dancing horses

dancing horses

Monday, October 8, 2018

This Post Has No Title

It's not that I couldn't think of a title but because all of them sound too freaking depressing:

  • Starting Over (used that one before I think)
  • Ground Zero
  • The Wheels are Off the Bus
All of them can be summed up with 'what the hell is wrong with my horse?'

I almost didn't write this post but I decided that my goal to be honest here should be honoured. I am not posting all my thoughts or everything that has happened but this is it in a nutshell. 


So from that you may gather that things are not going well. 

That is an understatement. 

I vaccinate between giving up and formulating a plan. 

The 'issue' is going around the ring. As you know, Shanea has been putting on some training rides and I've been following up. The rides are stressful for Carmen but they shouldn't be. All we are asking her to do is:
  • leg on means go
  • walk/trot/canter in all parts of the ring. 
  • do not bolt
Honestly, given where she is with her training those are well within her wheelhouse. 

While I am not convinced that it's ulcers I have started her on medication because I figure the anxiety she's showing is going to lead to them. 

Shanea and developed a plan where she would come Thursday evening and ride Carmen and the next morning I would ride in a lesson.  Thursday night was awful. It all started with geese flying over head honking.  Carmen would not give in. All she wanted to do was fight and Shanea is very good at not fighting. After 90 minutes she began to show some submission. At 2 hours I told Shanea it was time to get off. It seemed to me that we had gotten as much from Carmen as we were going to. 

Friday morning was cold and breezy. Carmen was a twitchy mess in the barn. After walking her around the ring we both acknowledged that riding would be foolish. I went and got my lunge line and took off her bridle. After some ground work she began to relax and seemed rideable. 

Shanea got on and again, Carmen was full of feeling and thoughts. Most of them involved the word 'no'. 

This is literally the best she became: 


On Saturday I took her up to the ring with just a halter and lunge line. I had no intention of riding until I was able to get her relaxed in the ring. It took a while but I got there. I then put on her tack and got one. The rideable part of the ring had been reduced to 1/4: essentially X to C and down the long side to B. The rest of the ring was nope. I rode her encouraging her to go to these places and I won't go into all the boring detail. Essentially I kept up pressure and then relaxed it when she gave. The was bolting, spinning, head shaking, etc and I rode through it all without feeling at all afraid. 

But honestly, it's depressing: 'yay, you can go to F without losing your mind, just being super stiff'. 

I think that there are many things playing into this dilemma:
1. I no longer am riding with Irish and so she's feeling less secure. 
2. fall weather
3. the grass (with the cooler weather it gets higher in sugars). 


Today I took her up to the ring in a saddle and halter. I hung the bridle on a hook but I really wasn't planning to ride. In reviewing the ground work I could see some holes in what I was doing. I am not sure how to phrase it all so bear with me:
  • Carmen is not truly giving me her full attention. I can get it but really, to her mind, I am not important, even when harassing her (her words) with the lunge whip. 
  • she will run through me rather than give way. 
  • I give up too soon. 
  • Carmen needs to learn how to manage her emotions without me having to force her. I can bully her into things and 'make' her do it but that won't pay off in the long run. But I also can't let her just make all the decisions about how much we do or where we go.  I know I'm not explaining it correctly but Warwick Schiller explains it that we can't truly control a horse until they learn to control themselves. 
  • no matter what happens though Carmen does not act aggressively towards me
  • Carmen is used to throwing her shoulders around and getting away and having that door shut is pissing her off. 
I was determined that I was going to give Carmen the room to make some decisions but try to set it up so that the release was in the relaxing. If she wanted to run away I let her run but controlled where. I would offer her rest and she could accept it or not. If not I let her go and directed her feet again. If she stood I left her alone. As you can see she has figured out how to stand but not to relax:

I don't have video of later because it's really hard to train and video. However, she clearly began to understand as we went on and, as her focus shifted to me she began to relax. I finished by asking her to walk just behind me, close to the rail. She was not allowed to lag behind, step behind me or pass me. It was amazing how this 'simple' exercise stretched her capacity. She tried first to come behind me and put me between her and the rail. I used my lunge whip to put pressure on her to come back to the rail. She would then try to push past me and circle around. Before I would let this happen but not this time. I used my whip in front of her face to stop it. I would not let her pass and if that meant that she was hit in the face because she walked into the whip so be it. She tried to bump me with her shoulder but regretted that life choice rather quickly. 

I know that this all sounds harsh but when I watch Irish with her, he does not let her pass him even when she really really wants to. And she completely accepts this, although not always happily. 

I am not riding her right now because there's no point. I will continue to do groundwork. I am also trying to figure out where to go next. 

I do know one thing- this cannot continue. 

42 comments:

  1. Oh goodness! I hate this so much for you. ๐Ÿ˜”

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  2. I don't think you are being harsh. You are assuming the role of leader.
    I think you are on the right track, but it will take a long time, as right now she is not sure she can trust you to make the decision as to if it is safe in the arena. I'm sure you have thought of all these things...I'm just throwing them out,..more turnout, less high calorie feed, hormone therapy, trail rides, bareback rides just doodling around in the arena. More trainer rides, or trainer time. But I really do think the success will come from you. But....it is ok, to say, you have given your best and this mare and you are not clicking. Having horses should be fun, if the work is not fun or is too dangerous, it's ok to find another home/rider for her. It's not giving up. Either way, I wish you the very best.

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    1. I'm still to 100% sure about the 'safe thing'- she has been there for 3 years but yes, she prefers indoor arenas. She is turned out from 6:30 to 5 everyday and is is on a small amount of fat n fibre feed. thought about hormone treatment and will consult with my vet. I would LOVE to get out on the trail more but I am alone and not sure that is the best idea. I am not yet ready to throw in the towel but am losing hope a bit.

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  3. I'm sorry you're going through a rough patch. I know how frustrating it can be, but admire your patience and perseverance and commitment to doing it correctly now (even if it takes longer) to best set you up for the future. Trust that eventually you will come out the other side all the better for it. Cheering you on from CA.

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  4. Oh no ( I'm sorry you are gong through this with her. She is so tense in the video. Just give in Carmen!! Life is better when you do, I promise. I also don't think you are being harsh at all. You are taking charge and treating her fairly. She knows the rules or at least should by now and is a smart mare. She can figure out that passing you means whacking herself in the face with the whip. I love the idea of her making the decision and dealing with the consequence. I wish you all the luck in whatever you decide to do

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    1. That’s what I said to her too : just let it go.

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  5. ugh i'm so so so sorry. i definitely know the feeling of "this can not continue." bc.... yea. good luck with your approach and figuring out the right options. being holistic about it makes a lot of sense bc even tho she's always in some ways been very reactive and none of this is "new" per se, it also seems far more amplified than even just a few weeks ago, so it's not unreasonable to think that something external could be going on - like you say, seasonal or dietary changes. in my area we've seen big increases of tick borne illnesses like lyme that can result in worsening behavior in the horses. in any case tho, wishing you the best of luck in working through it!

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    1. I have no5 thought of Lyme. I’ve been considering a vet check. I’ve got her on the stomach meds and I’m playing with her feed.

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  6. It does seem that when you've written about trails rides, they went well. I read your comment about safety and riding alone. Do you think your trainer might be willing to ride Carmen on the trail while you ride Irish or walk along? I'm curious if Carmen is being resistant because she's tired of arena work. If that's the case, she'd be more willing on a trail ride. But at the same time, if a horse is being difficult in the arena, I can see why they might not want to risk riding on the trails.

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    1. Yes they do go well. Part of me is worried that, as they become more familiar, she will escalate there as well. I would love to do a month f trails but worry about riding alone

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  7. Ugh sorry that these issues are escalating. :( I hope you find some decent solutions soon.

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  8. Thank goodness you have a good dog!!

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  9. I commend you for trying so hard to figure this out for Carmen. I am so sorry to read things are escalating with her. I also think you are on the right track and I hope you guys make progress sooner rather than later. *hugs*

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  10. She's certainly giving you a hard time. I don't think you're being to harsh with her, maybe she needs a firm hand once in a while. As you say in the paddock they really can be hard on each other, she can handle it. I think she might be a little ring sour and tired of doing the same thing (to her) all the time. Maybe you could try lunging over some cavelletti outside the arena on the grass and doing a lot of different exercises with ground work and forget riding for a while. Once she focuses on you during ground work it might be easier to get her to focus on your riding her. I don't know if that would help but it's worth a shot. Don't get discouraged she's a tough cookie but once she gives in she will be awesome.

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    1. I am taking a step back from riding for now and we will see. I am already seeing improvements in the barn with the work I’m doing.

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  11. Well, on the bright side, she can do all those things you listed--three easy, simple things she has done before. She is choosing not to do them, not only for you, but now Shanea. And Shanea is a wonderful and calm rider, so that is saying something.

    Leah caused me a few heart aches in the past, in the ring, and her refusals only got bigger and bigger. She reared with my trainer twice. So yes, you could put more pressure on her, as my trainer did, but no, it wasn't going to fix it. (talking of Leah here, not Carmen.)

    One of my trainers, at the time, told me she had seen it happen before when a horse kind of plateaus and develops big refusals--and it's good to work away from that to something where you can get along again. The trainer she reared with told me to put her away for the winter and let her rest.

    It was about this exact same time of year, two years ago. My decision was to do obstacle clinics all winter and work on our relationship. In spring, we hit the trails--as part of a clinic group--under the watchful eye of an instructor. And pretty soon, we were off to the races.

    Is there anyone who does that kind of thing where you live?

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  12. Hugshugshugs! It is SO TRUE that they have to learn to handle their own emotions! Bravo for being the leader and here's hoping that Carmen puts on her big girl pants ASAP!

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  13. I think Carmen is beautiful, talented and energetic (way more than my chillax andalusian). She definitely seems to be an alpha mare and I bet you she would stomp on a bear to protect the herd. She is a fighter, itching for a battle.

    I am a big believer in groundwork. I am a bit concerned about your comment on her blowing through you as it speaks to a lack of respect for your space. When I do groundwork, I often drop the contact and am very very fussy about every foot placement (thanks halter classes) as I work on obstacles (ex 180 turns on teeter totters). This translates to saddle work as I drop the reins and expect perfection for every transition, turn and steady rythm until I ask. The result is that my andy is steady-eddy at 5.

    I think focusing on groundwork is a good choice, but I would suggest that you drop the contact and demand perfection. She can do it, she is ubertalented and supersmart. FInd patterns online for halter classes and practice on a five foot loose line, or halterless.

    WHen you switch to saddle, add a ton of transitions in very short succession. No time to think about anything else. When I lose my mojo (happens to ALL of us), I go back to my comfort zone which is a twenty meter circle in the middle of the ring where I do 4-5 transitions per minute for 5-10 minutes ... halt, canter, halt, turn on haunches 180, canter, halt, counter canter, reverse, trot, spirals in/out, canter, simple change, halt, reinback, canter, haunches in, shoulder in, and all the gait changes in between. We finish when the aids are so light it seems like my horse is mind reading without anticipating. We then go on trail on the buckle.

    WHile my andi is chillax and should not be compared to your energetic mare, this approach worked really well with my previous hot QH. My trainer forced it on me, as i would get in a groove and do the same gait for too long, trying to perfect the movement. And then he would take off at the corner with a hard buck and I was on the ground. Getting him to work harder (mentally) meant that he saw relaxing as a reward (and not as insecurity or a time to watch for boogiemen) and I learned to drop the contact. From there, we built our confidence together. WHile that QH has since passed away, he taught me some important lessons of how to build confidence in myself, and my horse,

    And my new andi is benefiting from my lessons learned.

    You can do this.

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    1. thank you for this- lots of great ideas. My goal is always to have a lax line and not 'hold' her in place. But I think that i haven't been as firm as I should be about my space. So I am trying to address it now. If I had to summarize it, it would be that Carmen does what I ask as long as she is okay with it. It's the doing when she's not okay that we're struggling with. So it couldl be a leadership struggle in one sense.

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    2. I think you are right. You can only judge leadership under pressure. Apply more pressure to test her submission. And, expect perfection out of her. Shes like the rowdy kid at the back of the class, bored with school. Give her something hard to do, and watch her shine. She truly is exceptional.

      Since she seems to use her shoulders to bulldoze through, I wonder how good she is at yielding her shoulders to you during groundwork when doing a turn on the haunches (a classic showmanship halter move). I would work on improving that to where you can do it with body language (no contact) and then progress to sidepassing (1- along a wall, 2- in the middle of arena, 3- at a trot, still groundwork, 4- on an obstacle) as a groundwork exercise. Its mentally more challenging, and useful when horses blow through. Go do that a few hundred times in the scary corner. ;-)

      Keep us posted, we are rooting for you!

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    3. you are right- she's very sticky for turn on the forehands and I've been working on it.

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    4. Ahhhh, mastering the pivot! A classic move, often used by “natural horsemen” and underused by general population. I remember one winter with a lame horse who could only walk up and down the barn aisle in his recovery. I mastered the pivot because it was the only thing we could do. That and matching walking pace and strides. We rocked showmanship the following year. ;-)

      Pivots are a great start to managing where they put their feet. Every step counts and you want crisp cross overs. Once you get the basics polished, and want some challenging exercises to practice, let me know.

      http://instrideedition.com/2015/07/8237/

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  14. I'm so sorry you're feeling discouraged. I hate that for you, because I know how important it is to you to ride! I took time off reading for several weeks in September. Was there a point at which things started to change? Did something happen? Because I remember the shows going so well. I think treating for ulcers is actually a great idea. Can your vet do a fecal blood test as a preliminary check?

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    1. I've been racking my brains. I have to say things began to go a bit downhill after the show in August.

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  15. Aw man! I feel for you. It does not sound to me like you are being too harsh. My Lusitano is an alpha, so I can relate to some of your relationship struggles with Carmen. It took me several years (probably close to 3) to get to a place where I feel like I can set boundaries for my guy without overcorrecting. It was really difficult for me because I am not a natural leader or super assertive, and he would get upset if he felt I was being unfair with him. We still have moments where he questions me and does not fully submit, but it has gotten a lot better this year. And I have learned a lot about myself. I did have help with groundwork that is now paying off under saddle, so your approach makes a lot of sense to me. Hang in there, sounds like you are figuring it and her out!

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    1. He sounds like Carmen. She is a highly strung alpha so can overreact. I consider myself a natural leader so I'm not sure what has happened to my self-confidence!

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  16. No advice at all. I read this yesterday and just sat on it all day and still have absolutely nothing helpful to say.

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    1. AW that's okay. I love that you 'listened' to me rant. :)

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  17. Nothing to add to some of the fantastic thoughts and advice above. Just wanted to say I'm really sorry that things are so tough right now, and that I totally believe you've got all the tools and determination to work through this (if you want to).

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    1. I know that you have worked through some things with Ms B. Your encouragement means a lot.

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  18. Man all this is such a shitty situation. I don't have any suggestions for you. I'm sure you've heard them/thought of them all at this point. I hope it gets better and that something clicks for you two. Scarlet spooks but its actual spooks, not just being an ass about stuff. Good luck with it all.

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    1. yeah, Carmen does both which makes life difficult.

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  19. Oh man, that's tough. I have no advice. I'd say this is why I refuse to own mares, but that's not helpful. Could Reece/Reese (??-I forget the spelling) come back for some additional training? I know he helped a lot with her before. Levi has a lot of separation anxiety issues and I think a lot of keeping him chill is in keeping Eugene - or another friend - with him all the time. That's obviously not a solution you can pursue so I'd vote for trainer.

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  20. I read this when you posted it, but wasn't really sure what to say. I hate this for you, and I am sorry you have to go through this. Just know you aren't alone in it and I commend you 1000x over for working so diligently to help not only understand Carmen, but to work with her.

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  21. I don’t have any advice or recommendations. But I have a ton of empathy for what you are going through. How old is she now? I kept thinking to myself, “I wish she would just grow out of it already.” ๐Ÿคจ

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