dancing horses

dancing horses

Sunday, January 27, 2019


At the same time I was battling the flu, Mother Nature decided to be passive aggressive and warm up. The temperatures literally went from -13 to +10 (celsius) in 24 hours. It was killing me that I was unable to go out and enjoy the January Thaw. 

It' an understatement to say that I miss riding. I honestly think that it's an important part of my mental health. I haven't really been able to ride since last year. Yes I know that was Dec 30, so like 3 weeks, but still last year.

Friday I felt a lot better but not really full functional. Or even half. I decided to not ride (adulting sucks) but made plans to join up with Julia and ride on Saturday. 

Irish: me too? Cool. 

I started with our ground work pattern and she was fine. I practiced her parking herself at the mounting block a few times. Here's a video showing some of our work:

You can see that she really wants to eat the grass that is on the other side of the block. Carmen is really good and staying true to her goals. 

My goal for the ride weren't anything huge- I just wanted her to walk around the ring calmly and in a relaxed fashion. Walking was really all that I was up for although we did do some (very tiny amount) of trotting. When she would get tight I would work on the pattern to help her relax. Part of that pattern is to not hold with the rein. That's a work in progress but it's coming. We finally were able to walk the entire ring with her on a long rein and then stopped.

good for what ails me
Julia and I made plans to ride again on Sunday. I decided to do a little bit of ground work in the morning and then ride in the afternoon.  I've been pushing things, asking Carmen to relax in her more tense areas. My tools were the tarp, my dressage whip, a whip with a plastic bag attached and a stick with some ribbons.

When I got into the ring I picked up a rock and threw it out of the ring. But of course I missed and it the board with a loud noise. Carmen jumped and then immediately put her head down to relax herself. Which was really good because I hadn't asked her to do that. She's starting to figure it out for herself.

Carmen can be really good about ignoring me when I play with the tools. Tristan says that you have to 'ask a question worth answering'. Which means that if the horse has zero reaction then you have to up the ante. Not to frighten them but to help them seek to manage themselves when spooky things happen.

I put the bag over her back and she was all like 'yawn. silly human.  But in upping the pressure I put it over the other side of her so that she saw me in her left eye but the bag in her right. That got a reaction. Quite a large one. I held the bag there until she stopped (I had to help her by disengaging her hind end) and then dropped her head a bit, then took it away. A few trials later and she realized that when it went over her back, as soon as she dropped her head it went away.

I worked on that from both sides. She was much more worried about it on the right then on the left. Which is in keeping with her spooks under saddle. It helped me to realize something too- I think that when I'm riding and she's focussed on the inside aids (like we always ask) and then something moves on the other side it causes her to react.  Knowing that can help me work on a plan to help her figure out how to deal with this.

I also used the stick with ribbons- which was great because the ribbons are kind of like fluttering birds (another thing that really bothers her).

Going over the tarp is no big deal. She feels really confident with that so I used that periodically to help answer the 'easy' questions. I don't think anyone can learn if everything is super hard.

photo fail: it's hard to take a photo while doing this!

While I was up in the ring doing the ground patterns with Carmen  Julia sent a text saying she couldn't come. Because I am all alone I decided to not ride. I worried that it would make me more tense and that would undo the work I had been doing. I was disappointed but still happy with the work we did. While I answered the text Carmen decided to chew on the ribbons.

I am feeling much better now and I'm sure that the horse time and time outside have a lot to do with it. Also, Ed's care. :)

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Louder Than Words

This week I was laid out with the flu. It was a nasty bug that made me incapable of doing anything other than lay on the couch and watch TV.

It's never easy to be ill with animals because they do not understand sick days.

Usually I can muster up the energy to take care of them but this time it was really hard. Staying upright was hard. Let alone doing barn chores.

But I was fortunate that Ed was home and he stepped into the void with not one complaint. In fact, he was quite emphatic that I was to rest and not do anything.

We have been married for a number of years (32 this year!) and our verbal communication is often of the mundane- plans for supper, work gossip etc.

Words don't always show the inner truth of feelings and thoughts.

But actions cannot mask who we are. For example, Ed went to the store and bought some oranges. He asked if I wanted one and when he brought it to me I saw that he had peeled it for me. He knows that I don't like orange residue on my hands and always wash right after peeling. By bringing a peeled orange he kept me from having to get up.

I took this from the kitchen window. Ed is in the barn taking care of the horses
Guinness kept me company, making sure that I was never lonely. 
Nothing helps you feel better than a loyal dog, says Guinness

As I began to feel better I began to try to take back more chores. It was not easy because he fought me every step of the way. On Friday, while he was showering I snuck out to walk Guinness. When I got back he was not happy but I explained that I needed some fresh air. Which was true.  

This morning I set my alarm to get up to do the morning feed and as I was heading to the bathroom he yelled what are you doing? Go back to bed. 

Drat. Foiled. 

Rather than argue I let him go out while I made the morning coffee and fed the cats. 

Ed has a torn rotator cuff and it has been bothering him more with the additional chores. While he was out getting a hair cut I got the tractor and emptied the manure cart. 

He was back when I brought the tractor back up. 
You know I said that I was going to do that. 

Yes I know but I didn't want you to further irritate your shoulder. 

So I'm trying to protect you from feeling sick and you're protecting me from hurting my shoulder? 

I laughed.  Welcome to our later years. 

Wednesday, January 23, 2019


I'm continuing to work through the lessons with Carmen whenever I can. The weather is not helpful but I try to apply the principles in just my general day to day work. I can see that it can clearly help her.

What I like about the program is that you are not to strive for perfection: you work on something and when the horse is starting to show understanding you leave it and let them filter it. The theory is that if you continue to drill the horse starts to think that they don't have the answer and it leads to shut down. So our sessions consist of cycling through things, starting with the easy thing. For Carmen that is the leading exercise where she has to measure the space and maintain it no matter at what speed I walk. When she seems to get frazzled we go back to that as a 'reset'.

All progress is rewarded with a rest, even if the horse went backwards. You let them rest if they try to do the right thing, even it is less than what they were doing before.

In our last session I introduced the idea of going by and over potentially spooky things. I put the whip with the plastic bag attached in a pylon. When were walking up to the ring Carmen spied it flapping and went on high alert. However, she never pulled back or balked. When we came into the ring she demanded to walk up and investigate it.

We worked though the leading and ground pattern. Then I reviewed the approach of the bag and other objects. She did not care. I then put down a tarp between pylons to walk over. I didn't expect it to be an issue and it was not. I propped my phone up on a post and did a short video:

Right at the end the phone fell off the post but was unharmed. I need to find a gadget to attach it.  You will notice that I don't lead her over/through. We're not supposed to- because then it's not about them figuring out to manage themselves. I'm probably explaining it poorly but it makes sense. When I'm sitting on her I can't lead her either so I can see how it can transfer.

I've noticed that she is expressing more curiosity over strange things rather than being wary. The other day I was trying to repair Irish's stall door to the outside (it was frozen). I felt a nose at my neck and looked over to see Carmen.
Hey, what are you doing? Let me see. Also, do you have any carrots in your pockets? 

So even if this doesn't result in a perfectly zen magical unicorn it is a good tool to add to the toolbox.

waiting (somewhat) patiently for me finish cleaning her stall
during the storm. I'm really happy with her weight this winter. 

Sunday, January 20, 2019

The Glamorous Life of Horse Ownership

When we tell others that we have horses it always seems that they picture an idyllic pastoral scene with happy horses and sunshine.

And it's not that that never happens.

It's just that winter is another story altogether.

yeah. Not this. 

so much this
Taking care of horses in winter is hard

It basically consists of being obsessed with weather apps and trying to not trip on frozen poop. 

It's trying to decide if the horses need a medium weight blanket or a heavy weight blanket. And deciding that changing them twice a day seems to be a bit too much and could the temperature please stop fucking with me

I need a vacation
I actually have a good system worked out- I have my hay box with the slow feed net so that they can have access to forage all day. I also put some 'free hay' out in the field so that they have to walk and not just stand at the buffet like an older couple on a cruise. 

They can go in and out of their stalls at will. I only close them in during storms. Today is one of those days. The forecast was for snow, followed by sleet followed by torrential rain. It's the rain that is most concerning because the snow can cause the water to back up and flood. Like this wonderful day a few years ago when the barn flooded. 

early morning with the snow starting

I let the horses out to have some outside time before the weather turned really bad. Of course they both flatly refused to step outside. 
Irish: I am appalled that you would even consider this weather acceptable. 

Which is frustrating because Irish gets really annoyed at being locked in his stall. He's also really annoyed about the weather and won't go into it. Clearly, it's the principle of the thing. 

I left them to it until  I could hear the ice hitting the window. I went back to the barn and got their stalls organized. Irish immediately began running around. 
Irish: noooo, I don't want to go in- I want to be out. I'm a hardy steppes horse! 

Finally I got a lead around his neck and brought him in. Carmen ran into her stall with relief. Carmen is okay with being inside as long as the hay feeder keeps getting filled. Irish will likely forgive me. 

In the meantime Guinness thinks that the weather is fine and doesn't understand why I'm not enjoying it. 

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Calm Yourself

I've been working my way through the TRT videos and trying to apply them to my training with Carmen. This is a totally new thing for me- doing an online horse course and then applying it to my training. I do like that the videos show the 'ideal' and then 'less than ideal' and how he works through it.

I like how the sessions are to be short and not drills. You work on one thing, then leave it and do something else. I like how it's the 'one hard thing' interspersed with some easy things. This is supposed to give the horse confidence.

I know that I will be writing about how I progress with Carmen on this but I would warn you to not use my posts as a way to learn this method. I am not an expert nor do I think it's fair to the person trying to earn an income (I do have a 'refer a friend' discount if anyone is interested). But I also know that I can't not write about what I'm doing (double negatives anyone?).

a photo to break up the text wall
The ground has been frozen and hard so riding is out. I would love to go for a hack but there is ice on the trail so I do not. However, the ring is still okay to do some groundwork. When it's not rediculously cold I take Carmen up and we do about 15-20 minutes. I look for her to relax and calm in response to a stimulus and then go do something else.

It seems to me that she is gaining understanding and confidence with it. I have a video here of me working on her response to noise. This is the second time we were working specifically on the techniques.  I propped my phone on the post and tried to stay in the frame (honestly, I am not quite as fat as the video suggests- just have lots of layers on. Carmen wants you to know that it's the same for her).

I am shaking a bottle of water and waiting for her to relax. I had already done it before starting the video but she really was okay with it from the beginning. Which is surpising becase Carmen is not a fan of sudden,  swooshy noises (swooshy being the technical term). 

As you can see, she gives zero cares from the left. Clearly her expression is one of humouring her crazy servant who has very odd ideas. She's more uncertain on the right but lowers her head because she has learned that if she relaxes the stimulus goes away. That is the point. The idea is to teach her to seek relaxation on her own when she is feeling pressure. For her to learn that she is in control of herself (in horse understanding way, not a person understanding way. And yes, I think that makes sense).

It's not rocket science. It's just being methodical and clear and paying very careful attention. For Carmen, sometimes her relaxing signals were so subtle that I would have missed them earlier. I am working on my own body language and trying to make sure that it is low key and relaxed.

Regardless, this is giving me something to play with with her and I am enjoying it. I should try to video her lining up to the mounting block all on her own. That was so easy to teach and it's very cool.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Ikea Hacks

Winter has hit with a vengeance. I don't know that I will ever be warm again. While I am happy that  I am not shovelling snow,  I hate that I  can't ride or play in the snow. The ring thawed enough for one ride but since then it's been rock hard.

Since I can't write about riding I thought I would show some tack room organizing items. I love reading posts from other bloggers about their organization.

 I love Ikea but for many years we did not have an Ikea in our province. Last year a new store opened and every now and then Ed and I head in to browse (clearly we are the most exciting couple you would want to meet).

What I really like is looking at their stuff and seeing how I can make use of it for the stable. I don't always find things for that but I do find stuff for my home. But here are two finds that I love.

#1. Multi-towel racks: These are perfect for hanging my saddle pads. They fit the dressage size pad easily. They are easy to install and make use of wall space:

I love that there is separation allowing them to dry.
I have three of them to hold my saddle pads. It's a great way to display my impulse boxing day sale purchase:
I don't have a saddle pad problem. Nope. Not me. 
It will match the brow band so I had to buy it......., right?

#2: Stackable Storage bins: These are designed for recycling. But I loved how they stacked. Ed loved their price. Each bin can hold one bag of feed. While they can stack, the weight of feed is too much for the lid so Ed made me a shelf:

They look so much neater than the garbage cans I was using. The tack room seems to have more floor space with this solution.

Share some of your finds- I'd love to read about them.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Goals for 2019: Focus on the Process

2019 is not off to a stellar start. On New Year's Eve my daughter was admitted to hospital with a serious illness. She is still there but is recovering and I hope to bring her home in a day or two so I can take care of her and get some fat back on her bones. It was a scary time and I didn't have the heart  or time to post. I did enjoy reading the posts though. They helped me pass the time in the hospital. I am so grateful for our healthcare system that has taken such great care of my girl. It is exhausting and Ed and I took turns being with her or being home.
sunrise the day before some weather was going to descend on us.
Love my little farmhouse. 

However, sitting in hospital gave me lots of time to reflect on various things, including what I want to accomplish this year. Emma has been posting about focussing on 'process goals' not outcomes. I loved that whole idea so when I read her post (and other like it) it helped me bring some of my goals into focus. Emma, found these ideas on a post written by blogger Matt Brown.

Not that I think my goals in past years were 'bad' or anything. It just feels like I'm in a different place with where I want to go with my riding and horsemanship. Earlier this fall my goals were falling into the category of 'outcomes', like 'show second level' and 'try jumping'. And it's not that I don't want to do those things. I do. But if I don't meet those goals will my year be a failure? Maybe. It depends. It's not like I don't want to set a goal that makes me work and gives me focus. Which is where, as I understand it, the idea of a 'process goal' sets in. These are goals that have to happen in order for the larger goal to be met.

Heaven knows progress with horses can feel like the staircases in Hogwarts. Just as you think you are getting there, everything changes.

We all know that working with horses leaves many things out of our control. That means we need to focus on what we can control and spend less time fretting about what we can't. 

With that in mind here are my goals for 2019: 

The overarching goal is to build a strong relationship with Carmen built on trust and fun. 

1. Build a foundation of relaxation with Carmen that we can take anywhere: shows, clinics, the woods, etc. I've started this process already. I ended up subscribing to Tristan Tucker's website. I was hesitant because it is expensive. However, they offered a payment plan over 12 months which makes it less than half the cost of a lesson per month. So I bit the bullet. So far I am getting some insight into how to work with Carmen and it is working. Carmen is now officially easier to give wormer to than Irish and he's pretty damn easy. For a mare that used to rear and carry on about it that's major progress. 

1. A. Building a foundation of relaxation in myself. Carmen and I are very similar. I am naturally a high energy person and I need to learn how to control my own tension and body language. One that is independent of her energy. I need her to feed of my energy not vice versa. 
basically we need to be more like Willow #lifegoals

2. Create a work flow that makes sense to both of us and is fun. I am going to move away from the 'you must master this thing' and more towards working on the things with the confidence that we can get there and accepting when it isn't perfect as long as it's progress. This also means stopping when we get it right and not fall into mindless drilling. This will include trail, obstacles, poles (maybe wee tiny baby jumps) and dressage. I'm going to move away from worrying if I am mastering the specific movements and worry more about the dressage pyramid itself. 

3. Manage her diet and gut health- especially when I am exposing her to stressful things like trailering, shows, new places. I have my plan for when we travel. It may need some modifications but part of managing is being vigilant about her behaviour and what she may be trying to tell me. 

4. Improve the independence of seat, leg and hand. This means getting more in shape and maintaining awareness in the moment. If Carmen is being pissy or resistant I need to look to myself first. 

5. Keep learning: go to clinics (attend or audit), read, watch videos and take lessons. I am going to continue taking the trail clinics. 

6. Spend more time with other horse people. I love having my horses at home but it can be a bit isolating. I want to get out and do things with them: go on a trail ride, ride in their ring, have them come to my place etc. I really want to see if I can organize a fun weekend for horse people. A weekend where we go away with our horses and play. No pressures, no clinics, just horses, food and wine (or beer, or ginger ale). Let me know if you are interested. 

7. Go to shows and stretch myself. This may mean trying second level (Carmen can do all of it when she's relaxed so it's not a crazy idea). 

8. Teach Carmen to self-manage: rather than it all falling to me about how she feels and reacts, I want to give her the tools to manage herself. You can think of this as increasing her confidence. This means that it's okay if she makes a mistake and for me to help her find the answer rather than give it to her. 

I'm sure that there will be other goals that will crop up on a specific day and that's fine because I think that they won't be contrary to what I have above. 

I hope these plans of yours include cookies. 

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Last Ride of the Year

Riding this time of year is really hit or miss, unless you have an indoor. Which I do not. I know that it will get worse before it gets better. So I try to take advantage whenever I can.

On Sunday the weather warmed up enough to thaw the ground. I had a lesson tentatively booked with Shanea but she had to cancel. I still planned to ride though.

Right from the beginning I could see that Carmen was feeling mellow. Our groundwork patterns were easy and relaxed. I have been working on teaching her to line herself up to be mounted and it's working really well. I like it because it's not me saying you must stand here and behave. Instead, it's more her in control. I find doing it that way she stays still much longer. It was also really easy to teach her.

I have been looking at my videos and wondering about dropping my stirrups a hole. It seemed that my leg was too bent making it too easy to nag her with my heel. As I sank into the saddle I could feel my leg drop and wrap around her like it should.
from my Dec 16 lesson- short leg

I softly picked up the rein and asked her to walk off.

And it was awesome.

Not 'here you won all the ribbons at the show awesome'.

Even better it was 'sure, I'll do that, go there and tune in to you' awesome.

My focus was on a soft, following rein and seat. There was very little nonsense in troll corner or down that side. We worked on leg yields, bend and transitions. Mostly we trotted but when I found us getting tight and tense I dropped to walk, rebuilt the softness and then picked up the trot again. I could feel how the transitions in the gait were there.

There were a couple spooks but nothing too major and she went on when I asked. It feels that all the work I've been doing is paying off. I am hopeful that we can put the fall behind us and move on.

I am so happy- it has been three good rides in a row. It feels to me that Carmen is back to 'herself'. Now the temperatures have dropped and everything is frozen solid. That was likely my last ride for a while.

It feels like a great way to finish.
If we get some snow we might have some more riding in store.