dancing horses

dancing horses

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Nothing to Prove

You may recall that, this spring, I was complaining bitterly of the weather. It seemed that we had never ending rain and cold. Then in July it became hot and we've have very little rain. The pastures are dry. But we're finally getting some rain thanks to Tropical Storm Erin.

I was a little worried that it would make trailering to the show nasty, but it's supposed to blow over by early Friday. This morning the sky was an eerie orange colour. Just before I let the horses out the heavens opened with a torrential downpour. At which point, both horses decided that they were fair weather horses and I was cruel to open the door and expose them to the elements.
Me: okay, off you go to frolic in the fields. 
Irish: In this hurricane? 
Me: um, it's just rain. Summer rain.
Carmen: this is ridiculous. I cannot endure such conditions. I demand hay in my stall. 
Me: But your ancestors roamed the plains in weather much worse than this. 
Irish: um I was born on a cattle farm.....
Carmen: *ahem* I believe you will find that I am descended from the noble baroque horses who roamed the deserts. 
Me: You were born in Virginia...
Carmen: you're the one who brought up ancestry 
Me: well yes...bu-
Carmen: and I was simply pointing out the flaw in your reasoning.
Me: *sigh* yes. you are right. 
Carmen: *looking smug*
Me: Fine. But I'm not putting hay in your stalls so you will have to decide- shelter or food. 
Irish: she's getting mean in her old age.

fields empty of horses
Of course they went out and I'm pleased to report that no one dissolved in the rain. 

Mid-Morning the rain stopped and I was able to pack the trailer and bathe Carmen.  I always reach a point in show prep where I wonder what I'm doing and why. I realized that it has more to do with the work involved in getting ready then about the show itself. 

I also realized that I am looking forward to the show. 

I also have a long standing history of setting goals for a show. So as I puttered I tried to think of what I wanted to accomplish. It's not like there weren't lots of options. I thought of scores, nailing our lengthens, being accurate in my tests etc.

But I couldn't settle on any of them. That's when I realized that I really didn't feel a need to set a goal.

Summer is almost over and we've worked really hard. There have been ups and downs and even some sideways.

But I no longer feel the need to prove anything- to myself or others. Not that anyone every gave me the impression that they were judging me (well except the judge of course). Everyone has always been very supportive and kind.

So we will go to the show and we will have fun. I will connect with my friends at the show. Carmen will be good. Or she'll be dramatic. I will deal with whatever happens and I will count myself lucky to have such a great weekend.

Actually, I lied. I do have one goal:
Please stay clean tonight Carmen.
Pretty please.....

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Not Just a Passenger

This weekend Carmen and I are headed to a out our third show of the year. I am really looking forward to it. In order to be prepared I had a lesson booked for today.

Life circumstances meant that I hadn't ridden since my last blog post (thursday). I intended to ride on Sunday but when I took Carmen up to the ring they were baling the weeds/dead grass in the next field. When they cut it back on Thursday I thought they were just mowing it to start getting it back. Right now it's mostly weeds with some dried up grass. But nope. They were baling it.  Carmen was bug eyed watching the baler and tedding machines. I decided to stick to ground work and lunging.

The weather has gone from warm and humid to cool and fallish. Combine the weather and the fact that Carmen's suspicions of the field next door were completely and utterly confirmed it had all the hallmarks of being a drama-lama sort of ride.

I started with lunging while Shanea set up some poles and cones to give us guidance.  Carmen was certainly tense and ready to spiral. I even thought about having Shanea ride first. But instead I stayed on and worked through it.

And do you know what?

I might actually be becoming a better rider. Because I could feel my seat locked in the saddle and I managed to stay upright through most of the ride. I keep the rein short and my leg on so that she couldn't find an open door to run through.

exit stage left, or maybe not
Shanea was all about keeping my outside rein and riding her forward. Here she is trying to run away and I put her to work.

There would be an issue, I would fix it , and send her forward. Shanea helped me to see that the answer was always the outside rein and more leg. I have this tendency to hang on the inside because she always bends to the outside and then takes off to the in. I also take my leg off thinking to slow her down. BUT what I need to do is straighten her on the outside and push that energy into forward. This is not new information but I could feel it actually click.

I could feel her playing with the contact- leaning, pulling, retracting. I know I could likely have been softer but she was switching it so much that it was hard. I settled for being steady. I really want to be softer in my elbows but keeping them and my shoulders soft while keeping my back steady with a horse going in 6 directions at one underneath me is one that eludes me.

Now normally, when Carmen starts off at a 10 on the tension scale the lesson is usually a wash in terms of moving our training forward. It's mostly about keeping her brain in the ring and saving my life. But this time, as the lesson went on things began to get better and better.

could be more underneath but at least her hocks aren't trailing a mile
We were able to work on the finer points of the lengthen and leg yields. 

I can feel starting to understand the lengthen. In the leg yield she was more restricted going to the right. I realized that I was holding her with my right knee. Once I took that off she could flow.

Tonight Julia came by to ride after dinner. Carmen looked a little cranky as I tacked her up. We decided to start with a hack in the woods.

Julia: are you going to lunge her first?
Me: No.  She's going to be fine (looks at Carmen), right? 
Carmen: I am undecided at the moment. 

She was awesome on the hack but more reluctant about going into the ring to school. I kept things light and easy. I laughed that she was like a horse with an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other.

Carmen: listen to the one on the left.....
She would be quiet and easy and then think about not. I tried very hard to clear and be soft when I could. She actually settled really well. I took her into the centre of the ring and watch Irish for a bit. She was quite happy to stand in the end. I could feel her taking teeny tiny steps towards the gate. It was kind of adorable, it was step...pause....nope she didn't notice....step.....

I hopped off and we went back to the barn. I realized that I am feeling less like a victim of Carmen's moods and more like a  mentor who can influence her for good. And when things are not good, I feel like I have the tools to fix it without feeling like I'm going to come off. 

On another note, the Pas de Deux at the Canter for the Cure show may or may not involve costumes......(okay, there's going to be costumes. I'm pretty sure I can ride in a dress.......)

Friday, August 23, 2019

A Week in the Life of a Mare Servant

This has been quite the week on the farm. I figured I should pull it together to show the ups and downs of a mare.

Monday was the mondayest of Mondays. It started with a flat tire on my way to work. Fortunately I hear right as I left the driveway so I was able to turn around and switch vehicles. While Ed dealt with the tire drama (the benefits of working from home) I had a busy day at work. After I tacked Carmen up to ride and she was in full dragon mode.

I swear she actually breathed fire
Everything was an argument. And I mean everything. Standing, moving, bending, not bending. As well there was lots of spooking at birds, leaves, air..... I survived and once she sort-of settled I didn't dismount but then worked on some transitions from light aids as opposed to heavy hands and/or kicking. We were both sweaty and tired at the end.

Tuesday I took off from riding so I could do other chores around the farm.

Wednesday I had arranged for an early morning (before work) lesson from Shanea.

And it was amazing.

Julia came out to ride at the same time. When she arrived we decided to go for a hack first and then go in the ring. Carmen led most of the way. She was a bit bemused about going into the ring after the hack but she settled right in.

Through out the whole lesson Carmen was right there listening and trying. Shanea and I were able to get into some of the nitty gritty of keeping her balanced and straight.

smooth and flowing

I told Shanea that we had been struggling with the First Level Test 3 move of leg yield into the middle and then the 10 metre circle. Of course Carmen flowed into it really well. But Shanea was able to point out that I wasn't preparing her for the circle at the end. I needed to start the bend a few strides out.

You can see in the video how tuned in and cooperative she's feeling. I love lessons where we're working on the details rather than keeping her attention. Our canter work was nice too. She was getting a bit tense in the corner but still it's way better than before. Julia finished her ride and left with Irish and, while Carmen noticed, she didn't worry about it too much.


Thursday Cynthia came to ride Irish (they came to NS for their daughter's wedding and a vacation). It was hot and humid. I had a long day of mental work and wasn't feeling the need to really work too hard in the saddle. I told Carmen to not pick any fights because I wasn't in the mood. And she didn't. She did think about being a bit distracted and spooky but it never escalated. Likely because I wasn't putting any real pressure on her and was just toodling around.

Carmen did give on spook when a gust of wind blew Fernando over (I decided on this name from the ABBA song).

he fainted

Carmen came to sudden and rigid halt staring at the bull.
Carmen: OMG what attacked the bull?
Me: The wind blew it over
Carmen: It was the trolls. I KNEW THEY WERE REAL. 
ME: No it was-
Carmen: Who's the foolish one now? Huh? 
Me: look, it just fell over. 
Carmen: I am suspicious. You are never careful enough. And after all I do to keep us safe....

We stood there staring for a bit and then she decided to walk up and give him a sniff. 
Carmen: he dead. 
Me: no, he's just resting

After sniffing him she was fine to carry on around the ring, occasionally keeping a close eye in case Fernando leapt up and charged. We carried on working a bit and then went for a hack. It was a nice way to end the week. 

Friday was also hot and humid and I've decided to not ride. I did some ring maintenance and decided to put the bull away. I carefully put Fernando into the tractor bucket and carried him down to the shed. Carmen and Irish watched us go by and I'm pretty sure that I heard Carmen say I told you he was dead

so very very true

Sunday, August 18, 2019

The Name of the Game

Yesterday my husband pointed out that he had spent a lot of time making me a bull and I had not even  bothered to take it up to the ring. Clearly he was rankled.

Now in my defence, it was quite tippy, falling over at the lightest breeze. When he got that sorted I was in full show mode and wasn't putting anything in the ring to clutter things up. Add to that Irish's reaction when he first saw the newest member of the farm and it was easier to put it off. The first time Irish saw the bull outside the barn he lost his ever loving mind and tried to run through the fence. Fortunately it was on and he didn't but there was a lot of tense blowing and tail flagging for quite a while every time he spied it.

But he did have a point. And one of my goals for this year was to do more 'fun' things.  So today I set up a little obstacle course:

It was a pretty simple set up and I wanted to make sure that I was leaving room to practice circles and leg yields. The bull was just there for exposure- I don't have a ring or anything on it yet. 

Julia joined me and we made sure that Irish had a chance to be introduced to the bull (he needs a name I think. Any ideas?). 

Irish: Hey look, he's harmless! 

It was fun to play around with the various cones, canter poles, etc. Carmen was great with all of it. Which I expected because she enjoys these sorts of things. We would work on transitions, leg yields etc and then go and do one of the tasks. We struggled with the canter poles but Julia reminded me to look up and not at the poles and everything go better after that. 

Carmen: well hello there

I was super impressed with her at the gate. I've been working on each step, making sure she was relaxed and understood the questions. She has a tendency to rush a gate but not today. We were able to do it forward and backing through it. 

After we played for a while in the ring we went on a hack through the woods. Carmen led pretty much the whole way, walking out with confidence (although keeping an eye on possible dangers). We usually trot the hill back up to the barn and she led there as well. 

Guinness came along as well. You can see him in the photos and videos above. He's assigned himself the job of supervisor. All he needs is a clipboard and safety vest.  Carmen seems to be fine with him as well. This has become one of my favourite photos of the three of us: 

The Three Muskateers (screen shot from a video)

Friday, August 16, 2019

A Work in Progress

Today I was able to have a lesson with Shanea. It had been a while so I was really looking forward to it. Carmen's fitness has been translating into excess energy. It seems that she doesn't really know what to do with the energy.
look who's sitting up and not grabbing with her hands?!

Well, she does, but just not in a way that I would consider 'productive'.  Instead, it translates into extra spookiness and #feelings. It's been good for me to practice staying on top of things and riding proactively.

Yesterday that led to long session then I had planned but that is okay. I was hopeful that today she would be a bit quieter. And she was, at least in the pre-ride lunge and groundwork. And she was when I was riding.

The key I'm finding is to not let her get strung out or balled up. It can feel like riding a tight rope.
Actual quote from my lesson:
Shanea: and now canter
Me: you know you're not in the will right? 

But when she's underneath of me and feeling forward it feels really good.

It also feels like it comes and goes a lot. And Carmen had some feelings about some areas of the ring (different then the last time we rode. le sigh). So we would be flowing and then it was like someone choked the hose.

It's useful to me to feel that and help her deal with it rather then be a passive passenger and hope that she doesn't dump me or run away. I can feel that she has some thoughts about me insisting she stay with me. But once we work through it, she falls into place.

I also need to take ownership of my own emotions. Not about getting frustrated, but my self-confidence. I have this habit that when things are good of stopping because I want to finish before it goes bad again. I've been trying to not do that.

Instead I work her to a good place and then work on some specific things. 

I hope that this doesn't sound like we're stalled- because we're not. It's more about filling in a few holes and working on her submission. 

I was happy with our lesson and how I rode. Not that I was perfect, because I wasn't.  But we are work in progress. 

And to finish here's a really cute video. I didn't even realize that Guinness was doing this until I looked at the clips from my lesson. He seems to have assigned himself as our companion (also look at his extended trot). Notice that Carmen doesn't care at all. He can pop in and out of anywhere around the ring and she is fine with it.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Come Dance With Me

You may recall that I have signed Carmen and I up for a charity show in September.  I also talked my friend, Karen into showing as well. In a text exchange she was wondering whether to do one test or two.  I dropped the suggestion that it would be fun for us to do a Pas de Deux in honour of our friend Janet who is battling cancer. After a brief text silence I received two back to back:
Head explodes
It could be fun. 

Now doing a test to music has been high on my wish list for a long time. This fun show seemed like the perfect time and doing with Karen and her stallion would make it even more fun.  The tricky part was finding time to get together to practice. I have a full size ring so it made sense for it to be here.

Karen found the music and we played with some choreography via google docs and I tried riding to it to figure out the timing. Yesterday evening she arrived so that we could spend Sunday morning pulling together the choreography.

Because that should be enough time, right?

Irish was so excited to see Kalimo. He's so in love it's pathetic. Carmen could have cared less.

full on bromance! 
So we started with the first part and that fell together quite easily. The canter work was much much harder. Carmen got a little tense with the whole thing and was ready to quit. At one point we passed Kalimo cantering in opposite directions and he let out a big fart. It scared Carmen and she bolted. Karen looked around to see us at the opposite side of the ring. It was hilarious, even though I almost came off. 

We rode and discussed and I began to wonder if we'd figure it out. Finally we had a plan and we rode it through the music and it worked! I then asked Ed to come up and video it so we could review it. AT the end he said 'I expected that I would be trying to conceal my laughter but that looked good'. 

Oh ye of little faith.  Just because we said that we weren't sure what we were doing......

After we were all exhausted. 
Kalimo: time for a nap

Carmen: can you just calm down?
 After, Carmen and Kalimo went out to the field to have a rest while Karen and I reviewed the video and ate the delicious lunch that Ed made.
doesn't he look great in my field? 
Then it was time to go home. 

It was so much to play with this. We will practice it on our own and, hopefully, have one more chance at a rehearsal. But like Karen said, this is more for fun and love then anything else.

So if you are at the show in September you will see us debut our dance number. And just to get you interested, here's a small preview:

I am so excited. Janet, I hope that you can come and see it.

Hopefully, Carmen won't add any extra drama....

Friday, August 9, 2019

Another Country Heard From

Unless you've been hiding under a rock, you have heard the news bombshell about George Morris and his lifetime ban from horse sports for 'sexual misconduct involving a minor'. The reactions were swift and furious.

While I am sure that another opinion on the internet is likely useless I'm going to do it anyway.  If you want to see some really awesome and informative posts on this you can find them here and here (I am sure there are more).

The rhetoric I am hearing on FB and other platforms is horrible. The accusers are being vilified, as is Safe Sport. There is a collective throwing up of hands saying that it will no longer be safe for trainers/coaches etc.

Does this sound familiar?
Because it should. We heard the same bullshit when the #metoo movement started.

I am not going to weigh on George's innocence or guilt. I wasn't part o the investigation and know nothing about it. If you think that you know that it was flawed and had no part of it then you are reacting without knowing the facts.

pretty pony to break up rant (PC Cindy McCullough)
Don't tell me that these teenage victims of 'sexual misconduct' are equally to blame. Because you are wrong.

When I was 15/16 I used to meet a friend at the roller skate rink for an evening. Yes, I am that old. We styled and hair sprayed our hair almost to death, strapped on big ass roller skates and skated to disco music.
not me. But it could have been
One night we ran into her cousin who was there. I was immediately smitten and he was clearly attracted to me. The problem was he was in his 20s. I tried to hide my age but when he found out he let me know (kindly) that he could not date a teenager. I was crushed. Could he not see how mature I was?  He could totally have taken advantage of me, but he didn't. And you know what? That shouldn't be viewed as fucking noble on his part. It should be standard.  I was young. My body and hormones were sending me all sort of weird and interesting signals and I didn't have enough maturity to really understand it.

All I wanted to do growing up was ride horses. If that dream had been realized in my teenage years I could easily have been a victim of an adult trainer/coach. We admire these individuals and can even worship them. These young people are vulnerable and they need to be protected. It is not unusual for young people to spend a long time at a barn unsupervised by parents.  

Don't tell me 'it was a different time'. It is not okay for adult men and women to have sex with teenagers. It has never been okay. The only thing that is different is that people didn't want to hear about it and vilified the victim. I've even heard the comment that it was legal in some states to marry underage girls. Whatever. There are still countries that do this. It doesn't make it fucking right. And if we're going to start quoting the laws-back then homosexual sex was illegal in many states. And that law was wrong too. 

It would be nice if we all knew and operated on this principle. But they don't. So organizations need to have things in place to protect everyone. It's not a court of law and does not function like one. So stop whining about them not following the law. It a set of regulations on what is deemed inappropriate conduct and determines what the consequences are. 

If you disagree with how it's done then get involved. But don't say that we don't need it. Because we clearly do. 

Stop assuming you know an investigation was flawed when you know nothing. (pro tip: not seeing something happen does not mean that it didn't happen). 

Stop assuming that the victims are lying because who would honestly put themselves out there for this type of reaction? I will remind you of Bill Cosby, Kevin Spacey, Harvey Weinstein. And it is not just limited to those who are 'famous'. Locally there is a case of a teacher/coach abusing over 20 children in the 80's. 

Stop acting all wounded like you can't coach anymore. Because if you think that sexual behaviour or any type of abuse is part of the sport then you can just fucking leave. 

Because we don't need you. And I don't care how good you are. 

me on my high horse (PC Cindy McCullough)

Monday, August 5, 2019

"Riding is Hard!"

I had a really fun weekend of fun and learning. Friday I trailered Carmen to the barn and settled her in.  I swear that she remembered the last time we were there, despite it being pretty close to exactly 2 years ago. 

she was fascinated by this orange cat who was completely
unfazed over being snuffled all over. 

That night all of the ones participating got together for the evening 'lecture'. We started by introducing ourselves and our goals for the clinic. When it was my turn I started on my laundry list of flaws and then realized how I sounded. I stopped myself and simply said 'riding is hard'

Everyone laughed and that became the motto for the weekend. I know I called it a lecture that night but it wasn't.  Karen had us share and practice things like balance and using our centre to signal. Karen shared a really interesting quadrant to help think about our rides:

The vertical line is energy and the horizontal one is mental state (note, this is not Karen's drawing but it is the same concept). I really liked it and it helped me to think about my rides on Carmen. 

We played with ropes to practice how subtle signals need to be and we even practiced 'riding' each other to see how little change in our posture is required to send a strong signal (no we didn't sit on each other, we just stood over top). 

My goal for the weekend was to really find some tool to target my tendency to lean forward. Karen helped me to feel my seat bones and to feel when I rock back. The goal is to let the horse move my seat bones but to not let them go back too far. I am sure that I'm not explaining it well but the idea is the if we let our seat bones go back too far it encourages the horse to let their legs go out behind and not step under. Karen used the phrase 'close the back door' which seemed to help. 

At first it was really hard to keep that way. Like really hard. Because riding is hard.  But I could feel Carmen respond. It was easier on day 2 but it still required a lot of mental focus. Karen had me stand next to her and she put her hand on my back between the shoulder blades and had me resist her pushing me forward. This helped me to feel where I need to be:

It really helped. When I lost it Karen would remind to feel her hand. 

look at that uphill canter and erect rider! 
On day one we even tried a little baby half-pass:

One of the tools is focusing on the 'X' that is in our back (you can find it by drawing an imaginary line from your shoulders to the opposite hip. The idea is not to use muscle tension (which was what I thought at first) but to pulse the energy down.  Again this really helped.
sitting up, carmen is forward and in the bridle but
I am not pulling. 

I found that I had to keep cycling through my body: core, loose pelvis, back, shoulders. 

It was such a great learning experience. At no time did Karen get frustrated with me or lose her sense of humour. I feel that I got some tools to help me in my rides.  

I plan to keep practicing. 

So I can target the next thing. 

Because, (say it with me): riding is hard

But (like I said at the end of the clinic), it is also so much fun

Which is why we do it. Because, otherwise we would just be masochists. 

And that can't be true. Right? 

Friday, August 2, 2019

So Many Flaws, So Little Time

As riders we are all familiar with this question from non-riders: "Why are you still taking lessons? Don't you already know how to ride?"

My long answer, about how continuous improvement takes outside eyes and if you want to get better you need a coach etc, makes their eyes glaze over and quickly change the subject. My short one is also true: 'Riding is hard'

While there was a lot to truly like from the show, there's a lot that drives me crazy about my riding.

I love this photo- she uphill and soft but
what the hell am I doing with my left hand?
(PC Amy Sangster) 

My biggest thing right now is my tendency to lean forward as soon as things get tense. I know why- it's my defensive posture. But honestly, it has to go because now I think I'm sitting up when I'm actually not. Which is why we need a person on the ground because our bodies lie to us

So when Shanea offered a lesson on Wednesday at 12:30 when there was a heat warning I said 'sure' (although faintly). 

I told her that I really wanted to work on this sitting forward. Carmen obliged by being a bit of dick about the far corner. (this is also really bugging me because it's only on the right rein):

I don't know where she got the energy to be so testing. With the humidex it was 39 degrees (102 Fahrenheit). Which for Nova Scotia is blistering. (The bucket you see there was filled with water so Shanea could periodically sponge Carmen down). 

I don't help this whole issue by leaning forward so the lesson was on me sitting up and using my back to not let Carmen pull me forward. 

here she is using that strong neck of her's to pull me then my
lizard brain says 'lean forward so we don't die!'
It's not Carmen's fault I do this- it's always been a flaw of mine. But her behaviour doesn't help me get rid of it. So I need to take charge. 

so much better but I could be back even more
Honestly, when I'm sitting up it feels like I'm leaning way back. So clearly I need to work on this.

Fortunately, I'm off to a clinic this weekend with Karen on balance in riding (she's a level 2 CR instructor).  I'm hoping that I can get some ways to remind myself when I'm riding alone.  It's a small clinic in a lovely setting. I'm staying with Paula so it will be another fun weekend with horse friends. 

I'm sure that Carmen is excited. LOL, I expect that she's not a fan of my vacation. 

Carmen's favourite way to vacation