dancing horses

dancing horses

Sunday, April 28, 2019

The Rhythm is Gonna Get You

It's not news that I really want to get back into the training swing. Last week I sent a text to Shanea and we arranged for a lesson today.

In the morning I did some groundwork and TRT method. I had been doing a lot of thinking about 'troll corner' and how to help Carmen learn to relax. I was watching a video where Tristan was answering questions about horses having a spooky corner. He said that there really is nothing to teach them in terms of not reacting to specific stimulus because there usually isn't one. Instead it becomes a habit in which the horse gets tense in a particular spot. Then the rider builds tension and this results in a reaction to any stimulus (like a bird).

I did some pondering and got an idea. Carmen has learned really well to relax to the various 'toys' I use (flags, clappers, plastic bags etc) so I decided to use that learning to set up a lesson for Troll corner. I started in a comfortable spot - near the gate. And then took her over to troll corner. Interestingly she actually did explode in response to the bag. But quickly fell back into understanding the task. Soon she was relaxed and mellow.

When it was time for the lesson I mounted and we walked off on a long(ish) rein. She looked askance at the far side but didn't get explosive or balky.

Shanea came soon after I mounted and we began to work. The exercises were simple enough. First just walking and reaching forward. Inside leg to outside rein is apparently still in fashion.

that is us walking through troll corner. 
We then picked up trot and doing a serpentine exercise: each time we returned to the rail we were to do a 10 metre circle. 
like this. First we did 3 loops, then 4

Initially Carmen and I were a real mess. Straightness and the correct bend were elusive little buggers. So was rhythm and attention. 

Fortunately, Shanea is patient and I am stubborn. Slowly the exercise began to flow and we got into the rhythm of it. 

At times things were distracting to Carmen. Did I mention that Ed decided that this was the perfect time to use the tractor to grade the driveway? I could have texted him to stop but it seemed to be a little distraction so I let it go. 

Here's a video of the work:

I don't know where we were in the ride that this was taken but I know it got better and better.

It felt lovely to find us working forward and her swinging over the back.  We gave her rests when she was good to help her understand the lesson.

OMG, are we actually straight? also check out those ears! 

At the end we picked up a canter. The exercise was to pick up canter at A, 15 m circle between F & B and then across the center line, transition to trot at X, 10 m circle to regain balance and then across the ring, picking up the canter on the center line.

Our left lead was fabulous- forward and effortless. We even did a bending line and she was awesome. To the right was a bigger struggle, but that is no new for us. I have to say that it was far better then when we started last year.

We ended after a few minutes of canter and we walked out on a long rein.

It felt so good to have this second lesson of the year go so well. I have a lot of things for us to work on but it feels good.

Irish and Julia also had a lesson and they looked great.

such a cute redhead

Friday, April 26, 2019


I wish that the rain would stop.

But as the saying goes, if wishes were horses, beggars would ride.

I hate not being in a regular ride schedule. Work has been really busy too which makes it harder.

Everyone wanted some extra attention from me when I was home.
Note the canine waiting patiently. 
But that's enough whining. Today was sunny and I was determined to get some quality work in.

In the morning I took Carmen up to work on our ground patterns and learning how to deal with pressure. She did really well. Even when I attached the flag to one of the posts in the riding ring. She didn't want it to touch her (it was flapping quite hard) but wasn't frightened or nervous. The goal is for her to learn how to be calm and seek a relaxed posture when stressed, rather than building on the stress and exploding.

just in case I hadn't notice him nobly waiting for me. 
I didn't ride her after our ground work session. Instead I turned her out. I could have ridden her but I am conscious that there is only so much learning to go in before it can be not productive. So I turned her out and went to have lunch.

After a couple hours I brought her out and tacked her up. She was being good until one of the neighbours raced this frankenstein tractor down the road. It was the frame of an old tractor with a different engine on it.

In the ring we did a little in-hand work and then I mounted. Right away she began to get super tight and balky. I tried to help her ride it through but she began to escalate a bit.

But it didn't seem like she was frightened, it felt more like she didn't want to work.

would rather look for snacks
To test this theory I picked up my crop. I asked her lightly with my leg to walk on and she shook her head and gave a little hop. I gave her a smart smack with the crop behind my leg which she kicked at and then went forward. After one other little discussion that was the end of that. I'm thinking I was right.

I spent the rest of the ride just helping her find a soft and relaxed posture. When she did, I let her carry it for a bit and then gave a break. When she got all twisty I kept myself centred and balanced and let her find me. I wasn't worried about what she going to do- I was confident I could ride it out. 

Carmen began to relax when the tractor came back. 

We stopped to watch it and then I asked her to go. With a sigh she gave me a lovely relaxed trot. We trotted a figure 8 and she was great. I then saw the tractor coming dragging a cart with a  flat tire. I halted and called it a day. 

In all we worked about 35 minutes. Which was okay given that we are just getting back to work. 

I am hopeful that that this work on showing her that life is better when she relaxes is going to pay off. 

I just need to work on my own patience. 

I need to take a page out of Guinness' book

Monday, April 22, 2019

In the 100 Acre Wood

On Saturday I had a grand adventure planned for Carmen and I.

Well, not 'grand' so much as 'fun'.

Part of my process goals this year is to do things without worrying about perfection or even perfect control. So I arranged to meet up with Nancy and hack at the barn where she boards. It's the one with absolutely stunning trails.
just as magical with other characters...

I gave myself some extra time for loading, just in case. But I didn't need it, although clearly a bit tight she walked right on. At the stable we were greeted by two small goats. Nancy asked how Carmen would be with them. The truthful answer was I don't know. The other half of that answer was that I wasn't all that worried.
I grabbed a photo of the adorable goats at the end of the ride

The cute little goats were very curious and were climbing on the ramp of the trailer as I dropped it. Carmen gave them the hairy eyeball but seemed unworried. She unloaded and headed into the barn. She always seems so comfortable there. Part of me would love to leave her there for a week to get used to all the things.

You may remember the donkey too. He was not to be overshadowed by two hooligans.

love that nose
It didn't take long to get ready. I asked Carmen to line up by the rock wall (which she did like a champ) and we were off. Carmen was exactly as I expected- up and a bit tense but not melting down. I gave her a long rein, relaxed my seat and we followed Beau and Nancy. 

And we stayed on the long rein for the whole trip. A couple times I shortened the reins to prevent a potential crash but I never held her. Even when we went by a small 'sculpture' of rocks piled on top of each other. Carmen looked, said 'meh' and carried on. 

tempting to trot/canter here but the ground was still a bit soft. 

When she wanted to stop and look at things I let her.

The trails wind through woods and up to fields. There are lots of hills (big and small) which are great for conditioning.

Can you see the view behind me? 
I look at these photos and I love how solid a horse she looks this year.  She has filled out nicely, I think.

Shortly after this photo (I think) we were walking back along an open area when all of a sudden all hell broke loose. A grouse flew off in a great flap, Carmen said EEEK  and spun and I tried to say 'whoa' but am pretty sure it came out as 'ARGHHHHHH.

Even the redoubtable Beau jumped. Nancy was perfectly calm of the four of us. After her jump Carmen turned back to watch the Grouse flap off. 
Carmen: WTF?
Me: god I hate those birds. 

My heart was pounding- mostly from the bird. They get me every time (I call them heart attack birds). We both took a deep breath and I dropped the rein and we walked on. Carmen was keeping a suspicious eye out but didn't become a basket case. 

Frankly I don't blame her.

that tail! Believe it or not I've trimmed it 3 times this winter

We finished back at the barn tired and happy. I loaded Carmen and we headed home. She spent that day and the next being very relaxed and mellow. 

I think it was a great idea to head out so soon in our riding season. It's all part of the plan to mix things up and keep them interesting.

Friday, April 19, 2019


I was relieved to feel back to normal on Thursday. The nice thing about a migraine is that it feels so good when it's gone.

Okay that might be a little too 'glass is half full'. But still.....

It also corresponded to the weather stabilizing into a sunny day. Julia has moved to the area and we arranged to meet up and ride.

Carmen was a bit tight when I brought her in but that was okay because I already planned to lunge her first anyway. I figured that if she was stiff then being able to move without me on would be good for her back.

It's been interesting looking at my work with her through the lense of helping her to deal with pressure in a way that builds her confidence. As I start back I'm squashing all the 'I should' thoughts. Ones like:

I should be working on leg yields,
I should be working on lengthens
I should be working on perfecting transitions
I should be working on getting ready for second level
I should be working on _______

Not that I don't want to work on all those things but that if that becomes my focus I will fail. I am trying to keep with my 'process goals'.

So I'm trying to gauge her internal pressure and ride accordingly. It took a little time lunging her for me to feel that she was in the right head space. But when I mounted she stood stock still and moved off when I asked. I could feel her walking fast and tense and I tried to use my seat to keep her slow. Without Karen to guide me it was much harder to do. I could tell that she was much more comfortable in the bridle so I was glad I had her teeth done.

As we walked on I just focussed on staying calm and not tight. As we worked she began to blow and relax. As she did that I began to ask for more things: trotting, going by her spooky spots, bending etc. When it fell apart we regrouped and began again. Every now and then she sent me the message that she was thinking of freaking out. I would relax more and just stay the course.

There was this one point where she gave a big shy. I sat up and she came to a stop herself and then began marching towards what had spooked her. Honestly, this is the first time she's ever done that. I gave her rein and let her march towards the rail with a loose rein. She looked over the fence, sighed and we then went back to work. I loved that she dealt with the startle herself. I literally did nothing but sit there. As for what spooked her I think it was the song birds (Carmen: um they were velociraptors) that were flying madly about. (Carmen: trying to attack us. And they were armed).

After that we were able to work on walk-trot transitions, a little leg yielding and even some canter. We took some breaks and each time she would just drop her head and relax. I let her have the rein to do that. If she took off I figured I would get enough warning to be able to take up some rein.

Friday was supposed to be rainy all day but there was a patch of clearing in the middle of the afternoon so Julia came out and we took advantage.

Irish: Two days in a row? What madness is this?
In the morning I had hitched up the trailer to check that it's all good to go this year.

nice to see this set up again
 Of course the horses noticed and I think that contributed to some extra tension on Carmen's side for our ride. She was definitely more tense and not so sure about life. It was also really windy, which never helps. I kept on task and made sure that she had things to occupy her brain rather than random dangers lurking in the woods. We managed to end on a good note with her being relaxed.

clearly there is danger lurking there. Also, it didn't seem that
foggy when we were riding (PC Julia)

So there's a lot to do but it feels like it's in the right direction.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

The Rule of Three

It's been a busy time at Oakfield Farm. The weather has been erratic, going from sunny and warm, to cold, to rain, to hail and back again. Sometimes all on the same day.

Sunday was a nice day and I had a nice ride on Carmen. I kept Dom's advice in mind during my work. She commented on a previous post that "You can always add more pressure later, but it takes longer to fix pushing too hard too fast".   So I kept it light and low key. When she walked purposely forward in all parts of the ring I dismounted and called it a day.

Tired Carmen: so exhausted after all that work. 
Monday was cold and rainy. I began to get a headache. Which is not unusual for me with rapid weather changes.

Tuesday I had scheduled the annual check up and vaccinations for the horses. I had arranged to take the afternoon off for the appt. When I left work I suddenly felt aches in every one of my major joints. They hurt. And my neck felt awful. I took some ibuprofen as soon as I got home and took a short nap. When it was time for the vet to come I realized that I had a full on migraine. My head felt like it was in a vice. I was in the barn trying to not vomit. When she came we exchanged pleasantries and I said I was fine. I then realized that was a lie. I told her that might need to get Ed out to help and then ran behind the barn to throw up in the manure cart. #fun. I sent Ed a text and he came out. I had a quick talk with the vet.

She noted that Carmen had a small splint on her right fore. I have no idea of when or how that happened. She's not been lame at all. The vet also commented that Carmen had a bit of a sore back. I think it's from her being tight and the saddle might be a bit snug with her extra weight.

Carmen was suspicious but cooperative with the vet. I waited until she got her happy juice and then I went into the house and crawled into bed pulling the covers over my head. I have never missed a vet appointment. She had offered to rebook but I really wanted Carmen's teeth done. And I was right. She had some hooks that needed to be fixed. I'm glad that Ed was there to help.

drunk Carmen
I have had migraines before, and I usually have the visual aura before. I think that the joint aches were a precursor. I have never had that before and don't even know if it's a thing.

Wednesday I felt better in that my headache was less. I also felt like I had been run over by a bus so I decided to stay home. The weather went between hail, sun, snow, rain, about every 30 minutes.  I wanted to get fresh air so decided that I should drag the ring. But when I went out the tractor was dead. I had left the key in the 'on' position and drained the battery. Sigh.  Ed came out to rescue me (this time I took photos of how to set up the jump cables so I can do it myself).

As I drove up to the ring I realized something was wrong in the field. The gate post that separates the small paddock from the larger one was broken off and laying on the ground. One of the ungrateful wretches little darlings must have run into it. I asked them who did but both professed being as surprised as I was.
Carmen: It just exploded. 
Irish: Must have been termites. 
Carmen: or beavers. 
Irish: yeah, beavers.  

 I don't really need these to be separated right now so I just took out the post and the tape so it's more open concept.

I put a safety cone over the remains of the post and told them to leave it alone. Irish looked hurt that I would suggest that he would play with it. When I went out later it had been moved and had some interesting teeth marks. The arrow shows where the cone is supposed to be.

Innocent Carmen: I have no idea how it moved. 

I'm really hopeful that that is my three things.


Saturday, April 13, 2019


After the snow ride on Wednesday, the sun came out and things warmed up. By Thursday afternoon the snow was completely gone from my ring.

My friend Karen, who's also a Level 2 Centered Riding Instructor came out to visit on Friday. She offered to give me a short lesson and I immediately jumped on it. The day was glorious: sunny and warm. I took the blankets off the horses and begged them to not roll in any mud. They were non-committal but in the end stayed mud free.

Before she came I brought Carmen up into the ring to do some of our work with the flags and stuff. The best way to describe her was 'sun drunk'. You know what I mean- when the sun first comes out and we just soak it up. She was so very mellow. I hopped on when Karen came. At first Carmen was a bit tight but so was I.

so very tight 
I share the above photo not for critiquing but to illustrate where we are starting. I do like that my rein is loose, so that even though her neck is retracted I'm encouraging her to step into the rein and lengthen her frame. My leg could be looser for sure.

The thing that I really hate love about Centered Riding is that it so very nitpicky  focussed on the little tiny adjustments to our seat that impact how the horse carries herself. Karen showed me how tight my leg joints were and, after doing some hands on to loosen me up,  had us walk a circle around her and asked me to use my seat bones to help her step under herself. She said that I should let Carmen move the bones forward but not backwards so that she doesn't trail her legs out behind.  Which translates to this:
seat bones? Oh, there they are. 
What are they doing? 
Okay, I guess they are moving. Now how do I restrict the back. 
*Carmen halts* Oops, too much
Oh, is that it? Maybe. Oh yeah, I can feel that. 
Shit, where'd it go?

The thing is, though, that as soon as I did it, Carmen stretched out her neck and stepped under.  We were all over the place in terms of pace and we worked on me using my core to rate her pace and not the reins.

We played with some shoulder in down the long side. Karen asked me to keep my elbows 'attached' to my hip (not holding but lined up) so that I wasn't pulling on the rein. I found that it really helped use my body correctly for the bend and kept her shoulder from popping out. When we went down the far side Carmen's attention was captured by the robins in the field and stopped to look. I let her look and then we walked off. That was the big spook of the ride. 

We then did a little trot work. The goal was to keep her slow and to let her move my hipbones and not sue my waist to absorb the shock. This is really hard for me. My hips have been so stiff for so long. It required a lot of getting it, losing it, going back to walk, get it back, pick up trot. Which was fine because I actually was able to feel it when it worked. As Carmen began to anticipate the trot transition I had to dial it back to just breathing to get the trot and it was so cool.

The subtlety of riding well is hard. 

Karen had me experiment with lightly lifting my pubic bone. When I did that I could feel her lighten in front. As we were trotting I could feel that the canter was right there so I lifted my front and lightly touched her and we lifted into the most lovely of canters. It was a great transition and I had to smile. 

my hands could be level but they are giving and I'm sitting up
We did a couple circles and then I asked her to come down and then back to walk. That's where we left it. 

In all the riding was about 30 minutes- which is perfect for us just getting back. I loved that the freaking out and defensiveness was not there. At least not after the first few minutes. 

Now we just need to get in shape. Also, you may notice that I'm wearing my new ensemble. It was so comfortable to ride in. I am happy with my purchase. 

The rest of the visit was fun too. We went out for dinner and I am not sure that we stopped talking. Karen stayed over and we were both in bed by 10. I slept really well and, based on how she looked this morning, so did Carmen. 

Yay for spring. 

Thursday, April 11, 2019

The Boss is Back

I arrived home on Sunday to a beautiful, warm and sunny day. In about 5 minutes I was changed into jeans, rubber boots and a flannel jacket. I spent the rest of the day walking the dogs and grooming the horses. They are in full shed mode and I ended up coated in horse hair.
no matter where I go these woods hold my heart

I believe that everyone was happy to see me. Guinness took advantage for the relaxation in rules but I honestly don't think that he likes it. Ed sent me this photo. Clearly Ripley (my son's dog who we're babysitting right now) has no qualms about being on the couch. Guinness is looking much less certain.
G: I'm missing the rules, this chaos is making me uncomfortable. 
Now that I'm back, G seems quite relieved to be on the floor. Ripley is not so impressed.

in time for the weather to deteriorate into cold and snow.  I am not sure why I'm surprised. Having snow in April is not unusual. I think it's just that my desire to deal with has gone.

ugh. hate snow right now

The weather is now on it's upswing and Julia suggested that we get together on weds to groom or ride. I looked at the snow and it was light and fluffy with no ice underneath so I decided that we could ride. 

Irish was all excited to be tacked up. Carmen less so. She seemed to have a lot of emotions all at once about this idea. I spent some time doing a bit of groundwork and light lunging. She was fine. Looking around but fine. I hopped on and we walked off. 

I'm trying to figure out the line between directing without getting into a fight or pushing her towards something that causes her fear. I may have swung a bit too far with letting her stop but honestly it's a feel thing and I'm still working it out. A few times I gave her a bit of a kick when I was sure she was just asking to stop and not worried about something. 

Overall our ride was pretty good. She wanted to go fast in the trot but rated really well with just a seat aid. When she gets in her head and all knotted up physically I'm not tightening the rein but helping her move forward and find her stride. This is not new- especially when she's out of shape. 

Carmen did bolt on me once but it was totally legit. A red truck raced down the road with much squealing of tires, revving of the engine and going much too fast for our road. Carmen wanted to run to Irish, I just called out to Julia asking her to stop Irish so he didn't join in the fun and steered around in a circle. Again, she had feelings about that too but I refused to grab the reins and give her someting to fight, instead I kept the rein steady only apply pressure to steer and sitting in the saddle. She came to stop pretty quickly. When the truck raced back I was prepared and let her face it with a loose rein. That seemed to give her confidence (and probably me). 

As for the rest of the ride, it was nothing to really write about.  We did mostly walk and trot with a short canter. Carmen was not impressed with the clods of snow hitting her in the belly and kept going between 'yay, lets go FAST' and  "goddamnit something's hitting me'.  Again, just light rein contact, ride forward and relax the seat. She came back to trot and then walk pretty nicely. And the canter was not all discombobulated. 

Things are rusty, she's expecting to feel pain I'm sure, so is being defensive. I'm riding her through it so she figures out that the pain from the ulcers is gone. Her teeth probably need to be done (appt next week) and the saddle may be a bit tight with the extra, ahem, fluffiness. That will go quickly. We were able to do a lot of walking on a loose rein which is great. Overall I was happy. 

more times looking at ears and less time looking at snow

The snow should be gone in a day or so. My plan is to get back into a regular ride schedule and rebuild our fitness.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019


After a great 3 day conference I am now at my sister's home. I am enjoying hanging out with her, my brother in law and their four great kids. Her second oldest, Caelen also rides (she has stayed with us in the past and enjoyed playing with Irish).

On Saturday, Aimee, Caelen and I went for a drive and we ended up going to The Equestrian Fashion Outfitters. I've ordered from them on-line before but wanted to visit because it's easier to purchase when you can try the clothes on. Equestrian clothing varies wildly in their sizing so it's not always easy to buy on-line.  It is a lovely little shop packed with all sorts of brands. Including one of my favourites: Horze.

Normally I buy things on sale and haphazard. This time I actually put an entire 'look' together. I tried on a pair of horze tights and ended up having to go down a size. But they were so comfortable:
Hayden Tights
I loved the high wast and the zipper detail. The silicone is comfortable and doesn't pull.

I also bought this shirt (again, going down a size- Horze is good for my ego!): 

I've been wanting a vest for a long time but they are not easy to buy- so many won't zip up over my chest or are so baggy that it's awkward to ride in. But this one fit perfectly:

Equetech Quilted vest
If you don't zip it up all the way it makes a loose collar. I liked the soft but fitted cut. My arms have lots of room to move as well.

I also helped my niece pick out some clothes- we got matching breeches. I might not be allowed to come back for a while....

Like I said, this is the first time I actually made an 'outfit'. Certainly other of my tops will work with these as well. But I felt rather snazzy. So I closed my eyes and handed over my credit card.

Because looking good is important, right? God, am I shallow?