dancing horses

dancing horses

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Sensitivity and Presence

On my last blog post N recommended Tristan Tucker on Youtube. Since then I have become obsessed. I am not all they way through his videos but he has a set on 'The Vertical Mare". When I watched it I was all THAT'S CARMEN!
The rider talks about being passionate about dressage. Her horse went for training and came back unrideable. The video clip of her riding reminded me so much of Carmen and I too. I loved watching his teaching style and nature with the horse.

In this he talks about how 'high and sensitive horses' do not always know how to control their body and relax. That the mare will need to learn how to control her body when she goes into tension. Watching this mare was like watching a bay warmblood version of Carmen. Looking at the owner really wanting to do the right thing and working really hard reminded me of me (but alas I am not that thin or pretty).

I know the danger of watching a video and thinking that you know how to do it. However, a lot of his things are very familiar.  Slightly different variations but it all the good quality groundwork. On sunday. My goal was simply to have her stand relaxed, then walk behind me maintaining the same direction and then, if all went well, to have her bend and relax (turn on the forehand/haunches).

 Carmen moseyed up to me in the field and I put on her rope halter. We headed up to the ring and I asked her stand. She was curious as to what we were doing but the standing and walking is pretty familiar to her. The bending around me she knows but me keeping the ask until I felt the tension ease is knew. It was easier on the left than the right. Which is fascinating because she is also far more spooky on the right rein.

The idea, as I understand it, is to help the horse to figure out how to control their body and learn that they have the tools they need to relax. A few things he said stood out to me:
'she has a lot of feeling in her body. When it doesn't feel good it's not going to look good and it's not going to feel good for you (the rider).
'it's not the thing- it's that knowledge of what to do with herself when she's faced with that kind of pressure'. 
'it's not that we look to wave a magic wand. it's a restart to help her trust the process of receiving and accepting knowledge.'

It was fascinating. As we worked slowly and calmly I could feel the tension leaving her body as we worked. It honestly wasn't long at all. I think we worked maybe 15 minutes and then headed back to the barn.  I made sure I was totally in the moment with her and pushed away those stray thoughts that intrude at the best of times.

Likely this is resonating because it's pretty much where I landed with Carmen- that I need to help her understand and seek to relax. I'm thinking this will help me make the connection.
totally relaxed getting her tail brushed
(not from sunday but how she was)

Carmen is a sensitive mare and I'm just beginning to truly learn what that means.

After our session, I was puttering in the barn and Carmen was hanging out in her stall munching hay and by all appearances she was focussed on the highly important job of eating hay. I was definitely in my own little world, and while I had been relaxed I began to think about my week.  I walked down the alley thinking of something work related. I moved my hands in a slight gesture and she immediately reacted- her head came up and she came to the door to look at me. I thought she wasn't paying attention but she was clearly aware of me. I took a deep breath and relaxed the tension out of my body and she relaxed right away.
you okay mom?
yes', sorry to startle you
It's okay. But you wouldn't have a carrot on you would you? 

Clearly I need a reminder to park my distractions at the barn door and focus on being truly present.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Taking the Time

Emma at Fraidycat Eventing wrote a post that really resonated with me. It was based on an article by Matt Brown on 'A Case for Not Focussing on Your Goals'. Both are well worth reading but I loved the switch in perspective on goal setting. The point is that having highly specific goals can take the fun out of riding and actually make us less happy. It creates a dissatisfaction with ourselves (and our horses) that is counterproductive to development.

It fits me to a T. I am a goal oriented person. That is my nature and my comfort zone. However, the downside is that it makes me push myself and Carmen. Carmen does not like to be pushed. In fact, I am slowly learning that fighting with her leads no where because she will not give in. Ever. However, if I can soften and relax and then invite her to soften and relax we get farther.
a photo to break up the wall of text

This quote from Matt also really made a lot of sense:
"Process goals are more conducive to actually feeling fulfilled on your journey towards a goal, and oftentimes are more useful in the actual accomplishment of your goal. Process goals consist of things that are within your control. They have mainly to do with your attitude, your behaviors, your thoughts, your level of effort and your actions. When we focus on the things we can control we can take ownership of our path, and we can make progress in any situation regardless of our circumstances."
I finished this year upset at how the wheels had fallen off our training. We have gone backwards. I wanted to be regularly schooling second level by now, not getting her trust back. This perspective is helping me realize that I need to let go of my drive to achieve the perfect leg yield or walk-canter transition and focus on the process of getting Carmen back to me.

I've been approaching our sessions with the focus of helping her seek to find the relaxation. I can make Carmen go into the spots of the ring that she is worried about (although even that is debatable as she will fight and fight and fight). The trick is getting her to seek to relax in these spots.

I start in the barn, taking my time getting her ready, helping her to stretch and relax and just have both of us 'present'. It's hard for me to not just get right at it. But rushing makes her tighter. We head up to the ring and I repeat my stretches. It's interesting how she can be loose in the barn and then gets super tight in the neck just by being in the ring. She actually finds it difficult to stretch her neck around without moving her feet. I don't worry about, I just keep asking and letting her know that I get that she's trying.  Sometimes relaxing during ground work comes quickly and sometimes it doesn't. It drives me nuts that I can't hurry it along but I'm more accepting of it now.

Once she's relaxed I get on. And it starts again. I've gotten much better at not tightening my seat or hands and letting her walk forward. I slowly start spiralling out checking to see where our areas of resistance are. Sometimes it's really frustrating because she's freaking out at everything (yesterday it was Chester our cat chasing mice in the next field). Sometimes I have to dismount and start again. I don't let that bum me out because I'm working on the process goal of getting her to relax rather then doing perfect transitions.

I use bending and focus exercises to help with this. We do a lot of small circles. I ask her to go forward with leg pressure but I don't go over the top. I've left the crop in the barn. If she stops to look at something I let her and then ask her to walk on. After a few times I then encourage her to keep going. If we're trotting and she breaks to walk or starts to freak out at a certain spot I bring her back to walk and ask for a simple bend. If I can't get the bend I then insist that if she's going to do a shoulder out she does a proper one. If she spins away and refuses my aids I will back her up to where I want to be and then drop the reins to let her breathe and process.

my goal is to get her this relaxed

It's hard for me when she's being really resistant because giving in teaches her the wrong thing and fighting just spirals. I try to help her find the spot of where we can give to each other. Sometimes I get it wrong. It feels like I'm getting it right more though. If I have to 'wrestle' her somewhere (which can happen when she decides 'fuck it, I'm out' with minimal warning) I always halt and let her breathe. I give the reins and let her take the opportunity to bolt if she wants. She doesn't.

I work where she is comfortable and then ask her to extend out of her comfort zone and seek to relax. The way I do that is to insist she stays under me and I give the rein so that she can run if she chooses. She doesn't often take that option but she will stiffen under me. When I feel her start to seek the bit down when I give, I carry forward a bit with lots of verbal rewards (and pats). When we're there and she understands what I want I end the session pretty soon.

I have no idea is this makes any sense or if it sounds like I've lost my mind. I do believe that helping her seek relaxation will pay off in everything else.

One of my favourite sayings at work is 'You can't afford the time to not take the time'. I'm applying that to my riding and trying to be okay with how much time it takes.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Minor Miracles

With the rain, snow, wind and deep cold I haven't ridden since Monday. I miss being outside and I miss riding.  This photo has been popping up in my FB feed.

(borrowed from Dancing Donkey's post)
Clearly this is true. 

It also makes me want to find this pithy person and make them lug water, shovel snow and battle winds to look after my ungrateful precious equines. Then I want to pummel them with snowballs while hysterically shouting 'here's your joy! Do you like it? Here have some more'

*ahem* I might need some help. 

Anyhoo, Sunday actually turned into a very pleasant day. The sun was shining, the wind was gone and the snow had melted. I couldn't believe that it was actually a)sunny, b) not freezing and c) there was no wind. It seemed like a minor miracle.

I spent the morning get some chores done around the farm that I had put off when it was miserable out. The dogs and I walked numerous times and they 'helped' me with my chores. 

We are the best helpers. We don't even know how you get stuff done without us
Now throw the ball you're holding over your head. . 
I dragged my ring, breaking up a few ice patches and then headed out to the field to get Carmen. When she saw me she came moseying up to me. This time I didn't have to lift her ears up to get the bridle on her.

During our ground work she was very calm. I am seeing a clear difference between her quiet because she's shutting me out vs calm because she tuning into me. I mounted with a clear goal- I want to get her relaxed and forward. 

Under saddle she started off well but was a bit looky at some areas but responded well to my leg and seat. I focussed on keeping my weight aids clear and my seat relaxed. It was kinda funny- she would be calm, then rigid then relax almost in spite of herself as I asked her to. 

Carmen became quite worried down at the far end and I let her stop and look. When she let out a breath (probably because I wasn't forcing her) I said 'hey do you want to go and take a look?' As soon as I said that she walked forward. I was taken aback but then realized that I say this to her all the time on the ground when she spooks at something and then I walk forward and let her follow. Could it be that this has transferred. 

I am also liking working on keeping her straight rather then off-balance trying to steer her back with the reins. It keeps things simple and changes up the discussion. 

Carmen has finished her ulcer medication and she is a whole different horse. Brighter, curious, friendlier and easier to ride. She is still sensitive and will spook but I'm not getting the really scary feeling that her brain has gone. Carmen spooked a bit and worried a bit but given that she hasn't been ridden for 6 days it seemed very reasonable. 

We worked on transitions and a bit of shoulder/haunches in. We played over poles and around cones. And when she was nice and relaxed we did a bit more work and then I hopped off. I don't want to push her and make her sore- that's not fair since we're not in regular work right now. I figure just working on relaxation and forward is good enough for now. 

looking towards the scary trees

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Ring Maintenance

I haven't been in the saddle since my fun lesson last Sunday. Since then the weather has decided to be totally awful. Friday we had snow, sleet and torrential rain. I opened the stall doors and both horses just looked out. Carmen turned her head to me as though to say 'you need to fix this'. 

Flatly refusing to come outside. 
Irish has changed from a horse that must be out no matter to what to a fair weather horse.

Since I have no riding to write about I thought I would talk about how I maintain my ring. You may recall my post about how we installed the ring.

Alas, once a ring is installed it requires regular maintenance to stay useable. Weeds and grass are always trying to encroach and, once established, can be really hard to root out.

from this summer- you can see the grass along the edge
I tackle the grass by dragging my ring frequently- especially after a rain. I also weed whack around the sides a few times. I really should do it more but, by god, I hate that machine. It's a torture device I swear. I hate everything from starting it, to holding it, to replacing the $@#%# strings. I have dumped a strong vinegar solution on the grass along the edge- which kills it for a while but it always rebounds. I find dragging the ring is very relaxing. I also drag every few rides because I like to smooth out the lumps. I just love how it looks and feels when freshly dragged. 

from last year

Every year I buy a load or two of sand to put in the ring over the year. I lose some over winter with the snow and rain. Usually every spring I find a few rocks that I have to dig up with the tractor and then fill in the hole. I am very fussy about my sand. After a few bad loads I now go and pick it out myself and then order the sand from a specific pile. I have learned to not simply request what I got the year before. It can be very different from year to year. I get some weird looks and sometimes comments from the people who work there. I do not care. I know what I want and what I don't. I look for sand that has mixed sizes of grains. If it's all the same (manmade) then it will pack. Sometimes it has too many rocks. Once, we got a load that was essentially dirt and rocks. Ed spread it in the ring before I came home (thinking he was doing me a favour). I freaked out when I saw it and spent hours getting the rocks out. 

I love my little drag. It doesn't look like much but it does an awesome job. It was also (relatively) cheap- around $300. One side has longer tines which gives me the lines. Flipped over it's smoother and good for moving sand around if I need to. It also is great to drag the pastures and break up the poop piles. 

You may think I'm crazy but I listen to the drag when I'm dragging- if it sounds like it's clanging then I know that the sand is a bit thin there and needs to be topped up.

The best investment we made was adding rubber crumb to the sand. It helps keep it from packing and keeps the ring useable longer over the year. When the sun hits the rubber it warms up and thaws out the ground below.

from this morning- it looks like a sheet of ice but the ring is actually rideable,
it just has a crunch top. 
When we installed it, I wasn't able to get as much rubber as I wanted. Then there seemed to be no one selling it for a few years. This year I found a source in our province so we went and bought another ton of it. 

such an exciting sight
I carefully spread it around using my tractor and a shovel. I made sure to not put it right to the edges. Which sounds counter-intuitive- why wouldn't I want it on the rail? That's because the movement of footing in the ring is from the inside out so I was confident it would make it's way there. Which is exactly what has happened. 

This addition has made my ring 'perfect'. At least for now. 

I have my footing where I want it and wonderful drainage. Now I just need the weather to improve so I can make use of it. 

Monday, November 12, 2018

R & R

In a fit of blinding optimism I booked a second lesson with Shanea for Monday. I really wanted to build on our progress. Ed is away too so it seemed like a good idea to have someone there.
plus she can take photos and video!

I also planned to do at least something Saturday or Sunday. Except that it poured rain literally all day Saturday and Sunday, while sunny, was blowing a gale. It was a bitter northwest wind that blew you off your feet. So, yeah. I didn't do anything with the horses other than muck, feed and  other farm chores. Guinness loved it because it meant that he got to spend every second with me. Except when I was in the bathroom - then he pined for the minutes I was away.  I consoled myself with baking cookies.

This morning was cool but sunny. The wind was diminished. Which meant that it was 30-50 km/hr (which is way better than 50-70). I had dragged the ring on Sunday so it was in great shape and not frozen at all (which is more than I can say about the mud outside the barn!). I have my layers down to a science now and so I was not feeling the cold except on my face.

To be honest I had my doubts about this lesson. Wind is not our friend - it usually has Carmen being far more reactive. I got her ready early so that I had time to do ground work before the lesson. She was frankly grumpy in the barn. In fact I had to say 'putting this bridle on would be much easier if you would unpin your ears!' I literally had to lift them up to get the crown piece in place.

Up in the ring I started in the middle, asking her to walk a small circle around me. The ask was that she bend and relax. When we had it there I moved slowly down the ring, checking to see where she was tense and how she reacted. I won't go into the details because it would be really boring. Essentially it was using the movement to help her find relaxation and focus. There was one big spook but she came right back and settled. The wind was blowing the dead grass quite hard and it was making a lot of noise. When she seemed more settled I asked her to halt and we stood there. I realized how much calmer she has become when she lowered her head to graze. From a strict ground work idea I probably shouldn't have let her graze but it seemed like the right thing so I went with it. Our session was made of walk, some trot and canter and relaxation.

Shanea sent me a text that she was running 10 minutes late so I needed to figure out how to keep working with her without tiring. Mostly we played with leading and her following my shoulder. I pretend like there's a rod connecting my near shoulder to hers so if I go, turn, stop and back up she stays right there. It's becoming easy. Finally Shanea arrived and Carmen was looking very relaxed and much less grumpy.

The lesson was on relaxation and rhythm.

And she delivered in spades. Her trot was to most steady and rhythmical it has been in a long long time. Through the whole thing she was tuned in and trying. This was our first trot and over the poles in the lesson. And while it wasn't perfect it was forward and willing.

Not that she wasn't worried about some things.  We were coming up by 'Troll Corner' (between H & C) when she gave a spook. I circled her around to get her relaxed when she gave a bigger spook. I stopped her and she was riveted on something and I could feel her heart pounding. I looked and saw my cat, Chester, stalking in the tall grass in the next field. Shanea walked over to him and he took one look at her and took off (Chester takes 'never talk to strangers' to heart). Carmen was very relieved by that and we were able to carry on with working (in the past it would have been a thing for the rest of the lesson).

On the right rein she was a bit bulgy coming down the far side by the trees. Instead of arguing I let her countermand and asked her to renvers down that side. This kept her in the 'box' without arguing. After a few she required less and less correction.

You can see that she wants to bulge but listens to my aids and comes back. All that is evident is her head moving. Shanea has been having me make subtle changes in my weight aids to help her and she's really responding. I'm riding more relaxed and effectively- not that there isn't a ton to improve!

The poles are really helping both of us- they give us a focus and keep us from getting distracted. Like I told Shanea 'Carmen and I are both really good at focus. Just not always good at focussing on the right things'.  The poles are also helping us physically. She's learning to stretch over them and use her hind end. You can see that she's much more relaxed through her body and her rhythm is so steady:

We were even able to do some work on adjusting her stride out and back. Sometimes this can feel a bit wild and wooly and she resists coming back. Today she was quiet and willing. 

Remember two weeks ago when I had to cajole and support her going down to this corner? I do. Now I'm all is she bent enough? Forward enough?
I love this video clip because Shanea is referring to me being the frame and Carmen the picture. It seems to resonate with me.

 At some point we both forgot about the wind.

We did some canter work and again she stayed in rhythm. When she did tighten I brought her back, built the relaxation back and pick up canter again.
a screen shot of trotting across the diagonal. 
We finished up with trotting a circle at either end and then crossing the diagonal. I asked her to stretch out- not to truly lengthen- we just want to build up the adjustability. The push will come as she gets stronger. Really what we're working on is her mental elasticity. 

I have come to realize that for horses there is no difference between mental and physical states. In a horse like Carmen how she feels is clearly worn on her sleeve (if horses had sleeves. which they don't. But you know what I mean).

at the end of our ride, look at those relaxed ears
with the wind-tousled mane. 
We had so much fun in this ride. And it's supposed to be fun. 

Friday, November 9, 2018

Chipping Away

It is so easy to doubt yourself. Especially if you are an AA like me. I know that things are getting better but it's still easy to think that it's random and not because of what I'm doing. Carmen often seems like a complicated horse. And lets' face it- I am a great over thinker. I worry that I don't have the skills to help her be the horse that I know she can be. Sometimes she feels more dragon than horse:

How awesome is this? Thank you EMMA
So starting her on her ulcer meds and obsessing over her every mood keeping a close eye on her behaviour was a bit fraught for me. Was she getting better or was it a placebo effect? When I determined that she was in fact, more relaxed and easy going I then tortured myself with the question of whether it was the medication or that I wasn't on her back hardly at all.

Then there was her residual behaviour in the ring. Troll corner had not only returned, it had quadrupled in size to include P through H (if you were on the right rein). I've been chipping away at it from the ground and under saddle.

looking at us going past P and no one is dying

 I had also reached out to Nikki and Mike (the ones who do the obstacle clinics) for help. Unfortunately their schedule didn't allow for them to come to me but I gave  Nikki a bunch of info and then she called and did a consult with me over the phone. She recommends that I take a ground exercise to under saddle. The idea is when I mount ask her to do a small circle around my inside leg. when she was calm and quiet move out gradually. I was to return to this exercise when she got tense and even go back to where she felt 'safe' until she calmed again. The idea was to teach her that my inside leg coming on means 'hey, I'm here, come back to me' and eventually not need the circle at all.

I had a lesson today with Shanea and I told her about this and we incorporated it into the lesson. When I mounted I asked to walk a 10 m circle and then away. As soon as she tightened we went back to the exercise. Spoiler alert: it really worked. As the lesson progressed I often just had to put my inside leg on and ask her to bend and she settled right back to me

Here we are trotting down towards the far end and you can see us having a conversation about it:

Is it pretty? Not really. But hey, there's no wild flailing, bolting or spinning. Instead it was more like are you sure? 
are you REALLY sure?
Well okay then

And I didn't have to do a ton of work before this video to get this result.

Shanea set up some poles and cones for us. It was fun and useful. It gave Carmen something to focus on -i.e., trip hazards. A couple times she knocked the canaletti but I was okay with that because it happened while she was looking around at other things. Hitting the poles reminded her to watch her feet not the horizon.

She got better and better: Look at us trotting a circle down in the part of the ring where I couldn't even get her to walk 2 weeks ago:

I don't know if you can see it but I'm putting my inside leg on and she's bending and stepping into the outside rein.

What I loved was her interest and curiosity about what we were doing. Not that she didn't have opinions (Spanish Mare after all) but they were fleeting and we worked through it. It was lovely to feel us working together rather than like I was banging on a door while she turned out the lights and hid behind the sofa:

The few spooks she gave were minor and I just sat up and relaxed my seat and was totally not worried. I was a bit worried about her speed and Shanea told me to let go and trust her. I did the best I could.

Shanea reminded me to keep my shoulders up and back to steady her over the poles. After trotting both ways over the poles and a brief break we picked up a canter. We started on the left lead and Shanea set up a grid of 1 pole, then 2, then 1.

 The first few times through Carmen struggled with the 2 so took it away so that it was just one. And then this happened:

Carmen:  What the hell? Where'd that pole go?! 

I don't know if you can hear me but I am giggling like a 12 year old. She wasn't being spooky or bad, just surprised and needed to think about this.

Let's take a closer look at this:
clearly ready to event

It was harder for her on the right rein....

But hey, we have auto changes. That's a good thing, right?

Shanea told me that I need to sit up and encourage her to use her hind end rather then trailing it out behind. By now we're both a bit tired but we tried.

We finished with a few trot-canter-trot transitions on a circle down by the 'scary end'. She was a bit spooky at first but settled quickly.

It was a great way to end the lesson. Carmen was so very very good- more like her 'old' self. Did I mention that she had had the last 3 days off? The medication ends this week and I am going to monitor her closely to make sure we don't go backwards.

Clearly she doesn't hate the ring or the work. She was in pain and it affected how she felt about the work. Then when the pain left she still had that expectation that work = discomfort. I think we're chipping away at that. This ride was FUN. And not just for me- she seemed to be enjoying it too. She was forward and in the bridle with very little backwards energy.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Me and My Shadow

While I am appreciative of the milder than normal fall temperatures this endless rain is driving me nutty. It's interfering with my horse time in a big way. Friday and Saturday were rainy and stormy. Saturday night was really windy as well- we even lost power from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m.

Fortunately I had Guinness to wake me up in the morning although I was a bit confused with the clocks going back- my fitbit had set to the correct time but I hadn't realized it so thought he was trying to get me up at 5:30. Poor Guinness was busting a gut and getting a bit frantic about the whole thing.

Sunday dawned sunny but the wind was still fierce and not anything you would want to stay out in for any length of time. Or ride in. I was feeling optimist thought so in the morning I dragged the ring (I always do that after a rain) and set up a small obstacle course. The wind didn't start to die down until late afternoon. I tossed around the idea of riding and in the end decided to take her up and play with some ground work instead.
What did you have in mind? I was thinking treats...

I started with the walking around the ring and staying with me. She was right with me and not too worried despite the wind blowing.  The course wasn't anything special- some poles to walk and trot over, a slalom of cones and two poles for backing through or side passing over.

I led her through the cones using my body language to weave through and she was right with me. There was zero tension in the lead line and I began to think I that I didn't need it all. I asked her trot too and she was bemused but followed along with the air of humouring me.

I stopped and rubbed her head and then I reached over and unsnapped the lunge line. Using my hand I asked her to walk with me and weave through the cones.

And she did.

Carmen definitely knew that she was free, she stopped to sniff the cones:

what is this? Is it edible? I shall knock it over.
(I took this after I snapped the line back on) 
When I first learned about round pen work (way way back) I was taught that you chase the horse until  they figure out that staying with you means less work. I get that idea but I didn't want to do that. I wanted her to choose to stay with me. Carmen hesitated a few times and I simply stood, breathing quietly and she came with me.  

It was fun playing with moving my body and having her match me. And it felt really really cool. 
I snapped this as we were walking 
I put the lunge line back on and we played a little more. I walked her over a pole and then asked her to sidestep over it and she tried to figure it out rather than stiffen and get annoyed. 

I was ready to finish but wanted to try one more thing- I walked her on the right rein over the poles by the 'scary side'. I came around again and unsnapped the line. Keeping my body language the same I walked forward over the poles and, after a brief hesitation and a peek at the trees, she walked beside me. 

My inner 12 year old was dancing inside. I don't know if I'm reading too much into this but having her work quietly and calmly with me when she could easily leave felt like a breakthrough. When a horse chooses to stay when they have the freedom to go away seems like a gift. 

Friday, November 2, 2018

Out of the Box Thinking

while I would love her neck to be out more I still quite like this photo

In my last post I talked about two good sessions that I had with Carmen.

What I hadn't written about was the next ride after that. It was after work and Carmen seemed less then enthused about the whole thing from the get go. However, during our ground work she was tuned in and listening. I was okay with not riding but she seemed to be okay so I decided to get on. When we started walking she was okay except for the far end by the trees (like you see beside us in this photo). I worked her slow and carefully and she seemed to get over it. The issues were on both reins but worse on the right rein.

Until I asked her to trot there. Then is was resistance on top of resistance that kept escalating. Interestingly, I again was not afraid but was getting annoyed. Once she gave  half-rear and I reached forward and bopped her between the ears with my hand. we.do.not.go.up.  

Anyway we were going downhill and I couldn't get her out of the pattern of balking, throwing her shoulder and running sideways. I finally dismounted, put her back on the lunge and went back to work. By the time that was done she was sweaty and puffy. I hopped back on to walk her out. Again, heading over to the side she was having an issue with as part of the walking. When she stiffened I dropped the rein and said do what ever you want. Funnily enough she did nothing. Sigh. When will I learn to not fight this horse? What is the line between not engaging in a battle but not giving in?  After I was a bit discouraged but did recognize that 2 out of 3 rides had been good.

After the ride I saw that my lovely turquoise browband had broken, I lost a lot of beads and it was flapping on her head so that definitely could have contributed. I can also appreciate that the browband I had made to impart serenity had completely shattered while we are going through all this......

Lots of things could contribute to her attitude: it's hunting season and the woods around us are having a lot more activity. Also, I believe that Carmen is associating the pain in her gut with being in the ring. Which makes sense. I know that it was ulcers and those are getting better but I can't expect her to go 'oh, it was my stomach, not the riding? Well okay then. Thank  you for the medicine. I feel so much better now and am ready to be your zen unicorn. Grand Prix here we come!'  (although, Universe, WHY NOT?)

I had a lesson booked for Thursday and I was curious to see how it would go. In the barn Carmen was  much more mellow than the day before. However, her neck was a bit tight so I spent some time massaging it until she relaxed and blew out. I then put on her bridle and headed up to the ring. I started as I have been lately by walking her all around asking her to stay with me and to tune into my feet (if I stop, back up, turn etc). Then we went out on the lunge. She was really good and responsive to my body cues. Shanea arrived just as I was getting ready to mount. I gave her the update and then hopped on.

Walking off Carmen was totally relaxed until we passed A and headed up the far side by the trees. She said 'nah uh'  and threw her shoulder in and walked sideways through my aids. Shanea advised me to not argue but set the terms. So I straightened her shoulder and then had her leg yield properly. This way she was going the way she wanted but I was in control of how we travelled.

This was only an issue on the right rein. To the left she went down that side with minimal fuss. Any ideas? Because I'm chalking it up to the theory that  'horses are weird'.

Shanea then set up some poles to give her something else to think about. Going the left- no problem. To the right- problem. I didn't want to escalate this, again.

So I stopped and asked if Shanea would lead us over the poles on the right rein. At first Carmen tried to walk over her so Shanea shifted sides so she was between Carmen and the trees. That worked really well. The exercise was to trot the far side and around the short, ask for a walk, pick up our escort over the poles and then trot off. It was a weird solution but makes sense because it's connects the ground work I'd been doing with the under saddle work I'm trying to do.

And it worked:

Yeah, I know, she's just trotting over poles. Honestly, if you could have seen us on Tuesday as the spinning, hot mess you would realize how much of a miracle this feels to me right now. It wasn't that we didn't have any discussions- it wasn't always great (I wish I had a video of that to show you for comparison) but it was like the walking with her helped her to understand that it was all okay. I also stopped holding her and put my leg on. When she realized that she could go 'fast' through there it seemed to set a light bulb off in her head. Mine too. I realized that I was holding too tight to prevent her from flying sideways. One she tried to 'passage' over them but that didn't work.

I was kinda ready to stop there to reinforce the win but Shanea threw out the suggestion of canter poles. I have done those before and I thought let's try it. As we cantered around I felt Carmen 'lock on' to the poles and go.

Although she wasn't always sure of what to do with all four legs:

But she didn't get pissed off and figured it out:

Again I was ready to end it but Shanea said 'she seems to be having fun. Let's try it on the right rein'.
While I was wondering if I was setting myself up for failure (you know-the 'just one more' that leads to wreck and ruin) but I realized that she was right- Carmen was enjoying herself. For the first time in a long time in the ring.

So I picked up the right lead canter and up we came. Carmen looked at the poles, locked on and dug in:

While it is not perfect by any means I love it. It's been a long time since Carmen and I had fun together in the ring and it made me happy. Shanea and I even discussed setting up a small grid and cross rails for her to play with.

Stay tuned, there may be jumping videos at some point.