dancing horses

dancing horses

Saturday, September 29, 2018


The good news is that this week we finally we had the rain we so badly needed. The bad news is that it interfered with a lesson I had booked mid-week. It was rebooked for Friday which was supposed to be dry but dawned dark and rainy. It was supposed to clear up so I reassured Shanea that it would be fine for 11.

Which it sorta was. Foggy and misty is fine, right? My farrier also called the night before and said he wanted to come in the morning to do the horses. Which meant that my morning got a whole lot busier.

Before 11 I took Carmen up to the ring to do some lunging and other ground work. I also let her graze in the 'spooky areas'. When Shanea arrived I explained my idea of having me walk beside her and do what I do from the ground if Carmen acted up. She thought that it was a good idea. I am not sure if it worked or not. Carmen was much better over all so maybe it helped?

Anyway, Shanea mounted and asked Carmen to walk off and do some small circles. Suddenly she hopped off. "I'm not happy with how's she feeling, I want to start over." 

I could definitely see Carmen's tension and how she was being over-reactive but I wasn't sure what her plan was. It turned out that her plan was to walk Carmen back to the mounting block  and ask her to relax and get back on. She repeated this two more times when I saw Carmen give a big sigh at the mounting block and release the tension. I never would have thought of that.

The goal was to have Carmen go forward in a relaxed manner- accepting the contact without chomping. It was interesting to watch the process. You can really see when she's tight in her neck and back. Even her lips are tight and curled back from her teeth. I saw it come and go and finally it was just gone. Carmen's stride became swinging and her ears went floppy.

Do you ever watch someone ride your horse and think damn, that horse is stunning? I could see how well Carmen can move. Shanea started playing with her lengthens and,  holy crap, that mare can stride out when she's being ridden but a really good rider.

Shanea just asked for a few strides and then patted Carmen.

What I didn't see was an unhappy horse. I didn't see a mare who hated dressage or was sore. I saw a sensitive mare being ridden with tact and finesse and enjoying what she was doing.

Then it was my turn to get on. I could feel a difference in her right away. She back felt so mobile and I had to really focus on moving with her. Carmen was forward and felt powerful. When I look at the videos of my ride I can see that I'm not terrible but I need to really loosen my shoulders and stop riding so defensively. I think I might have been putting too much pressure on her. Even though I didn't intend to I might have been pushing her more then she was comfortable. I need to find a happy medium.

I think I need to a centred riding lesson. I need to work on myself. I'm not going to a place of self-hatred but more of self-realization. Carmen has a ton of talent and I need to buckle down myself to ride her.

And in today's cute video here's one of Guinness. When I drag the ring he 'heel's beside the tractor until I stop. Then he gives me his toy so I can throw it.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018


So I've been doing a lot of thinking and analyzing.

(okay, at least try to act surprised at that!)

I am not really any further ahead then I was before but my head is much calmer.

I really want to get in this space not the other one

I also spoke with Shanea and reviewed the ride. She didn't think that I made any mistakes and she felt that sending her forward was the only answer. We discussed safety and I said that I was going to work on ground work until Shanea came again (Ed is away so I am literally all alone). 

I was 99% convinced that Carmen's responses was not based on fear but decided to test it a bit. Carmen is really good with the ground work so I decided to introduce a distraction- I let the dogs be out while I worked with her. 
 I figured that this would accomplish 2 things: 
1. help me work her through being distracted
2. get the horse and the dogs used to being together and no one dying. (#1 goal of working with animals: avoid death). 

I expected the ground work to go well and it did. She gave zero cares about the dogs, even when they wandered into the ring. And, even more importantly, when they moved around in the tall grass. 

this is the most tense she got. Guinness is in the grass behind her. 

I decided to finish with getting her to stand and throwing the ball for Guinness. I used to do this with Irish when he was a three year old and it helped a lot. After startling a few times (but nothing big) she yawned and chewed and cocked a leg. 

I took her down to the end of the ring that has been causing all the issues and see if she would graze. Carmen will not graze if she's tense. She just stands there rigidly looking around. If she's less tense she will bite the grass and then raise her head quickly to look around. You can see the tension in the way she chews. But when I offered the grazing she sighed, dropped her head and went to work. 

Guinness wanted me to throw the ball and Ripley (my son's dog) was hunting mice in the grass. I called Ripley to see how Carmen would react (and to make sure that the dog didn't wander too far). You can see the explosion in the video below:

See it was so fast it was almost like she didn't react at all. 

I threw the ball for Guinness down in the grass that she was acting so terrified of the last few rides. Once again look closely because you might miss her reaction:

I feel vindicated on my hypothesis that her reactions are not being driven by fear. She lunged fine as well so I have ruled out discomfort (well largely but I don't see any glaring reason to get the vet out). 

Which leads me to believe it's more about evasion then anything. 

I know that I can get her to do almost anything from the ground but translating it to under saddle has not been so smooth. So Shanea and I are planning to try to combine the two to see if we can get Carmen over this hump. 

I'll let you know how it goes.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Security Blanket

Okay so this is me in a quandary.

After watching Shanea ride on friday I knew I had to ride Saturday. To be honest my stomach was in knots and I was feeling apprehensive. However, I tacked her up and put on the lunging equipment and up we went. It was super windy which doesn't help either.

And she was fine. Mellow and easy. There was one spook later in the ride but she immediately surged forward - it was literally:
*Carmen stops and bounces on her front legs* What the F horse? Oh, we're going to head right up to it? All righty then. 
I am sure I didn't look like this, but I felt like it. 

Other than that it was a good ride and I was happy. So was Carmen.

Then there was today. Ed was not home but I wanted to ride in the morning. I brought Irish in and normally Carmen follows along. This time she opted to stay in the field so I went and brought her in. Her manners getting caught, led, groomed and tacked up were impeccable. The first few minutes of the ride were fine. We were headed down to the area where she knocked the board out (we had gone by it a couple times already) when she did a big 'nope'. 

I didn't worry about it at first- I put my leg on and then I booted her forward. The next thing I know I am in a spiral with Carmen and she is essentially saying fuck you.

She even felt like she could rear. Which is a non-negotiable for me. If she ever rears on me she is for sale. I booted her forward and growled. Carmen was being a right pig to be honest. I was feeling very unsafe and decided to dismount to lunge her.

Except when I tried to get off she threatened to bolt. (sigh, that again). I tried a couple times and it was not working.

I was feeling flustered, frightened and alone. I was on a horse that felt unsafe to ride and unsafe to get off of. There was no one around to help. I wished that Shanea was there to help me feel secure. I wished someone was riding with me. I wished Ed was home.

So I did the only thing I could think of to do: I booted her forward into a canter. That got her moving and I steered her on a circle. I wouldn't let her gallop and I controlled the bed but by god we were moving forward. I was able to gradually move the circle down the ring. After what felt like hours of cantering (probably a solid 10 minutes) I was able to bring her back to trot and we went to work.

when in doubt go forward
It was a ride with a lot of cantering and a lot of me booting her forward when she balked. WE worked up and down the ring At first I only used that area of the ring for our walk breaks. And then, fuck it, we went into that goddamn corner so many times at walk, trot and canter that even I was sick of it.

In the end the ride was largely fine but I am not happy with how it started and I am not happy with feeling unsafe.  This mare needs to get over herself and get moving forward. She is not afraid- of that I am sure. At the end of the ride she was tuned in and listening and no longer paying attention to potential monsters. I was determined that there would be no spooks and other than the first of the ride there were not.

The thing is that we've had some wonderful, consistent rides this year and I'm not sure what is making the wheels come off one day vs another. Maybe I dealt with it correctly. Who knows? Not me, that's for sure. I'm just dealing with it as it comes.

And I'm open to advice but if you write just ride relaxed and with confidence I will hunt you down and slap you with a fish. Because I am - I didn't start the ride today with anything other than that.

After in the barn she was relaxed and happy. I needed to relax so I let the dogs out and tacked up Irish and we headed for the woods. Carmen was less than happy to be left in the barn but she had hay and I  ignored her protests. I was super impressed with how good the dogs were because this is new for them (we have my son's dog while he's away). Guinness was trying to figure out how to get me to throw the ball.
Guinness: now how is this going to work? 

It was fun and just what I needed. I can't believe I haven't done this before. Irish is my security blanket. As I rode I reflected on how far he's come. I have come off Irish many more times then I have with Carmen. There were lots of times I felt unsafe on him and he is responsible for my broken finger and some pretty hefty bruises. Now I take him out and head right out to the woods. But he never really had a 'nope' in him.  So I don't know if the deliberateness of Carmen's behaviour is better or worse?

I am going to add in more hacking out on Irish into my routine. We both can benefit.

this view is good for my soul

Friday, September 21, 2018

The Dragon Tamer

And all at once summer collapsed into fall
~Oscar Wilde~

The weather has become cool and there is a definite change in the seasons and the horses are feeling it. With Carmen it's not really evident in the paddock unless you look close. But in the saddle it's definitely evident. 

Today I had a lesson booked and I figured that lunging first would be a good thing. When Shanea arrived she suggested that she ride Carmen and I thought that was a great idea. I've been wanting her to ride Carmen and do some training. I also thought that today it would be good so that she can feel what I feel when Carmen is tense. 

It turned out to be a very valuable lesson for me. I still wore the ear piece and Shanea talked through what she was doing.  Carmen was clearly confused when Shanea led her over to the mounting block. I ran down to get a sweater (the wind was cool) and came back ready to listen and take photos/video. 

I'm going to share the videos but please, no negative comments as this is not me riding and it's not fair. 

Clearly from the beginning Carmen was not so certain that work was on her agenda.

 You can see that she does not think that Shanea is the boss of her.  When the initial resistance did not work she began to escalate. 

Yes, my horse broke my fence with her arse. And then became terrified of what she had wrought. 

  That is the backing up she does when she doesn't want to go forward. Well I wasn't happy about the behaviour, I was happy that Shanea was experiencing what I do at times. It may not look like much but it really feels like you are being flung around. In fairness about the fence, when I checked the post  was rotten where the board was so it wouldn't have taken much to pop it out. 

It was great to watch Shanea just stay cool and ride it out. She corrected Carmen when needed and always gave her a place to go. When Carmen gets like this the base of her neck retracts like a turtle and gets rock solid. Getting her to lengthen it out was Shanea's mission. 

I love how she was super clear and always giving. She also noted that Carmen gets really stiff and hard on the outside rein- like she's using it as a crutch to push against. She corrected initially by using shoulder fore and then as things progressed by flexing her lightly to the outside to get her to release and then asking for the inside bend. I would have been sceptical to try it but it worked. 

slight flexion to the outside 

riding shoulder fore to get straight

It wasn't like Carmen softened and then became all pliable and easy. It came and went. But as the ride progressed flailing Carmen became less and less evident. 

I wish I had that seat. And timing. And confidence

I was watching Carmen's eye and was seeing it soften and she began to tune into Shanea. Here you can see her react but comes back much quicker (I also put the board up so that it was not an issue).

Shanea is getting Carmen to flex her neck and relax. It seemed to really work.

In the end we had trot and canter work that was soft and flowing and in a good place. 

Shanea simply said 'she's so much fun to ride'. Well mostly. when she's like that for sure. The ride was well over an hour and Carmen wasn't even breathing hard. Neither was Shanea.

Me, I was exhausted. :)

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Unleashing My Inner 12 Year Old

Most of the time I ride alone. When Cynthia and Julia were able to come regularly I didn't mind because I had company some of the time. The nice thing about returning to showing is it allowed me to reconnect with old riding buddies.

One of those people is Tanya. Back in the day she showed her chestnut mare, Duchess and I showed my chestnut gelding, Irish. It was fun.

Now here we are with new horses. Tanya has a lovely dark bay QH mare and has been cleaning up at the shows. They are both so steady and harmonious. Tanya also doesn't live that far from me (30 minutes by trailer) so I invited her to come and play with Carmen and I on Sunday:

The weather all weekend has been fabulous- 25-27 degrees every day. It cries out to be enjoyed. Sunday morning I was walking the dogs when she texted that she was on her way. I took a short cut with the walk and headed back because I had been super lazy in the morning and still hadn't dragged the ring. I did my quickest drag ever and hurried inside to put on my riding clothes. I was just organizing the barn when she arrived.

Irish was so excited while Carmen affect indifference.
Irish: Oh hai! You are new. You are so cute. Are you staying? You'll like it here. I can show you where all the good grass is and we can gallop around. The servants are too bad, you just have to remind them of things sometimes. Do you know Duchess? I really liked her. She was nice. How's she doing? 

Suzi: .......

Carmen:  Irish! Stop it. You're embarrassing me. 

We let Suzi settle in her stall (I love having a guest stall) and we had a quick coffee/tea and chatted. Then we tacked up the girls and headed up to the ring. Tanya got to see how easy and well behaved Carmen is around home. Poor Irish was quite broken hearted to be left behind.
Aren't they cute?

Carmen was a bit tense to start but with reminders about bending in the corner and the distraction of a new horse she quickly forgot to worry about things.

My focus the last few rides has been to really tackle the stiffening through the corners, especially when we are coming around the diagonal. I've been adding in 10 m circles in each corner. This has helped me to be laser focussed on the bend and using Carmen's anticipation of what is coming to my advantage. It's been working too.  I was quite happy with how well we have been working together the last few rides. Tanya also got to see how Carmen can flow when she's relaxed through the back. We practiced our counter canter and it was just so easy.

Suzi was looking really good too and didn't seem bothered by the new surroundings. There's a lot to look at from my ring and she seemed to take it all in stride. Tanya noted that she was more 'up' than normal. Which shows that how a horse feels to the rider and how she looks can often be too very different things.

At one point we stopped and rested the horses and had a chat. Carmen thought we were done and was not impressed by the return to work.

Carmen: um, what are you doing? 

Me: we just had a rest and now we're going to do some more work. 

Carmen: Excuse me, but I think that you meant to say 'great work Carmen, now let me give you an apple and turn you back out'. 

I knew what was coming and I wasn't surprised when she gave a large spook a few minutes later. With a Ha! I'm on to this game Missy!  I put her in a tight circle and made her work hard and then went back to what we were doing. That was the end of that.  I finished with working on a few walk-canter-walk transitions. The walk to canter is pretty straightforward for her but the down one is harder and she trots a few strides. But I'm not too worried about it at this point- we were just able to actually canter straight in June.

After we rode a little longer we decided to go for a hack in the woods. Carmen was great about dropping the gate but when Suzi left before her she got in a snit and would not stand while I reached for the dressage whip (it's great for swishing flies). When I asked her to stop she decided to back up and after a little bit of this I said "oh back up? Sure. I love backing up. Let's go!' and backed her all the way to the end of the ring. This time when I walked her forward and asked her to whoa she stopped like a civilized horse.

Tanya wanted to play on the bridge and Carmen was happy to demonstrate. Suzi was not so sure about it but managed to get over part of it. We headed off to the woods with Carmen leading the way. Turns out that Suzi has not been on a woods trail before. I was proud of how good Carmen was leading the way and not being concerned about anything. Even a squirrel that ran across the path. I reassured her that it was armed and she appeared to believe me.

my favourite view

We stopped and I tried to take a selfie of us. Suzi did not want to stand still and I suck at selfies so it wasn't a total success:
Add caption

We did a couple loops through the woods and then walked up to the barn. Tanya wanted to go back up and try the bridge again. I wondered how Carmen would take leaving the barn and heading back up to the ring but she seemed resigned to her fate by then and walked up with just a sigh.

We stood there and coached Tanya through the bridge and she was successful!

trip-trap, trip-trap over the bridge
We walked back down to the barn and dismounted. (Carmen: thank god)

It was a great day. I loved playing ponies with Tanya. I was thrilled with how Carmen stepped up and was the 'grown up' horse. We definitely are going to be doing it again. 

If you are on FB there is a hilarious parody about old ladies and ponies here. 

Friday, September 14, 2018

Reach for It

Carmen and I are embracing this idea of easing into fall. Work is ratcheting up and so I wasn't able to ride again until Wednesday. I also had booked a lesson for then.

Julia came out to ride with us. I haven't seen her for a while and she has gotten a job a few hours away so Irish will likely not be seeing much of her. We are happy for her and sad for us.

Carmen was pretty mellow right from the beginning. It was such a good ride- she was quiet but listening and rarely distracted by the things outside the ring. I am loving wearing the spurs because when she does start looking out in the corners I can reinforce my bending aids without using excessive (and futile) muscle effort. When I use too much muscle I get all twisted and stiff and much less effective over all. With the spur I can give her a reminder and then carry on. Knowing I can impact her bend allows me to stop worrying about what she's worried about and focus on what I want. I am sure that at some point she will really test me on this but I am prepared.

I told Shanea that I wanted to work on using my seat to set the pace and not so much rein. We started with halt-walk transitions. The idea was to use my seat and let Carmen reach for the bit rather then me bringing the bit to her (if that makes any sense. Essentially, stop shortening the reins and pulling on the bit!).

As we practiced Carmen began to reach for the bit and step forward.

When we picked up the trot the first goal was to go forward and straight, maintaining the rhythm.
In fact a lot of this lesson reminded me of lessons with Johanna.

At first Carmen was a bit erratic - speeding up and slowing down. Bending was hard. But I love how patient Shanea is and finally we got there.
see how she's looking for the contact? (in a good way)

After a brief walk break we picked up the trot again, but this time I was sitting and it was to be really slow. From there she can build her strength and it was easier to impact her balance. It was also easier to find a place to 'sit' and half-halt through the seat. I know that Andalusians have a reputation of being 'easy' to ride but Carmen has a lot of movement in her body and she actually is not that easy to sit (at least for an ammie like me!).

It's amazing what you can do when you're not going 90 km/hr.

And it was really really hard physically. I was surprised with how much core strength it took to keep my body in alignment while keeping my seat under me and not be stiff.

walk to trot transition with a special guest appearance...

The weather has turned warm and humid again and I was getting really hot and tired. But I refused to ask for a break. Carmen was being so good and tuned it that it was a lot of fun. Like Shanea said it's great to see her reach for the bit when I give rather then get upset and pop her head up (or take advantage by spooking). 

We then went on to canter work.  At first there was some resistance to the transition- I was getting too tight and she didn't like that. Which is totally fair. But once we got it she became really strong in the bridle. Which meant that my half-halts were not being too effective. On the one hand it was great- she actually was taking me to the corners rather than back peddling. 
Carmen: CANTER, yes! Let's do this! Hang on!

So I didn't want to shut her down. Part of me was like 'eep, if she spooks through that corner I'm gonna die'. The other part was 'yay she figured out the forward part'

What Shanea helped me to realize was that I was holding her in the canter to get her to slow down when I really needed to do half-halts that actually, you know, released. When I started doing that she actually began to respond and come back to me. 

Here's a trot-canter transition that made me so happy. It was the best one yet and it was on her 'bad side'. 

I still have so many things to work on- my shoulders for one thing. They are so tight. I think with awareness and not having to use so much leg I can focus more on that. My core strength for another. I have started back to my exercise class and will keep it up through the winter. There's a lot more rein length I can give her. Now that she's reaching for it this will be easier. Before it felt like when I gave her rein she disappeared. 

But I am also so happy with where we are right now and where we're going. 

Canter? I love canter! Let's go!

Sunday, September 9, 2018


Carmen and I ended our riding vacation today. It was interesting- this is the first time that I have taken so much time off while I'm home.

On Monday when I opened the stall doors to let them out Carmen came running out beating it to the field. Normally when I open the doors they stroll out quietly, have a stretch and meander off to the field. If this was a habit I would fix it but I figured she was just in a hurry to get to the grass that she had been deprived of all weekend. For the rest of the day she ignored me and spent a lot of time grinding dirt into herself.

I let her be and didn't fuss with her. By Wednesday she started following me around in her field. On Thursday I brought her out and gave her a good groom. She enjoyed it thoroughly. 

I stuck to the plan to not ride until Sunday. And by Sunday I was ready to get back in the saddle. I figured that a lunge first might be a  good idea. 

This was her mood in the barn getting ready: 

I rather be napping
As a ride it was pretty not-exciting. Which is nice. Our lunge work was quiet and when she was 100% I mounted. I wore my new spurs and I think that these are really helpful. Not that she really tried anything but there were some tests. I find that by having them as back up I am able to ride with less tension. When she couldn't evade the corner by running in she did break from canter to trot but I would much rather be fixing that then the steering. 

The focus of the ride was on using my seat to influence her stride. It was fun to feel how that works and I was able to get her to do transitions within and between gaits.  Playing with this allowed me to feel how much a tense seat can block the forward motion. 

I am sure that at some point Carmen will really test my resolve with the spurs. But I was happy with our first ride back to work.  The weather is getting cooler and it's my favourite time to ride. I love that there are no flies. And that there is no pressure to get to a certain level of training. There are no shows to get ready for. It feels like we can take a step back and play. 

Later that day I took the dogs to the lake for a swim. I leave you this video of Guinness. I told him that he couldn't get in the car until he shook. So, because he didn't want to leave, he refused to shake. 
Sigh. Save me from smart dogs and horses. 

Friday, September 7, 2018

Git Along Little Doggie

Carmen has been enjoying her vacation. I am glad that I decided to give her the time. We've been training pretty heavily. I am enjoying the reduction in pressure as well.

But things have not been boring. This morning I was enjoying a leisurely coffee and then took the dogs out for their walk. We have my son's dog for a couple months while he is away and Guinness is enjoying the company.
Guinness loves his Ripley. 
We were just heading up by the barn when the horses exploded and came galloping up the field and then turned snorting looking at high alert down the hill. I went over to check on what they saw and at first I saw nothing. Then I saw a flash of white by one of our spruce trees. 
Uh oh
put the kettle on, we've come for tea
 I quickly ran the dogs back into the house and told Ed They're back!
Ed didn't get the number the last time this happened so I sent a quick text to Julia. She said she would contact them. 

In the meantime the cattle were making their way around the back of the barn, panicking the horses. The little white one discovered the garden jackpot! 

I ran into the barn and grabbed a bucket, threw in some oats and went out rattling the oats. The bigger one (a bull) was very interested and came right up. 

Now to be honest, I don't have a sweet clue about cattle but figured that hungry herd animals are the same. I started walking and they began to follow. The white one was quite a bit shyer. 

follow the oats. 
My plan was that if the bull became aggressive I was going to throw the bucket and get the hell away. But other then being a bit rude he followed right along. I led them across the street and put them back in their field. I couldn't see where they had gotten out. The gate was a single strand so I think they might have just gone under. 

The young owner and him mom came along a few minutes later. I told him that I gave them oats to get them back and I hoped that was okay. He said it was fine. I then offered him some electric rope that I had. It had been given to me but I thought that it was a good use if it kept the little wanderers at home. 

I came back to check on the horses. Carmen was much more relaxed but Irish was still on high alert and kept circling her. 
Are they gone? Are you sure? 

this was taken about 15 minutes later. Still on high alert.
It took him until the afternoon before he would go into the bottom field. I was able to give the dogs their walk. 
Guinness quite intrigued following their scent

I can now add cattle wrangling to my list of skills. Honestly, what do city folk do for excitement? They must be so bored! 

And yes, I now have their phone number. :)

Monday, September 3, 2018

"Never Give Up"

And I think you need to stop following misery's lead
Shine away shine away shine away
Isn't it time you got over how fragile you are
We're all waiting
Waiting on your supernova
Cause that's who you are
And you've only begun to shine ~ Anna Nalick, Shine 

So Carmen and I headed to our last show of the season over the Labour Day weekend. I'm going to give a recap and try to be succinct without losing the detail that help things to make sense.

We trailered over on Friday and she settled in like she always does- easily. We were able to ride in the show ring on friday by booking ahead and paying $5 per half hour. I always book two slots and I was glad that I did because she was full of herself. Fortunately, Shanea was there to coach me through it and we ended having a really good session in there. Carmen had decided that the pink flowers at H, C & M were deadly and was not going to go near them. But we persisted (ha, see what I did there?) and finally she was soft and listening. I do love it when she's rideable.

My ride times were in the afternoon both days so in the morning I walked her around and let her graze. We looked at RVs and a mini-putt, watched traffic on the highway nearby and generally explored stuff.  I also lunged her out on the grass. Something that she thought was a pretty silly idea.
why would I want to run around on this delicious stuff? 
I had decided to get on her about an hour before my first test. Which seems like a long time but I wanted to make sure that I had time if I needed it. I was glad that I had because at first she was tight and stiff and threatening to spook at different parts of the ring. I just rode her forward and kept insisting. Finally she was like butter and it was great.

So we headed into the ring to do our test and I was full of optimism. For the sake of understanding what I'm writing about I'm including videos of my tests. 
Overall I thought that there were some good moments with some bobbles. She didn't want to leg yield left into the corner and I had to get after her causing her to get pissy. Most notably at around the 3:15 mark where she decided that she was running away and no amount of inside leg was going to get her to go over. I should have kept my hands together more but I did what I could in the moment. I regrouped and we carried on. A 3:50 she shied in again and I had to get after her.  So both canter lengthens were a total mess. And her canter was so stiff that it was bouncing me out of my seat. I was stiff as well and clearly was not making it easier. I tried to give her rein for the stretchy circle but she wasn't having any of it and I didn't want to give her freedom if she wasn't stretching. 

I trotted down centre line, halted and smiled at the judge and said 'never give up'. Because to be honest I wasn't completely bummed out over this test because I felt that I had kept riding her actively and getting her back. When she was good she looked great. That phrase though turned out to be prophetic. 

We had about 90 minutes until our next test so I took her back to the stall to relax and have a rest. I was so happy to have some of my friends there encouraging me: Janet, Nancy and Cindy were all there.  I was in the barn resting when Shanea's mother brought my score sheet to me. I was so disappointed to see a score of 57.97%. Mostly because I really wanted to stay over 60 all year. I looked at the judge's comments and they were: "Nice horse-when rider is better able to influence the suppleness and concentration marks should improve". Which I immediately interpreted as 'Nice horse, rider sucks' (my rider score was also 5.5). I was very very upset with this. It felt mean. 

Now I know that judging is hard and I don't want to do it. I also know that it's possible that she didn't mean it that way. But that's how it came across. I showed the video to Shanea and she gave some pointers but I likely was not at a point of being able to really listen. I did say that when Carmen comes against my leg no amount of push will send her back. She knows that she can just run through it. 
I brought spurs if you want to try them Shanea said. And I said YES! 

Because trying out spurs on your hot horse at a show is the most perfect time ever, am I right? 

None the less I put them on (they were very small spurs) and headed off to warm up. When Carmen pushed against my leg I had more leverage to say 'get back over there missy'.  I was happy where we were on our warm up so we went in to do our second test. 

Overall it felt better and had more flow. I was happy with her square halt coming across at B but her head came up because the door to the outside was open and a horse walked by. On the first canter lengthen she was trying to run in but my little metal motivator kept her on the line (although her haunches fell in). Same thing on the second canter lengthen. On the second canter loop she was sure we were going across the diagonal (like in Test 2) and was surprised and irked that we did the loop. She almost did a flying change but we kept it together.  And on our last trot lengthen she fell into canter. Overall I was happy with the test. I kept her in the line and the mistakes were just that- mistakes, not resistance. I was even okay with her falling into canter on the trot lengthen because at least that was a mistake in forward energy, not backward (in other words she wasn't balking or backing off). 

My score was a disappointing 58.53%. My rider score went up to 6 and the comment was 'attractive horse- gets long and strung out easily- losing balance

I was still dealing with the idea that I totally sucked as a rider. I watched other riders go and they just seemed to have it so together. Now I know that I have no idea of their journeys and I was so happy to seem them have great rides. I was also jealous. And that is just me being honest. I'm not proud of how I felt. My friend Tanya gave me the sweetest pep talk. That I don't remember but that it made me feel better. I seriously considered packing up and going home. If it hadn't been for Paula I think I might have. My friend Karen told me to think of the question 'why do you ride'. Which is a good one to think on. 

I decided to stay and forget about scores and judges and take this as a schooling opportunity. 

I had a crappy sleep that night and was feeling less than motivated to show the next day. I repeated the activities of Saturday: hand walking, grazing. lunging. I had a lunch around 11 (about 3 hours before my first ride) and it just seemed to sit in my stomach like a lump. 

I walked Carmen over towards the warm up ring and a motorcycle roared by us on the highway (it's just on the other side of the fence) and backfired. Carmen went from mellow and relaxed to full on wired. Which is to be expected. I just kept walking and she settled down. I mounted and headed into the warm up ring. I should explain that the warm up area is a 20x40 indoor arena with large doors at each end. There is a small window that was open on Sunday because it was warm. You can can see the alley between the warm up and the show ring and there are people, horses etc walking by. To me this looked like a benign window. To Carmen it must of looked like this: 

Because as we walked by she leapt sideways and almost careened into another rider. I yelled an apology (and I am so very very sorry). I tried to work her and get her over it but she was spiralling. Someone asked if I wanted them to close it and I said yes. I would have preferred to work on it but I was derailing other people's warm up and that was not fair. Things improved with it closed but I had to work really hard to keep her with me. Finally I had her on the aids and soft. It felt quite good. 

We headed into the ring and I went to work. It's not that I forgot about the judge- I didn't. But she became irrelevant. We were in the ring to ride this test and school. And so that's what I did. My goal was that I was to be the one making all the decisions and Carmen was to do things because I said so. Not if she wanted to. Now before you think that I'm being mean and cruel and don't I know Xenophon that nothing beautiful can be forced? Of course I do. Except that Carmen was not scared of anything in that ring. I could walk her by all of it on a loose rein and she was fine. It was to get out of work, pure and simple. So every error I corrected and carried on. 

And by god we were bending. I didn't care how strong an aid I had to use or how it looked, if I put my leg on to bend and she ignored it I was fucking making her bend. You will see at about the 4:30 mark she tries to run in and I am like 'nope. We are going back to the rail and I'm STILL going to get after you to lengthen those 3 strides. You can see my left leg coming off and booting her back.   At the 5:29 mark you can see think about bopping away and both my legs came on and drove her forward. It was not a pretty test but we got it done. Carmen's face at the end kind of says it all.  I didn't even see my score or my test until the show was all over because at this point it didn't really matter.  I was sure it was awful. My mark was 59.22%, with the comment "rider has nice leg position but needs to be more balanced in the saddle and able to influence the bend from the inside leg to the outside rein. (see rider sucks!) Truthful to be sure. I am riding to the best of my ability and Carmen is able to stiffen everything and it's like riding a pogo stick. 

For our last test of the show I planned on a 25 minute warm up. I went in and we walked a bit in both directions asking her to soften and stretch. I then put my leg on for a trot transition and she was unnnh, I don't want to (if you imagine a whiny voice saying it you'll get the picture). Both of my legs came on and I booted her with the spurs and she leapt forward into a canter. That was fine. I asked for forward and so forward we went. After that my warm up was on prompt transitions, bending and changing stride length. It felt really really good. 

With a deep breath and a oh god can I have a beer soon we headed in. 

This time on entering the ring I picked up a trot right away and dealt with her wanting to balk at various flowers and the chair in the corner.  My goal was simple: we were not going to have any silly spooking. 

And guess what? We didn't! We laid down our best test of the show. I rode every inch of that ring. And mistakes were just that- mistakes. We had a bobble for the first canter depart but sorted it out. There was none of this running away, or going sideways crapy. When she was good I recached out and stroked her neck to let her know. On our first canter lengthen she thought about running in but I kept her going forward. It still looks awful but it's way better then running away which is what she wanted to do.  At the end I gave her a hug and said see that's what we do. The judge said something along the lines of 'it was too bad you couldn't have done that for your other tests'  I smiled and said 'well she didn't bolt so there's that'. Because what does she know of our history? And why should it matter. She judges what's in front of her and that's the thing to do. My only advice is to try to focus on the 'constructive' part of constructive criticism. Our score for this test? 62.21% and the comments: some nice moments. Needs to be more consistent. Rider needs to be able to influence the balance more with her seat, not the hands.  Fair enough. Will continue to work on that. The spurs are going to be part of my riding for now. There will be no more running through my leg or refusing to bend. I will have to be careful to not get too dependent on them or overuse them. 

I am really glad that I persisted in the show. And it felt like a major breakthrough that we had no spooks in the last test; not because Carmen decided not to but because I decided that there wouldn't be

That feels like something important. 

So I have homework for the rest of the riding season. For now Carmen and I are on a break from schooling this week. Pretty sure she's going to enjoy that.