Which is a good thing. Carmen and I are hitting our groove and it feels good. it also probably looks like watching paint dry.
Stacie sent me these photos from the clinic back in May
We seem to be getting into a pattern of riding 3 days and then 1 off. Sometimes it varies a bit depending on my schedule and the weather (which continues to be unsettled).
Some of our rides are just awesome from beginning to end. Others are less so. I try to evaluate her mood in the barn and make some decisions from there.
The other day I was planning to ride but when I came out to the barn both horses were quite unsettled. The steers were in the woods across the road. I don't know what the handlers were doing but there was lots of shouting and some crashing and banging. If I didn't know better I would say that they were using the steer to demolish a shed. But we couldn't see.
I decided to spend our time working on our groundwork patterns rather than riding. I was sure that I could ride her through it but I wasn't sure what would be accomplished. So we practiced the patterns from the TRT method. Carmen was really trying to be good about the whole thing and relax. I could see her working really hard on it. We never got to the point of full zen but that's okay. I don't have that expectation of her. I am working on settling for good enough if the try is there.
When we do ride I'm working on keeping her coming from behind and lifting up into transitions, not falling on her forehand. It is coming. She even seems to be understanding the idea of lengthening in the trot and not going faster.
I've not been able to have a lesson for a while which is frustrating. I had one booked for friday but there was torrential rain and a thunderstorm in the morning which caused quite a few cancellations and made it not worth it for Shanea. Instead I rode in the afternoon with Julia and it was a fun ride. A few discussions but nothing major.
We had rebooked the lesson to 7:30 this morning (ugh) but that ended up being cancelled too. So, because I was dressed, I rode anyway really early. Carmen was a little more opinionated about the far side of the ring- but only on the right rein. I asked her to bend and she gave me the middle finger. I wear spurs every ride now so that allowed me to add some 'teeth' to the bending aid. Which she took major exception to. This resulted in a short but intense discussion that when I ask her to bend I expect Princess Pissy Pants to at least try, not throw her shoulder against me.
With that settled we were able to work on leg yields, transitions and lengthens. We had moments to discussion but for the most part our work was pretty good. While I might not classify this as a 'good' ride, I would have last year. I find that I'm able to shrug those off and not buy into the whole drama llama thing.
After your horse has grazed quietly under a water slide, it's hard to take her fear of song sparrows seriously. Especially when she's only worried on the right rein.
Of course it's not all about Carmen. I need to make sure that I'm sitting up and back and not tensing with her. I am getting better at just shrugging off the occasional spook and carrying on. this whole zen thing might actually be working for me.
Last weekend I attended a clinic on test riding and judging. It was a clinic designed to support educating judges but it was also to assist the riders in improving their test scores.
You may have read Austen's experience with attending an L Program. I thought that her experience sounded a bit, well, harrowing. But when I saw this clinic posted by The Fraser Equestrian Centre (a great place) and at Coveside (another great place. You may recall my posts on riding there on the trails) it was a no-brainer to sign up to audit.
despite a night of torrential rain, the ring on Saturday was perfect
But Teresa, I can hear you say, why didn't you sign up to ride in it?
Honestly, because at the time I had no idea where Carmen and I would be in terms of riding. I figured that I didn't need to throw a large chunk of money at a clinician to be told that bolting half-way through the test would impact my scores. This is also assuming that I would have been accepted anyway. Also, I knew that I would gain more by being able to focus on watching and listening and not having to care for a horse too.
Spoiler alert: it was awesome.
The format was as follows:
- Movement demo on the first day to show the upper level movements
-test rides: training through PSG.
The judge was Elizabeth McMullen (her qualifications include FEI 5*, EC/USEF Senior and FEI young horse dressage judge). She sounds intimidating. But I actually quite liked her: she had a dry sense of humour which I really enjoyed.
Each rider rode their test while the judge scored and commented over a sound system. Then there was time for a coaching session focusing on some key 'issues'. This was supposed to be with the rider's coach (if he/she was there). Often though, Lib (she likes to be called 'Lib', not 'Libby') couldn't resist and she would take it over and coach the rider.
Lib coaching a rider
Her comments were pointed but never mean. I liked her dry sense of humour. In one test a horse began to shake her head cantering down the long side and she commented 'needs more fly spray'. Another time a horse was quite enthusiastic in his canter departs. In reviewing the test Lib said 'he was dicking around in the canter depart. But you can't write 'dicking around' so you need to find a different way to say it'.
Everything always boiled down to the basics (doesn't it always?):
don't throw away points by being inaccurate (clearly she had read my last post)
the answer is almost always more leg
unless it's more bend
except in leg yield- people bend too much
at home practice how much you can push so you know at a show- this related mostly to the free walk and lengthened/medium trots
you keep a horse steady in the rein by being steady with the leg
most people have too long reins: Lib had them shorten them and then leave the mouth alone
more snaffle less curb
transitions need to be clear. Judges hate fuzzy transitions- especially with lengthen to working gaits.
in the free walk a swinging back is critical to a good mark
ride the horse up to the bit don't use your hands
A lot of people had trouble with the stretchy trot. Which made me feel better in that I felt less alone. The exercise Lib used was to get a good trot on the circle, bend, and then exaggerate the bend. As the horse began to reach for the bit offer the a little rein and see if the horse will follow it down. If they do, reward. If not don't get upset, just repeat the exercise.
Not every rider had great rides. A couple horses had a bit of a melt down in the ring. Lib did not get on their case- instead she did her best to help them and to figure out what was causing the difficulty. A lot of time she urged the rider to be patient because the horse was trying to figure it out.
Every rider was given something to work on. Most of the times Lib was clear that there were no quick fixes (well except for being accurate). So she helped them to get things 'better' and then gave them some things to work on at home.
What was also great was how supportive the auditors were. Even though we were 'judging' and giving scores, everyone was on the side of the rider. During the coaching part, when a rider was successful (like with a good flying change) we all would cheer and clap.
I enjoyed the clinic so much and learned a ton. It was also lovely to not have to drive for 2 hours to audit a clinic. I took some of my learnings and put it to use in my ride Sunday afternoon. I shortened my reins and when Carmen sucked back put my leg on. It worked really well and I wasn't pulling any more.
I am profoundly grateful to all the people who signed up to be the riders. They really helped us learn. I hope that they got something out of it too.
For the longest time I have not really paid attention to the shape of the figures Carmen and I were doing.
I was more interested in whether she was soft and listening as opposed to whether we were riding an actual circle.
But now those chickens are coming home to roost and I need to address the issue of geometry. The judge at our last show made the point a few times that I needed to work on accuracy. Which was totally fair. I wasn't really worried about that at the show but it is important and it's stupid to give away points like that.
Carmen is definitely ready for me to be more clear on this, so in my last few rides I've been really focused on making sure I hit my tangent points on the figures.
Turns out that if you don't work on this regularly your horse gets the opinion that the octohexazoidgon pyramid thingy is perfectly okay. And she is resentful that I would think otherwise.
my head hurts
I'm trying to keep it simple: circles and serpentines. But it's becoming clear to me that I need to work on this quite a bit more. This is me crossing the diagonal with the full intention of hitting S with our shoulder.
me: we totally have this! Carmen: maybe. maybe not.
This is us missing S.
also, what am I doing with my right side?
That we missed S should not be surprising. This is going into Troll Corner after all and Carmen has it well entrenched in her brain that she needs to be looking out for things to run away from, not listening to my leg.
And while it is true that we spend at least some time every ride discussing our right bend along this side of the ring, it is also true that we can should fix this.
I think it's time to dust off this book:
And start using poles and cones to find our way.
The frustrating nice thing about riding is that there is always something new to work on.
Do you have some favourite exercises to work on geometry? Feel like sharing?
Summer seems to have arrived. Two weeks ago it was like 8 degrees. Now it's in the mid twenties and sunny. It is glorious. It's been making it easy to be outside and do chores (at least as long as the bug spray lasts).
Guiness says that if you get in the water the bugs can't get you.
Ed spent the weekend mowing the paddocks. I love how they look when they are done:
I could sit on my deck all day and look at this view
My rides on Miss Carmen have also been pretty glorious. At least to me. To others they are likely not anything special. It's like things have clicked and she's decided that it's okay to be a riding horse.
Not that we don't have moments. We do. And when she does spook there's a part of me that is waiting for everything to spiral out of control. But other then the glitch last week where I came off, that has not happened. Carmen spooks, we regroup and carry on like nothing happened.
You know, like normal horse and riders. So the voice inside that tells me that this will not last is getting smaller.
It feels wonderful to be worried about whether she's coming enough from behind, rather then whether she will leave me behind.
I had a lesson thursday. It had been a long day and I felt like I was riding like a sack of potatoes. But it was a great lesson. We were working on steadiness and rhythm. We practiced a lot of changes across the diagonal but not lengthening. The idea was to keep her steady so that she didn't speed up. Once she has that we can ask for a lengthen from the self-carriage.
It takes some half-halts and awareness of what I'm doing. Also, not getting flustered when we bobble, just regrouping and carrying on.
We finished with some canter work that was pretty darn good for us.
I love how she's looking for the answer, and while she might not always agree, we can at least talk about it now.
Today Johanna sent me a message that warmed my heart: " you have both been making huge strides- because of your changes. Carmen is a different horse. You made enormous decisions to change and I respect that. It was a great pleasure to see you on Carmen" .
Honestly, she is not a person who gushes or throws out compliments willy-nilly so that felt huge.
Today I rode late morning. I've started to have Guinness out when I ride and teaching him to stay out of the ring. Today I let him out when it was just Carmen and I. Before then I've been doing it when Julia is riding Irish too so that there are two of us telling him what to do.
He looks like he's calling the meeting to order
Carmen did not care at all and he was really good about staying out. Once I noticed that his orange bone was in the ring and he was sitting outside looking sad. I figured he would get it after we went by. Carmen didn't care about this 'thing' in the ring. Anyway, Guinness didn't get it so I stopped her and said 'come on in and get your bone'. He was looking pretty sheepish as he came in to get it. I love that Guinness is growing into my companion. He really is a great dog.
It was a good ride and a beautiful day. Who could be cranky on such a day? Not me that's for sure.
I was so tired after the show that, despite the weather being beautiful I couldn't bring myself to ride. Instead I cleaned things up and put everything away. Carmen was fine with my plan as she hung out with Irish catching up on her grass consumption.
This allowed me to reflect more on the show and actually read my tests. Overall, the judge, Ron King tended to score people low - I think that the highest score of the day was 69. But he was kind and consistent and I really enjoyed the experience.
The low scoring items were not a surprise: the stretchy circle and free walk were consistently my lower scores (5.5 on Saturday and 6/6.5 on Sunday). The issue is that Carmen tends to hollow and raise her head during these moves. On Sunday though we were able to get a half-decent stretch on the free walk (actually scoring 6.5 on Sunday). I am actually pleased with the frame she has here- she's stretching it out and not curling behind.
I think this was one of Sunday's test (PC Sam McCullough-Lyons)
I was surprised and thrilled that our medium walk scored 7 and 7.5. We've never gotten that so it seems that my work on that has paid off.
Our leg yields were mediocre, scoring 6 or 6.5. On Saturday keeping her straight and not flipping her head to look out was an issue. This was better on Sunday - partly because she was more relaxed and partly because I got off my inside rein.
I think that this is the leg yield (PC Sam M-L)
Not surprising our lengthens were our worst scores. But we haven't really been able to school them either. The best part about the 5.5 or 6 we scored? That she really tried to do it but thinks that going faster in trot lengthens is the answer. For the canter lengthens she was as fluid as we can be.
Other marks were lost because I was a bit inaccurate in some of my shapes. Some of that was unintentional, other was me going for 'flow' rather than pick a fight.
The experience has taught me that the basics are there. It seems to me that our tests were pretty consistent with where we are in our schooling.
It's easy to get up in the criticism of the things I did wrong. To help me remember I did a short video comparison of the same movement in test 2:
Clearly this was a way better experience for both of us.
This gives me all the information that I needed to build my confidence that we can do this thing. I know you guys were all so encouraging and I truly appreciate it. But I was less sure. Now, not so much.
One of the things that Tristan says on his website (paraphrasing here) is that the big things are the exam and the basic training is the preparation. For example, leadings his the preparation, getting on the trailer is the test. I liked that way of thinking about it.
no matter what else, her tail was going to be gorgeous. even the judge commented on it.
So the show this weekend felt like a big exam to me. I had all the same old feelings I used to have for finals: did I study enough, will I remember my plan, what if I don't know the answer?
And the big one: what if I fail?
What would that mean for the work I've done and the work I want to do.
Because of course a bad show would mean the ruination of everything.
Carmen is not the only one who can be overdramatic. In fairness, my last show there was a bit of a disaster.
I saw this on FB and it killed me.
But if there's one thing I'm good at, it's making a plan. So I had a very specific one for the show and I was determined to stick to it.
Trailering was not a big deal and I put her in the stall where she settled pretty quickly. We ended up being pretty much by ourselves for the weekend in this section of the barn. I was really worried about it but she was pretty chill about it. I was super impressed with that.
Shanea arrived to help me with the warm up the night before (you can pay a fee and warm up in the dressage ring on friday). I took her over tacked up but with the rope halter on so I could do my groundwork first. The ring steward told me I couldn't lunge when people came and I told her that I wasn't going to - I was just doing 'groundwork.' In the end it didn't matter because the other people who were going to share the ring with me were not there so I had it all to myself. I worked Carmen through our patterns until she was relaxed and chill and then mounted.
In all honesty, it was a good session for us. She started tense and I responded the same way but remembered to let go and from there things got a lot better. She had issues with the flowers at E so we worked on that a bit. About 45 minutes in I got this trot down center line and halt:
You can't see it but as soon as we got that halt I hopped off. Shanea was surprised and asked what I was doing. I said that I wanted to end on that good note so that she learned from the positive. I'm sure that Shanea wanted us to do more but I kept saying that I wasn't worried about the score, just the relaxation.
The next morning I took her early to the warm up ring. Paula brought me my 'toys' since we were all alone and we practiced with them. It was so beneficial to work with the things she was familiar with to settle her in the ring.
Here's a small clip I took while practicing.
After that we chilled in the barn or on walks grazing (well she grazed, I enjoyed the sun because warm weather finally decided to arrive). My ride times were later in the afternoon and I could feel myself panicking. I tried to talk myself down off the ledge but couldn't so I sent a frantic text to Karen who called me and talked me down. She pointed out the work I had done, asked me about my fears and then reminded me that if it all went to shit I could simply halt, regroup and then carry on. And I realized she was right. I would lose points but that was fine. The key was for me to not engage in fights or get too performance oriented.
My warm ups before the test was amazing. Carmen was soft and listening. There were people standing around, horses popping in and out of the ring, children playing and she trusted me about all of it. There was no 'fuck I'm out'- she just asked me questions and I answered. I got a lot of mileage with using my outide seat bone to bend her through the corners.
We rode First Level Test 2 & 3. For the first one she was tight but did her absolute best to follow my lead. There was one spook at E but we recovered. Our stretchy circle was a bit of disaster but overall I was quite happy with it. A friend took a video and put it on my FB page if you want to see it (I can't figure out how to download it).
For the second test (First Level Test 3) she was much much better. I spent some time in the warm up before practicing shoulder in and when we went in to the ring to walk around before the bell I asked her to do shoulder fore by the evil flowers. That helped a lot.
I was so excited about how well she did I never even went to check my scores until the end. I had a 60 something on the first test and 61 on the second. This was pretty much in keeping with how the judge was scoring everyone for the show. We finished 3rd (out of 3) for the first test and first (out of 1 but your placings are based on score when you're the only one).
I love these ribbons, they represent so much work
The next morning Carmen seemed a bit unsettled so I spent a large chunk of the morning just hanging out with her.
not studying my test or shining my boots, just enjoying the sunshine with my girl.
It was just what we both needed: I sat on the picnic table and she grazed all around me. She began to relax and let down and we hung out more before I put her back in her stall. We also did some work with a flag outside the warm up ring (there was someone in there bright and early). It was good to do it right there though because of the traffic whizzing by (next to a off-ramp on the highway) and lots of things to look at.
Once again our warm up was really really good. Seriously, I loved how relaxed and forward she was. It felt really good. Our first test (First Level T2) felt better than the day before. I felt like we were more connected. There was a funny moment and I just had to laugh: The movement is Left lead canter across the diagonal, trot at X, pick up right lead canter at F.
Our discussion went like this:
Me: and trot at X
Carmen: right, simple change- I got this! *executes perfect simple change through trot*
Me:no, we trot right now. *bring her back to trot*
Carmen: You are off course! It's CANTER! *picks up canter.
Carmen: *flings head and is seriously annoyed* Why did we practice all those simple changes then?!
Me: okay, here's F aaaand canter
Carmen: OMG MAKE UP YOUR MIND
I was coming through the corner giggling. It was funny. And I will take a mistake based on anticipation over her taking off any time.
For our last test we were tired. It was hot and we both felt exhausted. I took her back to the stall before hand to have a drink and a pee (me too). The person before me scratched so I could go in early. I decided to see how it felt but after 10 minutes she felt ready to me to in we went.
And it was awesome. Carmen was with me the whole way. She was much more relaxed about it and listening. It was a great way to end.
so tired. but rocking her bling
I got our sheets at the end of the day and we had gone up for both tests (marginally): 61 and 62. My placings were the same as the day before.
So this is the tale of how I placed 3rd out of 3 and still feel like I hung the moon.
So I have signed up for a Bronze show this weekend (side note, in Canada rated competitions are bronze, silver or gold).
Honestly, I have been having some anxiety about this.
Not about performance.
I have no illusions that we will be able to pull anything over a 55. But that's not my goal.
My overarching goal is 'to bore the judge'.
I want Carmen to be relaxed mentally and physically in our tests. I do not want the comment 'tight over the back'.
so tight over the toppline
I do not care if I get comments that relate to needing more energy or forward. Literally.
I know that we have the tools to do it. But when you have a horse that has had some serious melt downs in the show ring, it leaves some baggage.
not a good day
I worry about her stomach, I worry about me being too tight and pressuring her.
I also know that it's time to ask some more of her and help her to cope. So I've been throwing a lot a of stomach supplements at her (well, not a lot really but for me it seems a lot).
I had a lesson yesterday and it was raining. Carmen is not a fan of the rain. Well, being ridden in the rain- she eats in it just fine.
I get it, the rain makes all kinds of noises. And until now it really wasn't top of my priorities.
the opposite of flow
I made sure that we did our groundwork first and then a slow warm up. She was not impressed about the side with all the vegetation but was perfectly fine standing there on a loose rein. So I decided that we could go and I was not going to be bullied (Johanna did point out that I've been letting her get away with some rude things under saddle).
spook and recovery
It was a good lesson and required me to be on top of myself and not find myself get bogged down into arguments. Not gonna lie- that is hard. Apparently it's my life lesson right now.
a bit tense but at least I'm not stiffening and straightening my leg.....
Carmen's brain was a bit like a ping pong ball. With me, gone, with me, gone...... It was a good time to practice my zen-ness.
We had some wonderful canter work and then we were finishing with a stretchy trot circle. Missy took total advantage of the longer rein and did a spook-spin that unseated me. I almost saved it but she moved again and I bailed, landing on my ass but not in a hard way. More like a really clumsy dismount.
I stood up and marched her butt right back to the mounting block and got back on. We then spent 15 minutes on the notion that she can bend and I can insist. Shanea pointed out that she flings her shoulders which unbalances me and then she has freedom to make bad life choices. So I had to make sure that I was with her and not let that happen. Being able to focus on that and not the reins helped a lot.
Finally she got it in her head that she could walk and trot an honest-to-god circle and not fling herself around. And, in case you are thinking that something had her really worried, she was totally able to stand there with her head down and relaxed in the spot that she was unable to walk by.
While it was a good lesson with some really nice moments, I did wonder if I should scratch the whole show.
As I was cleaning tack and listening to music a song came on that put it all into perspective: Special by Shinedown:
Hurry up before you go and get old Hurry up before your blood runs cold None of us were ever meant to stay We're all gonna find out one day
You see life's too short to run it like a race So it's never gonna matter if you win first place 'Cause we're all the same
Stop waitin' on your fifteen minutes of fame 'Cause you're not special I'm not tryin' to rain on your parade But you're not special I'm not tryin' to bring to you down I'm not tryin' to sound so inaffectual But you're not special
Which is true. What does it matter- we will win or learn. I remembered that my goals this year are all about process, not outcomes.
So I'm going. We're going to do our best to be relaxed and calm. If I scratch or am disqualified, whatever.
I may also drink before too.....because that's a great show strategy, right?
Saturday evening we all went out to dinner. I was so very tired that I am surprised that I didn't fall asleep into my plate. It's not that I had worked super hard physically, it was more that my brain and body were tired.
After a solid sleep I was ready to tackle Sunday. It was rainy and cold (again. sigh. when will this end?) and I had the first ride of the day at 8:30. Before I got ready I took Carmen out to the arena to free lunge and to let her just move around. She was super mellow about it all.
Cute story: at one end of the ring is divided into 3 sections: a space for people to watch and two 'stalls' that hold all kinds of equipment. It is, objectively, a spooky area so I on Friday I worked with Carmen (in our groundwork) that this was were all pressure came off and she could relax. As I was asking her trot around the ring she made a beeline for this area and then stopped, looking at me: see, this is where we have breaks. It was adorable how pleased with herself she looked.
I saw some large balls in one of the stalls and I took it out to play. She was curious and nudged it around a bit but really was not worried.
is this a large apple?
nope. Not an apple
I put it away and left her free to wander around and I went over to the corner to chat with Julia and Dominique (her sister). Carmen came right over and stood with us. I will hang out with you guys. This warmed my heart on so many levels. I expected her to go and roll or to go over to the gate to look at the grass (like she did on Friday). Instead she chose to be with me (*heart swells two sizes*).
I then tacked her up and started warming her up before Johanna came. Her walk was not rushed but she felt a little stiff. When I asked for a trot she was a bit uncomfortable. I realized that she was in heat - not surprising since there are two stallions at this facility. I just let her trot around nice and relaxed so she could warm up.
When Johanna came she asked (as always) what I wanted to work on. I said that I wanted to keep working on the soft seat and hands but add in transitions so that I am supporting her properly through them. Carmen can get a bit stuck in her downwards where all her energy seems to go into the ground rather then carry forward into the lower gait.
Here's a short video of our starting out. You can see the stall area I was speaking about. You can also see her ask me a question about the jacket on the mounting block and her responding when I tell her it's okay (this is important for later).
One of the many 'aha' moments for me was on day 1 when Johanna explained that you can use the outside seat bone to help the horse turn on the circle. As the outside hind comes under you move it ever so slightly towards the inside ear in time with the horse. And it really works (also helps me to stop using the inside rein to turn). You can also hear me ask a question the role of the seat bone during shoulder in. I probably should have known the answer but I wanted to be sure. :)
As we began to trot and work, the jacket on the mounting block became an issue. I tried to help her relax about it but, in hindsight, I put pressure on to go by and I should have backed off. In any event, despite the fact that I could get her to go up to it and sniff it, trotting by it was far too big an ask. I know that when she is in heat she is far more aware and reactive to things in her environment. I am actually impressed that, while it was an issue, it wasn't a huge issue. Johanna decided to take the jacket away. I protested a bit (because I'm stubborn) but she explained that we would be spending our time on the jacket and not on what she wanted me to learn. Which was valid.
practicing our halts
We then moved up to the far part of the ring and I circled her many times in trot but she was getting more revved up and less listening.
Here you can see her resistance to bend and forward and could I just please piss off.
But I didn't piss off, I persisted. Finally, I started to drop into walk, got the bend and the bend and softness and then went back to trot. A few times like this and she settled into work again.
While it was not as good as the day before it was still really good on a lot of levels. I was able to get Carmen back without a huge battle. Once we settled things down she was trying to listen.
At the end of the lesson I spoke to Johanna about what I need to remember when I get home:
my pelvis needs to be relaxed in order to be effective
remember to loosen my hips.
bringing her back down to establish what I want
when I tighten I straighten my leg
Now that Carmen has self-confidence and can be calm it's time to ask more of her.
When I brought Carmen back to the aisle to untack her she immediately squatted and started to pee. Which she's never done. I quickly put her in the stall and she no longer peed. So either it was heat related or she really had to pee during our ride. Since itwas right outside the stallion's stall I'm thinking that was heat related. Anyway I informed her that no one was having sex this weekend.
I have to say that I was absolutely thrilled with our clinic this weekend. Here are the highlights for me:
there was only some teeny spooking at the jacket, otherwise she was fine
overall her manner was calm and relaxed
it felt that we were truly communicating with each other.
she has grown in her self-confidence and it really showed.
we can fun together. I truly believe that both of us enjoyed the time together.
I know it might make more sense to put these all together, but honestly each day was so very different that I'm separating them.
Friday night we had an amazing dinner, thanks to Karen supreme husband picking power: grilled steak, potatoes, veggies and salad. There was even a choice of desserts! I slept the sleep of one who had done a lot of exercise and then gorged herself.
In the morning I did chores and turned both horses out to enjoy the sunshine. Finally, we had a glorious sunny day that was NOT rainy or cold (unlike Friday or Sunday or any other frigging day this spring). I loved that I could turn them out to relax and move around. It makes life better for them and easier for me.
Carmen is clearly basking. Irish was until he saw me watching.
Karen was having a lunge lesson her mare with the goal of feeling the hind leg in the reins. Partway through the lesson she found that she could totally feel the hind leg in her arms even though she was not holding reins.
There was much nerdy dressage excitement. And I said I WANT TO FEEL THAT! LET ME TRY! Because I am 12, apparently and had no sense that this was not my lesson.
However, Karen was kind enough to let me get on when she was done. It was so cool to let go of the steering need and just focus on what was happening with my seat.
My ride on Carmen was at 3:00 and ended up being more like 3:15. That's because the clinic is very low key and we all had no other plans so things could be flexible.
As soon as I got on I could feel that Carmen was relaxed and easy. The rushing of the day before was much less. Even though Irish was screaming his head off in his stall. Karen offered to hold him for me outside the ring and I said 'thanks but no. She's fine with it'. And she was. Also, Irish is 19 and used to this happening to him (#problemchild). And she was fine. She clearly gave zero cares about Irish and his existential angst.
screen shot of a video. Love her
The goal for this lesson was for me to have soft and following hands (probably my goal until I die). When I was on Karen's mare Johanna took the reins and I was to follow her moving them- not do it on my own but let my arms swing free with the movement. Honestly, this is so hard to not hold or to move my arms rather than let Carmen move them (control issues I am sure). I need to have my elbows a bit in front of the vertical.
The cool thing about riding with Johanna is that you can decide the figures and directions. If she has something specific she wants you to do she will tell you. Otherwise if you want to transition or circle or change directions she is fine with it. She might ask why you did something or how did it feel. That took some time to get used to but now I just do it. Here I am practicing the softness with a leg yield. And it was so easy. Not perfect, but very flow-y.
And also breathe deeply, have soft eyes, soft joints and keep my legs under me. You know- juggling. I would focus on one and forget the others.
And the lesson was amazing. Carmen was the softest she has ever been. Ever. About half-way through I could feel her back come up underneath of me. All transitions simply required a breath. Breathe in and then release and she would trot. Breathe in and hold for a sec and she would walk.
I was having so much fun up there. It's not like everything was easy- it wasn't. And I would screw up my balance or pinch with my knees and it would fall apart. But Carmen stayed with me and listened to me every step of the way. The communication was fluid and clean. I would apologize and she would say 'fine, let's go again'.
Mistakes were because of trying to do not trying to avoid. And the difference this makes in training is transformational.
I didn't want to get off. But then I turned down the long side, shifted my hips oh so slightly and she went into the most soft and perfect shoulder in all the way down the long side. I halted, looked at Johanna and said I think we need to stop here. Okay then she said. And I hopped off, with a few tears in my eyes. I have been dreaming of this level of communication for a long long long time. And to have it on this day, with my friends, made it magical. I could have kept going and she would have stayed with me. But it felt like we both had made such strides that ending it when we did was perfect.
I don't even know how long I rode. And it doesn't matter. Because it was the perfect amount of time.
another screenshot. I love everything about this photo
Oh my god. I had the best weekend. It was fun, amazing and full of learning (and soooo much food).
Let me go back. This weekend Carmen, Irish, Julia and I went to a Johanna Beattie Batista clinic. I have done at least one every year and Carmen and I always make gains. This time Julia wanted to come. She could only ride on Sunday but came out to audit on Saturday.
Friday we hit the road around 9:30. Other than running into road construction it was an uneventful journey. Carmen came off the trailer like a pro. Irish was much more 'up' about the whole thing. I settled them in their stalls for a bit while I unpacked and then I put them out in a paddock to stretch their legs.
Carmen was all 'oh, okay. it's not bad but it needs more grass'
Irish was OH MY GOD, WHERE ARE WE? WHAT'S GOING ON? Do we live here now? Who's that over there?
I had packed my training 'toys' (flag, plastic bag and clappers) with me. Before our ride I brought her into the arena and we worked through our patterns. She was awesome- totally unconcerned about the arena or Irish screaming his head off outside (even though there were other horses. I thought about brining him in but figured he would be worse in a stall).
I tacked her up and began to warm up waiting for Johanna. Honestly, by now it's all a blur. Carmen was relaxed, mostly, but not completely because she was walking very fast and it was hard to rate her.
Truthfully, I am used to balking Carmen and spooking Carmen. Speedy Carmen was a new kettle of fish. So much of the lesson was about helping Carmen to go slow without pulling on the reins. We started off with a lot of bending getting her to do shoulder in. The idea is to connect her back to front. You can see int he video that, while she is tight, she is also trying really hard to pay attention to me. Rather than it being 'go away!' she was more like this is really hard, are you sure? Okay, I'll try.
And it slowly paid off. Johanna is a Level 2 Centered Riding Instructor and working on her Level 3. She stopped me at one point and did an adjustment to my hip and bam! my legs were right where they were supposed to be.
It was wonderful to be able to work on loose joints and a following seat.
a blurry screen shot but I love the moment it captured
Near the end we cantered and it was so uphill and, well, fun.
I need to get my hand more in front but still....
One thing that Johanna helped me to see was that I didn''t need to take any 'sass' from Carmen. She was periodically yanking on the rein. I thought it was my fault but it turns out that she was just taking advantage. Once I gave myself permission to correct her for things, everything became much better.
As we worked she became softer and softer. Contrast this shoulder in to the one earlier in the ride:
We found a spot to end it and I was so happy. Not once did she spook. A couple times she got a little tense and worried, but responded right away to me asking her to soften. At the end of the ride I ask Johanna is she saw improvement from last year. Oh yes, 1000 percent! she exclaimed and I was so happy. Carmen meanwhile was relaxed and ready to go relax.