dancing horses

dancing horses

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Discretion is the Better Part of Valour


The posts I want to write are sort of colliding with each other so I'm going to mix up the chronology a bit so I can make my posts semi-coherent.

Friday I had a lesson booked with Shanea and, miracle of miracles, the stars aligned that it wasn't cancelled (weather or lack of critical mass to make it worthwhile for her to come here).

The morning dawned sunny and frosty. Our whole farm was sparkly (seems to be a theme these days. Carmen was quite mellow and I spent some time grooming her and enjoying our time. I spent some time doing ground work as well. Our focus is on learning to relax when she's tense. That has been an interesting process and changed what I do with her. By the time Shanea arrived we were quite relaxed and ready to start.

There was a transformation when I mounted and we walked off. Carmen became tense and appeared to be looking for a fight. My theory is that she was anticipating that we would argue about things (like where we go) and that she was going to evade to the best of her ability.

My new approach is to avoid a fight while not also giving in and letting her call the shots. This is really hard.

Like REALLY HARD.

First of all I rarely back down from a fight. With anyone.

Second of all what I'm asking doesn't seem that difficult. You know things like trotting, straight lines etc.

Third, neither of us win a fight. I might get her to go where I want but then she is so tight and tense and miserable that neither of us is happy.

I have had to push all my drive and goals to the side and work on us achieving harmony and relaxation. So when Carmen starts off appearing to spoiling for a fight (yes I know that she's really not, it's just history) everything I do needs to say 'hey, no need to argue. I'm not arguing'. 

We started off just walking forward with me keeping  my reins at a length for her to reach but to give me control if I needed it.

see- tight, braced neck, short back, stiff gaits
We walked with me keeping a following seat. When she tightened I would make a decision- do I encourage her forward or do I make a decision to turn before it becomes a battle? It all depended on the moment.

The first trot transition was terrible. She shook her head, threw her haunches around and I worked really hard to keep the ask the same rather than increasing the pressure. Finally she went forward and we were riding.

She clearly had some issues with the far side. Shanea had me pick up a circle. When Carmen wanted to bend to keep her eye on the side we decided to make it a gymnastic: circle at trot, as I cross the center line ask for the counter bend and ride it around, then ask for the right bend and carry on. As we did it I was able to make the counter bend strides fewer and fewer.

Go ahead and roll your eyes at me. I honest to god am not scared but I don't want 30 minutes of her arguing with me about bend and me hauling on the inside rein and spurring her guts out. The spooked a few times, I simply rolled my eyes and kept going.

Here's a really good example of what we were doing (also really boring so if you have insomnia I've got you covered):

See how when we change direction she is unsure about the gate (well the halter and lunge line) and then really unsure about the opposite side. I am riding her with support. I wish my elbows were less stiff. It would really help a lot. It's a vestige of my defensive riding. But the third round she has more confidence in what I'm asking and realizes that she's fine.

We then started going down the far side. I like this clip because you can see that she's with me and on the aids, until she's not. I wish that Shanea had kept filming because what you will see is that I just roll my eyes (well you can't see that but it's in my body language) and ride forward. You can see how quick she can be. But I'm happy that she's not spinning and bolting. The jumps I can handle.


And it's worth it because she's starting to trust me again. The ears are on constant swizzle. Which is way better than locked ears.

Honestly, we're doing nothing spectacular and yet it all feels like new territory. I've gone from 'please behave' to 'by god you're going to behave' to 'it's all fine but hey run away if you feel you must'.
so much better- stretching through the base of her neck, relaxed
backand reaching for contact and her stride is free. 

And neither of us feel exhausted and drained at the end of our rides.

That has to be a good thing.

18 comments:

  1. It's interesting how we just keep learning more even when we think we got it all figured out. I'm so glad you had a great ride on Carmen - that last photo speaks volumes. You're on the right track!!

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    1. I was quite happy with that shot. Definitely a difference between beginning and end

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  2. This is exactly the philosophy that Jane used and it worked so well with Katai. The other day she was trying to bolt with me at the canter. She didn’t get punished but I kept shutting her down quickly. The next day she was really anxious about the canter and transitioned herself. Normally I wouldn’t allow it but I knew we both needed to get it out of our system and it was a calm transition so I just allowed it. I chose the speed and direction of the canter still though and chose when we’d slow down. Now next time I ride I won’t allow the upward transition without the cue either but that day it worked really well and we both got over what had happened the day before and had a great ride :)

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    1. It sounds like you have her figured out. I just need to keep perspective

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  3. Nice work. Yes, it is a hard balance—avoiding a fight, but not giving in. I’m constantly looking for that fine line. Some people say, make it seem like it was their idea, which is also easier said than done, but works beautifully. And there’s a lot to be said for being able and willing to ride whatever they dish out. I think it helps our horses feel less trapped, which brings down the tension. You know all of Carmen’s little evasions and you know you can handle them.

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    1. It certainly keeps us on our toes. I like to make it my idea to turn before she decides to flee. I’m fairly confident in riding out her shenanigans although the sudden leap and bolt worries me. It’s the keeping the lid on my frustrations with it that is my struggle. And my life lesson

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  4. I can see that sometimes Carmen is a handful to manage. But you always manage to stick with it and work it out between you. I think once she figures out that you're not out to get her and you just want to work together and have fun she'll come around. It all takes time.

    I had a grey 17.2 hh Dutch Warmblood (Erik, my heart horse) and he was impossible to ride for years. Spooky doesn't even begin to describe him. Even if one jump was moved in the ring he would stand at the gate and refuse to even go in. There were many times I was so frustrated I'd want to give up. But we stuck with it and it took a long time but we finally managed to form a good partnership. It looks like you and Carmen are well on your way to having a good partnership.

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    1. Thank you for that. I honestly believe that there’s a rock solid horse under all that neurotic behaviour.

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  5. I really admire the work and thought you've put into figuring out Carmen's brain! I know it hasn't been an easy ride (and still isn't) and you may feel like you're still in "boring stuff" but I wanted you to know someone out there recognizes how hard you're working!

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    1. Thank you for that. I sometimes think that people think I’m doing it all wrong

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  6. Not feeling exhaustive or drained is a huge win! I hope the rides become easier and easier going forward. You've been through quite the gamut of options finding a good place for you both.

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  7. ugh man i feel like i live this life so often with charlie too..... but that trust building is so key. glad it's going well!

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    1. I'm glad to hear that. Well, not glad exactly, just happy to not be alone....

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  8. Happy to hear you are making progress!

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  9. Question for you . . . are you talking to her when you are riding? I find that talking out loud to Ashke when he is playing silly buggers (and trust me this is silly buggers) that he relaxes more. Yesterday he was spooking at a ground rail along the wall (the same ground rail that was there on Weds) and we were riding with minimal contact. I started talking to him about what it was, which helped defuse my frustration, and actually helped with his tension. My convo is pretty silly - along the lines of "yes, that is a ground rail. yes, it is the same ground rail. no, it does not eat horses. It is not a bear or a cougar or a dinosaur", just silly stuff to help me remember my calm. It doesn't stop the problem, but it does help diffuse the tension.

    I don't know if it will help Carmen, but I thought I would share.

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    1. Oh yeah. All.the.time. Once I was even told to shush in the warm up ring. :)

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