dancing horses

dancing horses

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. 


  1. It is absolutely supposed to be fun! And she looks so much more relaxed than she has in awhile. Love that you're getting more of these rides with her lately. Now it sounds like she needs to remember she's a big ol' horse and itty bitty cats don't pose much of a threat! Carmen, dear, don't you do know you could squish a mean cat if it ever wanted to hurt you?

    1. I am so happy that we're moving in this direction. Maybe we need to tackle kitty cats next! I'll go to the store and start buying some.

  2. You two are in such a good place right now, so happy you had another successful ride!

  3. It just keeps getting better and better. I need to start working on relaxation with Leah. We have it on the trails, but not in the arena.

    1. relaxation is such a critical thing. I never used to ponder it all that much but now I realize that it truly is the base of all.

  4. She has such a mesmerizing trot - I could watch it all day. Such even tempo and the sound of her footfalls is therapeutic. I'm glad you had a good lesson - the poles seem like such a good idea to keep you both preoccupied vs thinking of Troll Corner.

    1. I love how even it's getting. I think it creates a lovely feedback loop: the steadiness encourages more steadiness.

  5. What a terrific ride. You're right relaxation and focus are the key to all great things. Hope your weather continues to let you ride and have fun, because it seems like you're both enjoying yourselves!

  6. aw glad to read it! and agreed with your point about horses not really seeing a difference between mental and physical states. for charlie they are deeply intertwined too

  7. I had a pretty good giggle at the visual of you lifting her grumpy ears through the bridle. Hahaha. Love the use of poles to help everyone with focus. Sounds like a great lesson :)


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