dancing horses

dancing horses

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Persistant or Stubborn?

  1. 1. 
    continuing firmly or obstinately in a course of action in spite of difficulty or opposition.
    "one of the government's most persistent critics"
    synonyms:tenacious, persevering, determinedresolutepurposefuldoggedsingle-mindedtirelessindefatigablepatientunflagginguntiringinsistentimportunaterelentlessunrelenting
  2. 2. 
    continuing to exist or endure over a prolonged period.
    "persistent rain will affect many areas"
    synonyms:constantcontinuous, continuing, continualnonstopnever-endingsteadyuninterruptedunbrokeninterminableincessantunceasingendlessunendingperpetualunremittingunrelentingrelentlessunrelievedsustained

media from my lesson today (spoiler: it was awesome)

I am sure that at least some of the people reading my blog wonder why I keep Carmen instead of sell her.

It has crossed my mind a few times too.

I don't know that I have a good reason that would make my reader go 'oooh, that makes PERFECT sense'.

Part of it is my own inner nature that hates to give up on things. Like ever. Like drove my mother crazy and probably Ed now.

yes we are cantering to that corner, no we're not gonna die,
Yes I am serious. No you can't run away.
While you can see all the tension in her here you can also see
how fit she's become. 

Part of it is that she's not an idiot all the time. If you pick out her stall you will find her very polite. She leads, ties three ways (ground, cross and single). She's easy to do ground work with. She self-loads (that  did not come pre-installed, it was, as they say, after market add on). 

Part of it is that I can do things like this and there is no worry:

All this tells me that she's not without hope. 

That somewhere in there is a sensible and brave horse who can think and be reasonable. 

In our lesson today I spoke to Shanea and told her how I've been feeling. What I love about Shanea is that she doesn't try to talk me out of how I feel but acknowledges that legitimacy of those feelings without making me feel like a sucky rider. 

Our lesson today was awesome, mostly. It gives me confidence that I can help her through this crap she's pulling right now. 

really happy with this halt
 Carmen has a ton of talent. She's beginning to push from behind and float.
ignore the open mouth, she wasn't pulling so perhaps she was chomping? 

And then there's ephemeral and impervious to logic fact that I love this horse. 

I don't know if she 'loves' me but I do know that she is attached and trusts me. And for now that is enough. 

We head to our last show tomorrow and it really could go either way. But the only way to get comfortable to show is to go to shows. So we will go and see what happens. I do have my goals set, which can be summed up as 'ride the damn horse and don't give up'. That may involve alcohol. 

I don't know what that makes me but I'm okay with being called stubborn.....

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Invaders from Mars

It was a beautiful summer day on the farm. I was in the city for work and Ed was home with Guinness. Ed headed outside and realized that he could hear bells.

Now the sound of bells is not new- we've been hearing them for a while from across the street. I quite like the sound. But this time they seemed to be very close.

Meanwhile, I am coming back from lunch when I hear a text come across my phone:

Our neighbours cattle and sheep are over on our property. No one appears to be home at there house. Right now they are over buy the path entrance. Any ideas on what to do?

I did a second take and then dialled his number. I confirmed that indeed there were two bovines and sheep on our property and that the owners weren't home. Ed said that they started to head into our woods. 
We come in peace. Take us to your grass

I was worried that they might get lost or on the road. I told him to call our Julia because she knows everyone. In the meantime I sent the following text to Ed: "take photos for my blog". 

Priorities, amiright? 
And he did so you have him to thank for the visuals. 

It turns out the I was right, not only did Julia know the people but she had their number.  She called them and they came over to collect their wandering pets ( I found out that today which is just so sweet). 

um, I think I might be lost
Ed siad that the big brown one and the sheep were happy to go home but the white one was thinking that he might want to stay. A bucket of feed changed his mind.
you guys are so grounded
I think that that wee sheep with the cattle is so freaking adorable. 

And what did the equine residents think of all this? Pretty sure that this photo sums it up:

omg, what are they? are they dangerous? I think they are armed! 
Carmen was still a bit jazzed up about the whole thing by the time I got home to ride. 
You won't believe what happened today! We were invaded by aliens. They wanted to steal our grass. That god that male servant was here to take care of us. You were no where to be seen! 

The fun never ends around here. 

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Get Back on the Horse

Fall seven times, stand up eight
~ Japanese Proverb~

No I didn't fall off Carmen. 

But after the adenaline got me through Sunday, the last thing I wanted to do was to ride Carmen on Monday. Even incidents that 'end well' can carve away at our confidence. And the reboot of old, long dealt with behaviours (the backing up) and the new behaviour of not standing for the dismount had me a bit worried.

I did it anyway. 

I know some of my readers are concerned for my safety, and not without reason. I wasn't being over-confident. I didn't feel resilient or brave or any of those things that build character. I was actually feeling pretty fatalistic.  Carmen is my horse and I need to ride her. 

Which all sounds like I had a philosophical think tank with myself and came to a conclusion. 

Of course I had done none of those things. Instead, I came home from work, changed my clothes and did my afternoon chores. And then I saddled up Carmen. Ed was making dinner and had a meeting to go to. I said that I wasn't planning to be long but I might be so for him to not wait for me. 

I put on my safety vest (sorry Paula, I know I should wear it every time but it's so hot!). This time I was very careful in my lunging. I have been interpreting her being lazy on the lunge as her being quiet. I think I was wrong to accept that. I think it set up the idea that half-assed is okay. So I made sure that I only accepted and rewarded sharp transitions and forward movement. Running away was shut down. Not that she really tried to do that- just one scoot. When I thought she looked pretty good I lunged a little longer. 

Then I took off the line and started to walk her over the block. She gave a big spook. Which was what had happened Sunday too- but then I figured it was a one-off and she would settle. This time I was not getting on until she was tuned into me. So I did more work in hand. I had a talk with her that went something like this: 
I hear those people too on the other side of the trees. But the truth is that there's always going to be shit going on (birds, butterflies, ATVs, flapping things) and none of it is relevant to what we are doing right now. 

I swung a leg over and honestly, felt a little ill in my stomach. But we marched forward and I was determined to frigging ride my horse. 

She got a little tense in one corner and I had her bend in a circle until she gave. I need to NOT give up on the bending. If it takes a pony club kick so be it. We walked one way and then the other. Another corner caused some consternation and we worked through it. I then picked up the trot and then the canter. 

Honestly, it was nothing to look at from the outside. But I never gave up on my 'ask' and only rewarded the try. I used my voice a lot. I praised her when she was good and growled at her when she wasn't. I cantered everywhere in the goddamn ring because it's mine and she's 8 and we can totally do this thing.

And we did it. As we got going she beacme more tuned in. When she tuned me out I insisted she stay with me. When she got tight I used everything to stay in the saddle and ride her forward. Especially in the canter. She can get strong and tight and bounce me out of the saddle. I sat deep and back and used my thighs to slow her down. Then released and rode that forward. I never let go of the outside rein and the inside was just to make a point and move on. Once I had to tap-tap-tap her with the whip to get into a corner. She became pissy but I figured that she wasn't paying attention to the corner anymore so that was a plus. 

In the end I was able to get us to point of softness and listening. When I dismounted she never moved until my feet hit the ground. We spent some time getting her back to where I had put her.  I sent Ed a text that I was done. I'm pretty sure that he was watching out the window. 

I would love her to love the work we're doing. For now I will settle for obedience. Because once she let's go she can figure out that this actually fun,.  

What about you? Have you found yourself not wanting to ride even though you didn't have an accident? How did you get through it? 

Sunday, August 26, 2018

The Path to Peace: Part 2

First of all, thank you everyone for your kind words over d'Arcy's passing. He was a very special dog and we have so many memories of him. As hard as it was to make the call to the vet I am at peace with it.

In my earlier post: The Path to Peace: Part 1 I talked about applying my plan has been so beneficial in working through stuff with Carmen.

The trick is applying it when in the saddle.

It's easy enough to deal with a bolt when I'm safe and sound on the ground. But being mounted is a whole other kettle of fish.

My whole plan is based on the idea that her behaviour is to achieve escape so in the saddle I can never reward the bolting/spinning/balking with backing off the work. I can only reward her try.

Honestly, this is fucking hard. Mostly because I don't want to die.

look at these trip hazards. Carmen probably. 
Hyperbole aside, I don't want to be hurt. So my plan has been when she's being resistance in a particular corner (it's almost always a corner) my demands go up until she yields, even a little bit. Then the rest comes.

This plan requires me to be very very aware of my own contribution to the issues. Mostly it's my seat. When Carmen gets tight and tense I do the same. This creates a death spiral that doesn't end well. So I've had to consciously suppress my lizard brain and relax my seat. I know intellectually that it's easier to stay with her when my seat is engage and not hovering above the saddle because my legs and seat are so tense but it ain't easy. 

It goes something like this;

Carmen gets tight and tense. 
Lizard brain: oh god, she's gonna blow, I better get ready. 
Carmen's Lizard Brain:  see you agree with me- this is gonna be bad. 
Me: relax the seat and give the inside rein 
Lizard brain:  NOOOOOOOOOOOOO. 
Me: just.fucking.do.it. 
*relaxes seat*
Carmen: oh, I guess it's okay. phew. 

At this point I'm pretty much as the stage of 'conscious competence' with this. Which means that I can do it when I think of it. The other part is to not avoid anywhere because she's reacted. It's okay if I don't go there from the beginning and work my way there. Although I try to not do that either. 

I use the ground work to get her with me and then mount. At the very least it gives me a sense that she can go everywhere and be calm. This tells me that when she's great on the ground and not in the saddle that I'm on the right track of it being work-avoidance rather than fear. 

Interestingly enough I get rides where everything is fine. Like my lesson the other day. She was tight in places but worked really hard at listening. 

she's starting to figure out the lengthen and like it
This morning I got ready to ride early. I lunged her first and she was perfect. And by perfect I mean completely relaxed and tuned in. So I got on and it started okay but on the second time walking around the outside she gave a big spook and a bolt. I think at a butterfly. I realized that I should probably have worked her a little harder on the lunge and, as we were spinning, decided that I would dismount and lunge her.

Except that she refused to stand. She would halt, and as soon as I went to dismount would start to bolt. It was getting really hairy. She was backing up (which is a throw back to two years ago) and just generally not letting me get off safely. Fortunately, Ed was outside and I called him to help. He came running (I never call him) and I asked him to hold her while I dismounted. As soon as he took the reins she stood. 

I hopped off and she cocked her hind leg to relax. 


Let me be clear, I actually wasn't angry. But I was done with this shit. Just done. She doesn't get to decide if she's ridden, where we go or what we do. Period. 

I put the lunge back on and I put princess' ass to work. She tried to bolt a couple times and once there were heel marks in the footing where she dragged me. I didn't care. I worked her up and down the ring until she was 'yes ma'am'. 

I then got back on. Walked 3 steps from the block, halted and got off. Then walked back to the block and got back on. 

We worked up and down the ring. I wasn't backing down and there were a few instances of me doing a pony club kick on the inside to get a bend. 

Funnily enough my seat stayed relaxed pretty much the whole time. And my leg stayed on. When she balked I booted her forward or gave her a smack with the crop. When she was good I praised and we took a break. A couple times she tried that whole backing up crap and I just backed her ass around the ring and then booted her forward. In the end I had her listening and in front of my leg. She wasn't super relaxed but I didn't care. 

I halted her and leaned forward to dismount and she started to move off. 
I booted her right into a canter from a stand still and made her canter 5-6 times around the circle. I then asked her again to halt and let me off. We repeated this a few times. If she moved I immediately booted her forward into a canter and around we went. If she didn't want to stand still, that was fine with me. After 3-4 times of this she didn't move a muscle when I dismounted. I sent Ed a quick text that I was done so he could head out to church. I figured he was waiting to make sure I was okay. 

So what is going on? There are two possibilities- one my plan isn't working. Or I am dealing with a worsening behaviour because her old tricks aren't working. It's not unusual for behaviour to escalate before it improves. I believe that is what is happening here. And the reason I believe it is because of how calm she is on the ground. It's clear that she is not frightened of the ring. I also can see her learning to relax through the corners so I know that idea is settling in. 

She doesn't want to and is throwing a tantrum. All the things that used to work are failing to produce the relief she's seeking. When she's with me it feels so good. But peace is not alway easily won. I've had to dig deep in myself and work hard on my riding. Not to mention courage. And I have to be prepared to get off and work her from the ground. All of this I am doing to the best of my ability. 

The timing sucks because our last show is this coming weekend. But oh well. I will throw my safety vest in the trailer just in case. What could go wrong anyway? 

Friday, August 24, 2018

Celebrating a Life

Today we let go of the most awesome of Border Collies- d'Arcy. 
One of my most favourite photos of the most perfect of dogs and horses

He was 14 years old and his life had caught up with him. He was having so much difficulty staying upright and was in some pain so I called the vet's and made the appointment. It was hard a decision but I was at peace with it. 

We are very sad but it was not a tragic death. d'Arcy lived his whole life with us and was loved and cared for that entire time. His passing was peaceful and without trauma. Ed, myself and Guinness were with him as he breathed his last. That was a gift to him and us.

I picked d'Arcy out as a wee black and white blob in a kennel overlooking the ocean.
shortly after he came home. Such an adorable face. 
He drove me nutty with his energy and drive. I spent many many hours walking him, trying, futilely, to tire him out. Rarely was he clean. And groomed.

When we got him our children were really into playing hockey. d'Arcy went with us to to rinks and he began to get into the game. It was amazing to watch him- he was following the puck not the players. When the ref would blow the whistle to stop the game he would sit and when she/he blew to start the game he would stand up. If a goal was scored he would run to the centre line, often before the goal was called. In one game, there was a goal that was waved off and some irritated dad yelled out 'ask the dog, HE was paying attention'. I'm sure that he missed going to the hockey rinks.

d'Arcy would accompany me to the boarding barns we were at and he would keep his eye on me the whole time. He took his assigned tasks very seriously. When my mom was on oxygen and stayed at my house he would sleep outside her door. If her oxygen hose slipped off her nose the machine would beep and he would go in and nudge her away until she fixed it. No one taught him that. I wouldn't even know how to go about it. He just knew. 

He also loved children- he was at his happiest hanging out with the kids.  He was a truly gentle soul. 

even looking after canine 'kids'

Sometime his energy got him into trouble. I used to say that his personal motto was 'it's just a flesh wound'.  Ed called him the 'million dollar dog.'
but why can't I go on the hike with you? I'm fine now. 
he loved the beach too

d'Arcy and I spent hours hiking over the farm. I used to joke that we bought the farm just for him. 

both he and Belle loved their new home. 
d'Arcy had a way of looking at you that was goofy and loveable all at the same time. 

totally d'Arcy. No other dog could quite capture this expression

He was the best of dogs and we will miss him so much. Not sure if it's even hit me yet.

But now he's not in pain anymore and he can run like the wind.

Just like the old days.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

The Path to Peace. Part 1.

an older photo but one of my favourites

“Horsemanship is the art of mastering our own movements, thoughts, emotions and behavior. Not the horses.” Mark Rashid
I had a different title for this post but I found out that I have used it before (I am now at the point where I have to double check on previous posts. #notoriginal). Aslo, it has become rediculously long so I have split it into two.

Since I started working the plan on Carmen's spooking I have seen it working but it's not easy. I also realized that I have probably not laid it out but have referenced it a few times. It took a bit of time to develop but that was okay. Carmen is a complicated horse and I can over think things so in that we are well matched.

For the purpose of this I'm going to not address the 'true' spooks which are in response to truly scary/startling things (like deer runningthrough brush). I'm going to talk about the learned behaviour of spooking to get out something she doesn't like.

Carmen, for many reasons, finds working in the ring stressful. Some of it relates to her history before me, some of it is our history and some of it is that she just has many many feelings, often all at once. The spooky spot in the ring moves around but is usually one (or more) of the corners. Which corner(s) can depend on the day. When Carmen is working it creates a bit of stress and she looks to relieve that stress. Her go to move has been to spook and to escalate that behavour until she gets the relief she is seeking. It's pretty firmly entrenched. It's not like she's thinking "oh I knw if I'm bad enough she will come off so here hold my beer'. She's simply reacting.

This meant that I had to help her find a way to acheive the same result with a different behaviour. Because the truth is that she will  never ever stop spooking at the bushes/birds/trees/invisible monster in the ring because it's never been about those things.

I had to figure out what were things that are called 'setting events'. Essentially things that make the behaviour more likely to occur. And the things that reinforced the behaviour. I ended up making what is called a 'competing pathways diagram'. Essentilly it boils the behaviour down into what I want, what I don't want and what I can live with, along with the consequences that maintain the behavour (either for good or ill).

Look, I know that this really nerdy, just bear with me.

What it all boiled down to was that I had to figure out how to reward what I wanted and not reward what I didn't want. Part of my strategy included using lunging/groundwork especially when windy and/or she was in heat. In my ground work I'm trying to help her find a different answer to pressure other than 'run away'. And on the ground it's really working.

I don't know if Johanna remembers this but she got us started on the
groundwork and how it helps way back in May 2015. 

For example, earlier this week I took her up to lunge and, even though I was dressed for it, I had little intention of riding. My goal was have her seek out to rest and relax rather than to go into self defence mode. I rewarded every time she stretched out and relaxed her topline with praise and/or rest and when she was tight and rushing I just calmly kept her working forward. I would have her standing and if she was relaxed I left her alone. As soon as her head came up and she became rigid I calmly made her go forward until I saw relaxation in her body and then offered a rest again. I could see her really starting to figure this out. To the point where we standing in the spooky corner (I was about 15 feet away) and something rustled. Carmen's head started to come up and then I saw her stop, put it back down and peek at me as though to say 'this is it right?'.  
from the trail clinic this summer. See-not afraid of stuff

I really regret not having a strong understanding of ground work earlier in my riding life. It has made such a difference. It has helped me to understand horse behaviour and the link to my own. I am so much more cognizant of my emotions and how they translate to my body language. Horses can read us a mile off and react to what they read. By learning to keep my body calm but not submissive or too soft I can affect how Carmen feels about things. Often when I am nearby and something startling happens she will look at me to see how I react before reacting herself. That seems huge to me.
jsut a horse, standing in a water box, waiting for me to decide what was next

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Three for All

I hope that I didn't sound down in my last post- to be honest I'm not. I believe that I am chasing the last of Carmen's demons and am pretty sure that I am on the right track. In a fit of bravery I sent in the entry form for the last show. We're doing First Level 2 &3. If we're going to crash and burn we might as well go down swinging. 

down in the scary part, not sure she could retract her neck any further

Saturday it rained all day- which was good because we really needed it. I used the day to catch up on some household chores and I made a batch of bread & butter pickles. 

love the sweet and salty flavour of these pickles. 
Sunday I had to wait for the drizzle to stop. It didn't completely but I decided to go out and ride anyway. My first plan was to leave Irish out but as I was bringing her in he decided that life was far too exciting and began to gallop about, charging at us and then ducking away. Carmen and I had a discussion about what she was to do when that happened but she was pretty good. So Irish was locked in his stall for the duration. I also realized that he probably needed a workout since he hasn't been ridden in over a week. 

I decided to lunge Carmen first. Usually I lunge to see her 'mood' and if she's quiet I stop. This time I decided to push her a bit to see how she would react. I worked her from the ground until I was confident that she was tuned in. It took a while but I was patient. That meant that when I rode she was more prepared to listen. She was difficult about the far end and I just rode her through it, relaxing and rewarding her tries. We did some canter departs and changes of lead and some lengthens and they were pretty good. 

After that I sent Ed a text telling him that I was done with Carmen but was going to ride Irish and I asked him to send Guinness out. I've been wanting to work on G being out while I ride and hack but haven't been able to prioritize it. Irish is well used to dogs being around so it seemed like a good time to try it. 

Guinness was a bit confused but really well behaved. He came in the ring but I sent him out and he sat outside. Interestingly enough Irish was freaked out by the same side of the ring as Carmen was. I am thinking that something has moved into the brush there. I will have to take the brush out and discourage this- I don't want any burrowing creatures near my ring. Down the road there are two cattle (cows or steers, not sure) and a sheep. I suspect it's a 4H project. Anyway we heard the sheep start to bleat and Irish kind of lost his mind over that. I realized the sheep was having issues because one hers (his?) herd mates was gone- a guy was walking one of the cows down the road. So I had to focus on keeping Irish's focus. No one does ADHD like Irish. In his younger days I would have been at risk and frankly I had a few moments when I thought I was going to be dumped by the 'old guy' after surviving the young one. 

Guinness came in to 'help' when I was getting after Irish and I shooed him out. He went out and thought about it for a bit and then came back in and tried 'heeling' to me. I let him do that because A) it was adorable and B) it is a useful thing for him to do. 

After I took Irish and Guinness for a short walk around the field. G was really good and stayed right behind us.  Irish was a bit stiff but tried to behave. I let him trot up the hill and he was all 'whee'. Carmen was less impressed with all this and was not happy being left behind. 

Not sure who is more bemused by this new development

Saturday, August 18, 2018

The Girl with the Curl

There was a little girl,
            Who had a little curl,
Right in the middle of her forehead.
            When she was good,
            She was very good indeed,
But when she was bad she was horrid.
~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow~

After Sunday's ride I ended up giving Carmen three days off. I wasn't feeling the best and decided to just have a bit of a break. I also figured that a break for her in the middle of summer would not be a bad thing.  Thursday I decided to lunge her before getting on but she was fine. It was a good ride. She started off pretty sluggish but as we progressed she became more forward and up. Not in a bad way, in a good way. I was pretty pleased to feel her offering lengthens on the trot diagonal and encouraged her to do so. 

Friday I was to have a lesson. I started warming her up before Shanea arrived and she was pretty mellow. Shanea arrived and I was telling her about how things had been going. I started to walk up towards M while telling Shanea that I've been really focussing on sitting up and back on my rides, especially when she tightens, when, suddenly, Carmen startled and spun the other direction. I had been sitting up so went with her, although losing my stirrups. WTF?! I said. That came out of no where and there was nothing to indicate what had startled her. She walked back to M pretty nicely but was definitely feeling jazzier. So I put her into trot and we started to work. I laughed and said 'see, good thing I was sitting up!'

It was a very interesting lesson. Every time she hesitated or balked I applied the theory of 'more forward'. Soon we had this lovely, swinging trot. It felt great- not rushed, pushing from behind.

We picked up a canter and headed down toward A. Just as we were coming up the corner she began to stiffen her front legs and crow-hop. She then spun and took off. Where the fuck are we going? I asked her but she just kept spinning in different directions. I steered her towards the fence and made her come to a stop.

at least I'm sitting up.....

We came back to that corner because I'm just not buying that she's frightened. In fact, she didn't even feel frightened. It felt more like she was looking to get out working. Which is fair, because in the past that would have worked. But now I'm not giving in and the only thing that leads to a break is listening.

And so we had a lesson with so many really good moments with some rather hairy ones.  We played with the counter canter loop and it was pretty easy for her. Even going into the corner that she had labeled as 'dangerous'.
so we had these moments...("what is this? We go across the diagonal
not back!')

....and these ones (ooh, now I get it. Easy peasy')

Our canter lengthens were pretty good as well- and by good I mean not wild and she came back pretty easily.  Even the trot lengthens were not so bad- really good from F to H, not so hot from M to K. The difference being in Carmen's head, not her body. 

soft, listening, forward. 

We practiced the leg yields to X and back to the rail. At first she couldn't focus on what I was asking and go annoyed. The solution was to drop to walk to get the result I wanted (actually leg yielding) and then were able to stay in trot. 

In the end it was a good, albeit fraught, lesson. I gave breaks and rewards for every 'try'. For every evasion the leg came on and we went FORWARD NOW. We ended with her relaxed and chilling in the 'scary corner' which shows just how she truly felt about it. 

I'm actually thinking of riding in some small spurs. Not to get the go but to have some teeth when she blows against my inside leg. 

When I was young my mother used to recite that poem to me. I think I have an inkling of what she was trying to tell me. I know that talented horses can be difficult. I also know that we are making progress. Of course I want it all right now. I don't want her to lose her fire, I just want to have more control over it.  What Carmen has to realize is that I've had a lot more practice. 

Monday, August 13, 2018


I've been doing a lot of thinking lately about confidence and how central it is to riding and training.

Before Carmen I'd always had young and green horses that, while they didn't know much of anything, were pretty naturally trusting and confident. So when I faced it first with Carmen I didn't recognize it at all. Even when Johanna said 'she has no confidence in herself' I agreed but didn't really think about it too much.  I saw it as a spooking issue, an evasion issue and/or a trust issue.  And of course, because life is never simple, it was also those things.
a few days after she arrived home in 2015. Man, she has filled out since then.
Here she looks like a startled fawn.  

Only now that we're approaching the other side am I seeing how truly lacking in self-confidence she was. She also lacked all confidence in me, the rider. She had zero faith that what I was asking her to do was possible.

And so she would fight me. On everything. And I would either give in or join the battle.

Confidence is a fragile thing. It's easy to chip away at it and that's what happened in the beginning with Carmen. I began to doubt everything. Slowly, with so much help I can't even begin to describe, we began to build a  confidence that is on a much stronger foundation.

I am more likely to try to figure out what she needs. I'm not always right and I'm not always that thoughtful. Sometimes I'm more 'for fucks sake horse, just canter into the corner'.  And frankly, sometimes that's warranted. Like I say, ad nauseum, it's a line between being in charge and joining the fight.

t's been fun seeing Carmen's confidence grow. We have set backs (looking at my last show) but we get it back more easliy. I am less likely to fall down the rabbit hole of doom. I don't know if I can describe how it's different. It just is-  in the way she carries herself and how she wants to check out new things rather than shut down or run away.

I know that I have a tendency to treat every ride as though it's of utmost importance. Even if I just want to relax. I'm sure that this is very irritating. For god's sake, Teresa, it's just a ride. Lighten up! I'm not saying whether this tendency is good or bad. It just is.

One of my biggest worries has been what will happen if Carmen is scared out on the trail (mostly if we're alone).

I found out on Sunday.

We finished schooling in the ring and I dropped the gate to go for a hack (note that I only do this on my property and when Ed is home. Maybe someday I'll feel okay with going out on my own). We were fine at first walking by the field, but she was more alert than usual in the woods.  When we were walking along the edge of our property there was a loud crashign and banging in the woods on the other property. Carmen spun away but stopped when I asked. We were surrounded by trees and brush and I didn't want a mad bolt. She was rigid and was dancing in place.

In my head I assessed this for several minutes but I'm sure it was just seconds. I decided that while I could (possibly) ride this out, I knew that Carmen would be much braver with me beside her than on her. I hopped off which surprised her (note to self- practice this next time when conditions are controlled). But she stood with me, clearly agitated and looking but not trying to get away. I spoke soothingly to her and kept my body relaxed. I figured that if she did get away she would run back to the barn since she knew this trail very well. But she didn't even try to run away. While clearly worried she stayed on a slack rein (another note to self- maybe bring a lead line with me next time).

Finally she let out a breath amd we started tp walk along the path. When she was a bit relaxed I found a spot to get back and we walked some more heading towards the barn. Down close to the edge of the property I could feel her getting agitated and I hopped off again. We walked home and up to the barn and she stayed behind me in perfect step. She didn't try to step on me or pass me.

By the time we made it back to the barn she was completely relaxed. In the past she would have been tight and reactive. Instead she was completely chill.

I don't know what frightened her but I'm going with it being a deer (it was large so it was either that or a bear but I don't think it was a bear).  I remember when Irish was green I would hop off and walk him.  Heaven knows we've done enough groundwork on this. I have no worries about hopping off either- I believe that doing this helped boost her confidence that I'm there for her when she needs me to be. Even better was that we didn't have any bolting. So far I've managed to keep the hacking out safe and fun and I want to keep it that way.

What about you- what struggles and triumphs have you had with your horse's confidence? Or has it been there all along and you just need to help it grow?