine tuning of our rides. 

When I compare us with this time last year, her topline is clearly better. I'm pretty sure I'm riding better as well. 

from July 30, 2017

from today- we might actually be able to do this dressage thing

For the first time in a long time I had to ask for a few breaks. We rode through one of our tests and it went pretty well. By the time we were done I was sopping wet. Shanea looked at Carmen and said ''she's not even breathing hard!' And she wasn't. There was still a ton of gas in that tank. Mine, however was totally empty. I don't think I need to worry too much about her this weekend. 

After I hosed her off (something she really enjoyed) I went into the house and went right to the laundry room. I took off my clothes and threw them in the washing machine. They made a splat as they landed in the washer- they were sopping wet. 

I'm looking forward to the show this weekend. I am camping on the grounds with a few friends and that will be a new experience. 


Sunday, July 22, 2018

Finally a Lesson

It always seems that having things to blog about is feast or famine! There's so much to write about but there is also less time because, you know, riding.

I tend towards 'overscheduling' lessons because they can be cancelled for many reasons. My strategy is that I will end up with the right number of lessons. Of course that doesn't always work out but I won't complain that I'm getting too many lessons. With Shanea travelling she needs a critical mass to make it worth her while and I understand that completely. But it's meant that I haven't had many lately.
Carmen is so keen on lessons. or maybe that's me...

I was happy that we were able to schedule for this Friday. I kept a close eye on cell all morning in case she cancelled. I decided that if that happened I was going to put Carmen on the trailer and bring her to Shanea. But that didn't happen- our lesson went ahead as scheduled. (thanks to Julia who took the videos and some photos).

The focus of the lesson was on getting Carmen adjustable over her back- I was concerned that when I asked her to lengthen she was just speeding up. We worked on the warm up getting her soft and listening. We had a bit of an issue as Troll Corner has emerged again. I'm not going to write about that now but there will be a post on it and ow we're dealing with it.

You can see how the tension is affecting our leg yields toward troll corner but we're getting there.

We did a lot on transitions to get her coming from behind. I can really feel that she's understanding this idea.

I could feel how this was transferring to the lengthens. We started off asking for a few steps and then increasing them. I could feel how she began to stretch and lift her back.

The nice thing about such a lesson is that Carmen not only starts to understand the work but also to enjoy it.

We finished up with some canter work that was some of the best we've ever done- The transitions were spot on and forward. In the down she can fall on her forehand and get a little fast but even that improved with practice.

uphill canter anyone?

Friday, July 20, 2018

My Precious

One ring to rule them all.......

A couple posts ago Clover Ledge asked me about I did my ring. I thought I had written about it but I couldn't find a post so perhaps I didn't. 
Banking on the idea that you won't remember either I decided to do a post about how we put in the ring.  

When Ed and I bought our property all it had was a house and a shed. The rest of the land was a large field and woods. 
the view from our bedroom window

 I forget how different it used to look!
Just a lonely house in a field
However, it made the most sense in terms of land, home and cost. After looking at so many properties that had unsuitable home or barn or land (or any combinataion there of) we decided that it was better to build what we wanted.  That first year of owning the house we were living elsewhere and renovating. I walked the land in every weather situation to assess the best place to put a riding ring. In the end I chose the top of the hill (up by the trees in the photo above) because it had the best drainage and there was often a breeze to carry away the bugs.

After the house renovation,  we made plans for the building of the barn and putting in the first paddock then  it was time to get serious about installing the ring. It was difficult to figure out who to hire. It's not like there are a ton of people with 'riding installation' on their website. I did check with one company who had installed for someone else but the quote was rediculous. It literally said "1 riding ring $20,000" I asked him to break that down for me it was listing bringing in fill and drainage etc. and building a road. I tried to explain that the ground already had good drainage an there was no need for a 'road'  but I was a woman and what did I know? Long story short I didn't like him and I didn't have that kind of money laying around so I moved on. 

Eventually we decided to do it ourselves. Which was probably really brave (and possibly stupid) but I wanted the ring and was, quite frankly, starting to sound like Smeagol. 

First we hired a contractor to clear and flatten the area we had identified. I was very clear with the owner that it had to be 70x200' or I wasn't paying him. He assured me it would be. Of course the man came and did it when I wasn't home. Ed told the machine operator that he thought it was short on one end and to fix it but of course he thought it was big enough and went home. When I returned I measured it and sure enough- one side was 70 wide but the other was only 58 and it wasn't quite 200 feet long. I called and the man had to come back. I know the owner was not happy with his worker but I had been clear and he agreed with me. 

such a beautiful site
That was in September. Once it was all flattened we let it settle over the winter. The barn went up in October and Irish came home in December. 
A truly happy day

the house with the barn behind you can see the brown line which was the cleared space of the ring. 
Settling was key for the ring- in the spring when the ground thawed we were able to fill in sinkholes. There really weren't that many and they were not deep. But it would have been expensive if the footing had been put in in the autumn.  

After that we borrowed a spring harrow and dragged it around the clear area to get up all the rocks. We then raked the rocks into piles and transported them away with the tractor. Oh my god, so many rocks. I actually got tennis elbow from the raking and shoveling of rocks. But I did it without whining or complaining. I was building my dream and it felt good to do it myself. I used the rocks as fill for some swampy areas on the trails (that turned out to be genius). One day I was by myself filling in a weird 4x6' depression and I started giggling to myself over what the neighbours must have thought I was doing. Of course I might have just been over tired. 

With the rocks gone, we flattened the area again using a rented roller thing (highly technical term). Then it was time for the footing. I bought quite a few truckloads of sand and managed to get my hands on some rubber. Not as much as I would like but some was better than none. I think it was 2 tons but it might have been 2.5. Using the tractor and a landscape rake we spread it out:

I love the mix of sand and rubber. It keeps the ring useable for a much longer time frame in the year. Even if it's frozen in the morning, once the sun hits it, it often thaws (unless it's been bitterly cold). 

Once Steele was ready to be backed, Ed and a friend put in the fence. It does help it look finished.
the view is nice too

I was right about the drainage- even after torrential rain the ring is fine within an hour. After a couple hours all the puddle are gone competely. The breeze is nice (despite what Carmen thinks about the blowing grass) because it does keep the bugs down. 

For the first two years I had a real war with the grass trying to grow up through (the result of putting a ring a pasture). I did a combination of weed killer, dragging and pulling it out by the roots. Now it cotinues to try to creep in from the sides but I can keep it at bay with the drag. There is no more grass growing in the middle. Although I know that if I am not vigilant it won't take long to come back. 
I love my little chain drag. It has longer tines on one side and is quite heavy. It does a great job dragging the ring for such an inexpensive purchase (about $300). 

I usually drag after rain storm, to not only keep the weeds out but to stop it from drying too hard. The sun can bake the dirt a bit. I really enjoy dragging the ring- I call it my zen garden. Every year I buy a load of sand (this year I needed more to relplace some that had run off with the wet or just distingrated over time). I fill in any bald spots and keep it fresh. 

And that's how Ed and I did a DIY riding ring. It was a lot of work and totally worth it. I don't think I would have the energy to do it again though (at least the rock raking part). My friends tell me I'm a bit obsessed (or OCD)  with it but that's okay- it's mine all mine. 

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

The Benefits of Clinics and a Give Away!

In full disclosure, Carol at Dressage Training Journal asked me if I would write a blog post about clinics. In exchange I am getting a free pass to Audit one of the All Canadian Dressage Master Series that Five Fires is hosting this year (in partnership with Jo Duston).

It was an interesting request and one I had to think about. As I pondered I realized that I did have things that I wanted to say so decided to take her up on the offer. However, I am going to be true to myself and not say things that I do not believe (Carole was clear that she agreed with this).

I am a firm believer that a rider will get more out $500 in lessons then spending $500 on a single clinic. However, I also believe that there is a lot to be gained from a clinic whether you are auditing or a rider.

I have done a number of clinics already this year that covered a wide range of skills and from every single one of them I have left with a valuable tool in my tool box.

In many ways having a  regular coach is like having a  family Doctor. Shanea knows Carmen's and my history together. She knows where we've been, what my ambitions are, what helps us and what holds us back. Shanea has worked with us for a couple years now and can bring great insights to our lessons.

Sometimes though, I get bogged down in that history and way of going.

An outside clinician is like a specialist.  A good clinician brings a laser focus to a particular issue/topic that they see in the few minutes of warm up that they watch.  They are able to put aside some of the baggage and help the rider hone in specifically on something that will move them forward. Sometimes they have a way of expressing something that resonates.

For example, Cindy Ishoy helped me understand how bend is critical to engaging the hind end and the brain. Johanna helped me be more aware of my seat and how it contributes to Carmen's tension (creating a negative feedback loop) and Mike and Nikki helped me see the importance of attention.

Putting together my learning from the clinics and my my regular lessons has really helped me develop as a rider.

So, while I used to be sceptical about attending clinics,  I have learned that they are like every other learning experience. If I am prepared to put aside my baggage and focus on what is being taught I can usually take something away. Are there less effective clinicians? Of course. I have had some bad experiences and have read of others.

 I think if you are planning to attend a clinic google can be your friend. Auditing is also a great way to figure out if that person's style is right for you. Word of mouth can be helpful but I find that I need to ask for details. Learning that someone loved or hated an experience is not helpful until I understand the 'why'.

Here in Nova Scotia clinic attendance can be hit or miss.  I am not sure why. It could be financial or worry about looking like a fool or just lack of time. I have certainly experienced all of these reasons. I admire the people who put on clinics because it is a ton of work and effort with often little financial gain. I really admire the riders who put themselves on display so that they and others can learn from the experience.

I love that the ones that Carole and Jo are bringing in are all Canadian. Brittany Fraser is from NS (and I think I remember her from my early forays into Dressage but let's not talk about how she's young enough to be my daughter...). I was excited to read that Janine Little has experience with showing and training Friesians and Andalusians! I had not really heard of  Jaimey Irwin but in reading about him, he seems to be a straightforward and honest clinician.  All seem to have knowledge to offer and I am hopeful that I will be able to see all of them.

And now for the Giveaway!

I have free Audit passess to the upcoming clinics:

  • Janine Little Dressage Clinic – July 24, 25, 26
  • Jaimey Irwin Dressage Clinic – August 18, 19
  • Brittany Fraser Beaulieu Dressage Clinic – October 27, 28
  • Jaimey Irwin Dressage Clinic – November 3, 4
To win: 
  • comment on this blog (or on the FB post)  about your views or experiences in clinics (good or bad) or what makes you choose a specific clinic to attend. 
  • tell me which clinic(s) you would like to audit 
I will do a random draw and contact the winners by Saturday, July 21st. Even if you cannot benefit from winning I'd still love to hear about your experiences. 

Happy Riding.


Sunday, July 15, 2018

Taking Time

Carmen is not a horse that you can say 'hey, I just have 20 minutes to school so let's go'.

Well not unless you have also like a lot of frustration.
Can't count on this right out of the gate

One of the many things that she has taught me is that I can't afford the time to not take the time.

These days that means working on getting her attention on me.

On Friday I had her in the ring and I spent some time doing the ground work exercises. She was really good but when I mounted I could feel a ton of energy under me.
Basically my FB status summed it up:
Other than one big spook she wasn't 'bad' she just wanted to go. When I asked for a canter she was all 'hell yeah! Let's do this!'  Such enthusiasm was a bit unexpected and it took some faith for me to not try to rein it in.  It was like riding a ADHD rocket:
oh what's that? I should be wary of that. Oh, trot YES watch me go. Whaddya mean slow down? I don't want to slow down, let go of me! Hey, who put that corner there? Phew, it's all right we made it around, sorry about hitting your foot on the post but you really should pay more attention. 

After we went for a hack at the end and I could feel that there was still a lot of gas in the tank.

The next day, Julia was out to ride (she was also there on Friday) and Carmen came out to the ring a lot more on high alert and less interested in tuning in. She was locked on the woods and was not so keen on focusing on me. I actually thought that I might have to get a lunge line but I persisted. And persisted. Finally she gave a big sigh and her whole demeanour changed. It took longer then I would have had patience with in the past. But I recalled Linda's experience and realized that it wasn't about what I wanted, it was about what Carmen needed.

Our ride was not stellar after that (although there were great moments) but I'm positive that taking that time at the beginning prevented me from riding out 3-4 bolts/spooks. I was pleased with my riding too- I managed to not get tense or tight (or not for long). When she gave me the loveliest of counter canter loops I stopped and we stopped there.

Today the ground work took maybe two minutes. She was with me from the get go and that was born out in the saddle. Carmen felt a bit sluggish but came around (pretty sure it's her heat). Julia's sister was riding Irish who's brewing an abscess. I think I rode all of 10 minutes and then we headed to the woods. Irish enjoyed the walk on the soft ground and Carmen led the whole way like a champ while I rode with one hand on the reins (which were looped).

Riding this mare is now FUN. I've waited a long time for that and I'm loving every minute of it. It's totally worth spending time on the ground to set us up for success. 

Monday, July 9, 2018

Killing It

This weekend I was at Five Fires Equestrian Centre for a two day dressage show.

I was excited to go- my goals were to:

  1. remember my tests and not require a reader
  2. Not have any major spooks/bolts (especially at the ramp that is for para riders to mount their horse)
  3. ride like I actually know what I'm doing and not get all defensive and passive. 
Friday, just as we pulled into the lot the heavens opened and torrential rain along with thunder started. I was actually okay with this. I remembered last year when Carmen freaked out over being the arena during a rain storm. After I got her all set up I brought her into the ring to do some ground work. She was looky at a few areas but willing to relax by them -including the ramp. 

I tacked her up and went in to ride. She was okay and normally I would ride her very delicately and try to keep her happy. This time I pushed a bit to ask for more. I am no longer walking on eggshells with her. That's when the ramp and 'C' became huge issues. I won't go into the blow by blow but it was a battle. I was not backing down- Carmen had to give me a try. I rode her in that corner until she gave me something and then I rode out. Like most troublesome behaviour, things got worse but I was determined. And surprisingly calm. Finally she cantered through the corner bent and soft and I immediately halted her and hopped off. She was a ball of sweat and so was I. It was warm, humid and we worked hard. At one point my glasses steamed up. 

I hosed her off and thought 'well on the plus side the rain was a non-issue'. 

Our ride times were after lunch and Shanea was coming out to coach me through the warm up (instead of a lesson). I was so happy we did that. I can get a little frazzled in the warm up and not know what I should be doing. It was so beneficial to have Shanea's voice in my ear helping me to sit up and ride

When it was time for our first test we were ready. I made sure to walk Carmen by the ramp and when she bowed I put on my leg and gave her a light tap with the whip. Instead of freaking she was all 'oh, right!'  

I was so thrilled with our test- it's not that there were not bobbles, but we she was really trying for me. I may or may not have let out a whoop at the end. Shanea videoed the test from above which is really cool.  

Our final score was 64.81 which was good enough for first place out of a class of 4. Judge's comments "Nice ride. Show more in the forward department...lengthens etc. Bending better L then R. Good job."
Which was fair. I was riding for the consistency not really going for it. 

Our second test was just 30 minutes away so I opted to not dismount but instead spent some time walking her and then doing a short warm up. Shanea gave me some quick tips- and we were in again. It felt even better than the other one:

Our final score was 67.03 which was tied for first place. I lost on the collectives and came second. Still I was over the moon. The judge simply said 'good job Teresa'. 

(I should note that the judge was Roz and Carmen and I had her teach us very early in our time together and she judged us last year so is quite familiar with our progress). 

Shanea couldn't come the next day but I was okay with that- I both wanted her help and wanted to try it on my own.  It was much hotter and Carmen was much more mellow on Sunday. I enjoyed my time with her. While grooming her I stopped and laid my head on her back. She cocked an ear and sighed. The warm up was a bit tougher. Carmen felt like she was less in the mood to play and was a bit spooky around the ring. I stayed on task and kept working her, getting her supple and bendy (bendy is a highly technical dressage term). When she was feeling pretty good I decided to leave well enough alone and I walked her up to the ring. I sat there pretty relaxed and finally I felt her give a big sigh and relax. So I think it was a good call to stop drilling and start chilling. 

When it was our turn I wasn't sure how it went. It felt like it took a lot more work but in some ways it felt smoother. I was working hard to make sure that there we no 'I'm tired' spooks. And there weren't any.  Sorry, no media but others told me it looked really good. Our score was 65.92. But the real prize was the judge's comment: " Some nice stuff here! Keep more focus on your horse's ribs and hindquarters- sit into the ride so you can better effect control of the lateral position and hind end engagement. This will allow her more sit in her step. So essential for a PRE. Love your partnership". 

The last comment made me cry- that someone who hadn't seen us regularly can see our partnership filled my heart to overflowing. #menopausal_moment. 

I thought I had an hour before my next ride so I gave her a rest to pee and drink (and I did the same). I tacked her back up and when I came to the ring found out I had the wrong time so only had 7 minutes before my ride. I shrugged and did a quick walk-trot-canter in both directions and headed to the ring. The truth was Carmen was warmed up and more was just going to tire her out and probably frazzle both of us. I went in determined to make our last ride a good one. 

And you guys- she was there for me. All of her. There was no convincing or encouraging her, she was all 'sure, I can do that leg yield for you. Canter? YES!' There was one funny moment- we halted at X, and then turned down to leg yield right, the third time we turned down centre line Carmen was 'oh, right I know- we halt at X, right? And then I'm done!' I giggled at told her to go forward and she did. No pissiness at all. When we did halt at X I leaned forward and gave her a hug. I was exhausted. She started to walk out 'yup, we're done. Let's go. I need a carrot.'. 

I cleaned her stall and got ready to go. In the final ceremony I had two more first places but hadn't seen my last test yet. I turned in my number and picked it up: 72.34!!!! I was thrilled. The comments said 'WOW! Huge improvement! Now you make me love you more!! Keep it up!!

It was our best show to date. And I couldn't be happier with my girl. I think we had a huge breakthrough at this show. Although, when I was putting my boots back on for the awards I saw her looking at me with a peeved expression 'you better not be thinking of getting on me again. That answer is no. Just no.'  I laughed and told her to relax. 

I obviously need to have more faith in both of us. 

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Regardez Moi

(look at me)

I'm still processing some take aways from the clinic but I want to share with you the one that seems to be the most effective for us and fits right into the plan I have built for Carmen.

*****Note that this is my understanding and how I am applying what I am learning. If there are errors they are mine and not the clinicians'. If you are interested I would suggest getting someone who knows it to work with you. ***

During the circle time at the beginning Nikki explained that they do not use the term 'respect' anymore when it comes to horses. She said that they instead use the term 'regard'. And by this they mean that the horse is paying attention to the handler and looking to them for guidance. When a horse spooks and runs over the handler or bumps into them it's not becuase they lack respect, it's because they are not paying any attention to them whatsoever.

I heard a small bell go off in my head when I heard this. When it was my turn I explained that Carmen and I had come a long way and I am working on cleaning up the residual issues. I also said that I didn't anticipate that she would have any concern about the obstacles (except maybe the curtain blowing in the wind) but that she would be concerned about the trees/rocks/birds etc outside of the ring.

Nikki told me to head there with her when it was our turn and she would coach me through getting her focus on me. I brought Carmen up to the corner closest to the piles of wood and trees and began to work on the ground work exercises. She was doing (in my mind) really well with them. Nikki came up and watched for a bit and then said- 'she's not really focussed on you though is she?' 
I looked and saw that, indeed, Carmen was attending to the outside.

Nikki explained that Carmen would tune into me for a brief time and then go back to paying attention to the environment. And that needed to flip: she should be attending to me and only briefly looking outside and then back to me.

The exercise seemed to be pretty simple: apply pressure to do something when she was distracted and remove it when she attended. The pressure would start soft and then increase until I had a response. The goal was that Carmen would be focusing on me and, if distracted,. would come back and soon as I moved or gave a tiny cue.  The simplist is to get her to circle around me bent to the inside. Ask with a soft cue (like moving towards her haunch), to whip or hand approaching, to touching to tapping to strong taps. It was clear that at first Carmen required a strong stimulus. Soon though she would be responding to softest of movement.

Even more interesting is that as we did this she began to soften all over- her eye started blinking rapidly (a cue that they are processing) and then her whole outline lost tension and she stayed quiet and calm.
she chose to walk on the tarp, I did not urge her at all- I just offered it

And pretty much stayed like that for the rest of weekend. With one exception - in the afternoon of the second day we were in a different corner and there was a large white rock. I simply repeated the focus exercise until she tuned back. What was really cool was that as we progressed through the obstacles in hand I no longer needed to 'baby sit'. I could give a length of rope and simply ask her to step on. She could avoid if she chose but instead she would simply go on it.
under saddle- note the attention is on the rock and she's trying
to bend away. I had to up my pressure to get the bend and then relax (PC Donna)

The trick though, was doing this at home although I could see how it would be of great help.

On monday morning I tacked up (I know, riding the poor pony after the clinic, I'm such a meanie!) and walked her up to the ring. I could see right away that she had very little regard for me- her focus was on the tress/grass/birds. So I repeated what I had learned in the clinic. It took a bit, likely for two reasons:
1. This is new and I'm still learning. It's not about the task, it's about the focus. In the past I was happy if she was out on a circle listening to me, now I needed her to be aware of me all the time.

2. this looking around is ingrained and is not going to disappear magically because I went to a clinic. It takes work.

It took about 10 minutes before I could get the response I was looking for in every part of the ring. Then I got on.
total attention while standing in the water box (PC Donna)

I had to repeat the same things riding into the distracting areas- leg on and rein asking to bend keeping the pressure up until she responded (a 'try') and then immediately release. We rested when she gave me a good try.  Honestly it didn't take long and when she cantered through the problem area without a hint of tension I halted her and jumped off.

I repeated it all last night and it happened even faster. Carmen was standing in troll corner with a leg cocked and not because she was tired.

It's all about us regarding each other- it's not about the birds or the leaves or the grass that rustles. If  Carmen and I can stay together when another horse is pushing a flintstone car behind us and another is throwing a tantrum in front we can totally get this.

We're off to a show this weekend at Carol's.  I'm really looking forward to addressing all the spooky areas. That is my goal for the tests: to have her focus 99% of the time. And to get it back the other .1%.

on the moving platform- NBD (PC Donna)

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Cool, Calm and Confident

I am back from a most wonderful weekend.

Carmen and I were off to an 'Ultimate Trail Clinic'. We did one last year and had a blast (well except for the food poisoning). This year my friend Cindy (not the one who rides Irish) brought her pretty cremello morgan mare. I stayed at Cindy's and we brought the horses to the clinic each day. That allowed them to stretch their legs in the field in the evening and be close to home. Summer finally decided to show up this weekend and it was hot. 

I really enjoy playing with obstacles and I was excited to attend the clinic again. I really like how Mike and Nikki approach training. It's all about rewarding the 'try.'

The morning of the first day we all talked about our goals and then worked on groundwork. Nikki helped Carmen and I work on establishing 'focus'. The idea is that Carmen was to have her attention on me and not on all the things that could distract her.

That afternoon we practiced the obstacles in hand. The second morning we reviewed the in-hand work and then did it mounted.
look how hard she's concentrating here

This platform rolled when you walked on it and off it.
she didn't care at all

I was blown away with how well Carmen was. Like totally blown away. She was completely calm, focussed and willing. She enjoyed the obstacles so much and as the weekend progressed began to 'hunt' them. It helped that we used them as places to rest, not just things to practice. Even the tarp curtains blowing around were a non-issue.

Here's Mike explaining how to make the obstacles a great place to be.

So once we established how to do the obstacles I would 'work' in the ring and seek out one of them to 'rest'. Once when Carmen and I were standing on one I asked her if she wanted to step off . She started to and then said 'no thank you. I'm good'.

Her favourite thing was pushing the flintstone car. She really liked making it move and watching the barrels turn. In the far corner there was a 'well'. It was a barrel with a winch attached to a bucket. In the bucket were fake flowers. I would turn the winch and Carmen was intrigued. Then she tried to inspect the bucket. She was sure that there must be a treat in there. I was afraid she would pull out the flowers and wreck it so I quickly lowered it back down. Carmen looked at me:
Hey, bring that back!
No, you are going to eat the flowers.
There's something in there, I tell you. Bring it back, I can find it. 
yes, we are pushing a car past a blowing tarp towards trees

There was a man with a lovely chestnut mare who had a melt down in the ring. She was quite determined that she wasn't going to one end of the ring and nothing was going to make her.  I watched the man ride her and (with a ton of help), deal with her. After I went up to him and explained that Carmen had presented with all the same things that he had dealt with. He looked at me in surprise. I think it gave him hope.

 What I realized is that Carmen is no longer the spooky, uncertain horse she was. She was confident and happy and really relaxed. Despite being in two new places. The location of the clinic was next to a mill- full of equipment, machinery, piles of wood and strange contraptions. She didn't even blink. What she did take exception to was a large granite rock outside the ring. (she still is Carmen after all).   That's what people saw.

On Sunday afternoon we all did a mock show. I asked someone to video our ride. I was surprised to see that it was just 2 minutes- it felt a lot longer. Carmen and I tied for third. :)

I am so happy with both of us right now.