dancing horses

dancing horses

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Autumn Refresh

After last week I definitely needed to recharge and I decided that I was going to spend the whole weekend recharging my batteries.

walking to the get Carmen I spied this 4-leaf Clover.
I decided it was a sign

Of course that involved doing horse things. I had no major goals for schooling. Just to sit on Carmen and see where we were with things and go from there. 

This weekend also marked the start of deer hunting season. Which means that a little extra caution is required. Last March I found this orange fly veil in a sales bin and I snatched it up. When we were tacking up I put it on Carmen and she immediately shook it off. 
Carmen: I hate this colour on me. It doesn't go with my eyes
Me: It's for your safety. Besides, it looks lovely. 
Carmen: It's just so not-cool. 
I hate this bonnet. And you. 

Friday Julia came out to ride and we started with a ride on our little trail. Both horses were a bit excited but stayed well behaved. In the ring Carmen was really good. She thought about being distracted but was easy to redirect. We had some lovely canter work and I was super happy with her.   I asked Ed to come up and take a photo of us in our hunter orange.

safety first 
Saturday I rode her by herself. She was a little more feisty but we worked through it. In my Johanna lesson she talked to me about weight aids. I tend to put too much weight in the stirrups. She asked me to think about how much my legs weigh. Don't tell me, just have a number in your head and have only that much weight in the stirrups.  When I think about it I can feel my seat get right into the saddle and I'm immediately more balanced.  I've been really trying to use that. When I focus on it, it really works and she can't dislodge me with any antics.

we had our first hard frost this weekend
I love riding in autumn. The air just feels so nice and fresh. And the bugs are gone.

If it wasn't that it meant that winter was just around the corner I would really love it. 

Sunday I arranged to go to Coveside and ride with a new riding buddy. Nancy was not available but this person was. Carmen was clearly stressed about getting on the trailer but when we arrived she was  just 'oh, it's here. Okay then'.  As we tacked up we chatted about our horses. She told me that her mare was pretty good on the trail. 
Carmen is good too on the trails. I will tell you know that if you run we're probably going with you.

When I walked out with Carmen to mount the amorous donkey came up to say hi. 
Well hello there little lady. How you doin'?  I didn't see the look Carmen gave him but he veered off pretty quickly. Mare glare. It's real folks. 

I have to say that the two mares were great together. They walked at similar pace. They were pretty chill with one another too. It was a lovely ride in the woods. 

As we walked along Carmen dropped her nose to check out a stump that was recently cut. I let her reach down to it when she suddenly popped her nose up. I laughed. I totally saw that- it jumped at you!' She sniffed and walked on. After that she was rock steady. Even when we encountered Dianne walking her dogs and an ATV. 

I could do this all day

It was a great weekend and just what I needed. My batteries feel recharged and I'm ready to tackle the world again.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Life Stuff

Riding has been taking a back seat to the rest of my life.

not that Carmen seems to mind

This week has totally kicked my ass.

I'm doing this special project at work and it's in an intense phase.  I am enjoying the project but I've been on the road and at many many meetings which is draining.  Then our car decided to throw a huge issue our way. Because why not? We thought it was a bearing but it turns out that it's the transmission. It seems the CVT transmission on subarus are a 'known problem' and often fail about 150-200k kms. You know, after the warranty has expired.

Not only is this expensive but it will take a long time to repair. Of course I didn't know what the plan was until I came home from work. Ed embarked on this long, rambling explanation and I finally said 'honey, this week has kicked my ass. I know you are trying to lead me to a conclusion but this is just making my blood pressure rise. Can you skip to the end and then we can fill in the blanks later'. Which he did. It's disappointing because we bought a subaru because it was supposed to be reliable.

Ed also started talking about our next car being a honda because we just can't buy a brand that we can't rely on. Again I stopped him and said 'you know we try to buy good cars and it rarely works out. Our best cars were the shitboxes we bought when we had no money. I say we just buy shitboxes and then we won't be disappointed (or as broke) when they fail. 

So I might be a little bitter. And trying to figure out how I can work without a car. Fortunately, my daughter is loaning us hers while she is away on vacation.

I managed to get in the saddle once this week since Saturday. Julia came out and we hacked followed by a little bit of work in the ring. It was about all I wanted to do. I had no desire to work hard at things, I just wanted to toodle. And Carmen was pretty cool with that. We even popped over a little X (about 8 inches).

Last sunday we got together with friends and spent the day touring wineries. 

this is a wine dispensing machine. I need it for my office 
In the past this would really bug me that I wasn't schooling more. But this year I was determined to not benso driven. The reality is that Carmen and I are not heading to the olympics any time soon. And  we all know how Carmen responds to pressure and stress anyway.

So that doesn't make for good horse blog fodder but life often requires us to focus on other things.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Leap of Faith: We Try Jumping! (well sort of)

As you know I have introduced Carmen to many things in the years we have been together:
trail riding,


And a flamenco dress. 

I love this photo (thank you Amanda Stright!)
One thing that has been on my list is to introduce her to jumping. I realized that I am on borrowed time with the riding weather and that I was waiting for everything to be 'perfect'.

 However, that was making me hesitate. So this Thursday I texted Shanea and asked "so what do you think about introducing Carmen to some jumping tomorrow? Break things up a bit". She texted back 'that would be fun!'

And just like that I was committed. 

Carmen: say what now?
The weather Friday was typical October: rapidly changing from sun to cloud back to sun, windy and then a light rain shower. The last time I rode her was Monday so I brought her up early to lunge and do some groundwork.  Shanea was running a bit late which made us up there a bit longer. When I mounted she was fine at first but when the wind picked up rattling some leaves she started to come a little unglued. I actually dismounted and put her back on the lunge to make her work a little harder. She's not allowed to rip and tear but she needs to work. After a bit she settled and while that was going on Shanea set up two 'grids':

the wee little X started as just two poles played down

I was to pick up a canter and do each line while Shanea adjusted to make sure that the striding was right. At first she was all distracted by the leaves and trees outside the ring which resulted in her tripping over the poles. 

This is part of her problem: she focuses on everything and takes no responsibility for her feet. Which leads to her tripping and then getting pissed off about it. The exercise though was simple: canter a line, circle to regroup, do the next line. Repeat. 

We did a lot of cantering this lesson. Probably more than I have ever done at one time. But it worked, Carmen began to settle into a rhythm and the work. She was definitely enjoying the forward. And she began to pay attention to the poles and forgot about all the scary things. 

Now before I show videos and photos,  Carmen (as far as I know) has never jumped and I haven't jumped in over a decade. So let us all agree that my posture riding a horse green to jumping and in a dressage saddle will be horrible. I tried to stay out of her way and give her the right amount of support. 

is this an oxer? No, it is not. 

It felt like at the end of each line she would surge forward and resist half-halts. It took a lot for me to get back in the saddle and bring her back. Notice Guinness in the video. I swear that he thinks he's the assistant trainer. 

The clouds became heavier and I was getting tired. Shanea finally set up a small X (about 12") and we trotted up the line. Carmen saw the 'jump' hesitated and then jumped like a deer, which resulted in me hitting her in the mouth. 

So Shanea dropped it to the wee teeny little X you see in the photos above. That allowed us to get back in the groove- because it was essentially a raised trot pole. 

The whole lesson was so much fun and I can see how incorporating this can help us to finesse some things. 

This is the last line we did. It was the best one so we ended it there. 

 I was so happy with how we did. It seemed to me that she really enjoyed it. It definitely was good for our confidence and trust in one another.

I doubt we'll ever be seen in the hunter ring but this will definitely be part of our routine. Maybe at some point I'll even raise it to 8 inches!!!

baby jumps for babies

Tuesday, October 15, 2019


Thank you everyone for your kind words about Chester. I love my cats and take the best care of them I can. They do go outside because they are part of rodent control too. Otherwise the barn and house would be over run or we would need to use traps/poison. I am grateful that I know that he passed away. I hate it when cats disappear and you never know what happened.

As for Irish I have no idea. I hadn't noticed anything before the vet visit and he seems to be fine. This is new territory for me so if anyone has any info to share I would appreciate it.

Irish: pretty sure snacks are good for heart conditions, 

I gave Carmen a day off after the vet visit and I noticed that she seemed more relaxed. I probably wouldn't have ridden (well maybe) but the weather helped because it was rainy and we had to clean for thanksgiving dinner. We invited family coming for dinner and it turned out that we had 15 people for dinner. Which is the largest dinner party I've ever cooked for.

I cooked a ham and a turkey along with all the side dishes and baked some bread. But it all worked out- it was crowded and a bit chaotic but that's family, right?  Of course everyone had to meet the horses.
Irish: why are you over there? you can give me snacks too. 

After everyone left I collapsed on the sofa and then realized that since we weren't eating supper I could go ride. Which is what I did. I was curious to see if Carmen would be different. I did lunge first to help her expend any energy. She was forward but not crazy. When I got on we had one discussion and then it was over. I honestly think that her teeth were more comfortable and that helped her to focus. I really enjoyed the ride. The vet had shown me some massage to do after a ride on her back and I tried it out. As I did it I saw her drop her head and relax.

The next day in our ride i wanted to do more than just the toodling I had done the day before. Even with the extra pressure she was pretty good. I was playing with some poles on the ground and I can feel her really start to thrust and carry herself over them rather than rush.

I worked on shoulder/haunches in. It really is easy for her when she's relaxed and not a rigid board. We did the SI to B half-circle to X and then half-circle to E with SI the other direction. It was easy peasy at the walk, she was just so supple. I then rode the same in HI and it was the same.

Clearly she feels better with her teeth. It helps that the wind had settled as well. I doubt it was all teeth. Carmen will always have her feelings. But I find it less disruptive and I feel much less helpless than I used to.

Carmen looking majestic in the morning mist.
I can't believe how much she's lightened this year

With the fall weather coming there's a sense of slowing down and enjoying the moment rather than a desire to push the training. Winter will be here soon enough so I want to enjoy the ponies as much as I can. 

on mornings like this it's hard to go to work.....
Being an adult sucks sometimes. 

Friday, October 11, 2019

Chicken or Egg

Fall weather

I gave Carmen Monday off this week. Not that she needed it but I had other things I had to do (like work) so let her be. Also, when I came home I found our cat, Chester dead in the barn. It was a shock and first I thought he was sleeping. He was young and I don't know what happened. It is possible that he ate a rodent that had been poisoned (not that we use but there might some in the neighbourhood). Or he perhaps had a health issue that we didn't know about. Either way I felt horrible to find him laying there.

rest easy little one
Tuesday I squeezed in a short ride and she was awesome- soft, listening and easy. I wanted to continue to work on using my seat for transitions. She really tuned in and when I asked her to do a trot-halt using just my seat she responded beautifully and I hopped off.

I rode again on Thursday and it was less sunshine and roses and more clouds and thorns. The wind was up and so was Carmen. I focussed on staying soft but not letting her get away from my aids. She felt tight and stiff and was quite spooky. But we got some good work and then I stopped. While she was being a bit of a tool about things (like spooking at the trot poles piled outside the ring that have been there forever) it didn't feel out of control. I chalked it up to a bad day due to the wind and cold.

When I was grooming her I felt how tight her poll was. I don't know if she was reactive because of her poll or her poll was tight because she was so reactive. I spent some time massaging and it and she relaxed. It was much tighter on the right.

Today I had a lesson booked with Shanea. Again it was a cold and blustery day with a storm forecast for later. I went up early to do some ground work and lunging. When she was settled I got on and we began to walk around. Shanea came up and I brought her up to speed on the clinic. Carmen was a hot mess. She was tight and coiled. When I asked her to walk down towards the far side of the ring she flat out refused. She began to back up and then spun and bolted.
not a horse picture, I found this cool bug on my screen the other night

I sighed. So that's how it's going to go.  I rode her into a circle with Shanea being super calm and deadpan, despite being in imminent danger of being trampled.  We worked Carmen through her feelings until I could find her brain.

After that bolt it was just a lot of her getting tight, me focusing on my seat and not on writing sales ads. She would relax and we would start again.  I wanted to work on transitions so we spent the latter part of the lesson doing those.  I was actually quite happy with the trot-halt-trot transitions.

After a few she felt a bit anticipatory and like she was getting frazzled so I asked her to pick up a canter to change the topic. It was a nice canter and felt good. We switched directions and we got a few good transitions to the right. It felt that we had gotten as much as we could without starting to go downhill again so we called it.

When I was grooming her the vet called to confirm that she was on her way. I had arranged for her to come and check Carmen's teeth and give the West Nile/Triple E vaccine. In her exam she noted that Carmen had some back soreness. I wonder if it was because she was so tight or was she tight because her back was sore? Also, I was correct- she did need her teeth done. Especially on the right side. The same side her poll was so tight.

I will be curious to know if things improve now that her teeth are fixed. I know that I will monitor her back and poll for a bit to see how they feel before and after our ride.

I also had the vet look at Irish and give him the booster. She spent a long time listening to his heart. She noted that he has an arrhythmia that he hasn't had before. She let me listen: instead of a ba-dub, ba-dub it was a ba-da-bub, ba-da-bub. She also told me that every so often the beat would skip. She told me to not worry but just monitor it.  So I will. Having an older horse with health issues is not for the weak.

still the sweetest of horses

Monday, October 7, 2019

Clinic Recap: Slow Dance

Last weekend I attended a clinic with Johanna Beattie Batista . You may recall that Carmen and I have attended her clinics pretty regularly the last five years. Each time I take away something new that has a profound impact on my riding and relationship with Carmen.Add to that the fun we all have and the food we eat and it makes for a pretty positive clinic experience.

 Johanna is a classical dressage and Centered Riding coach. Which means, of course, that my seat is going to be messed with. While my flaws and the corrections are not new to me, she always finds a way to build on what we did before. It's never overwhelming but it is often right at the edge of my abilities and forces me to push myself.

Work was pretty intense right up to the day I wanted to leave for the clinic which didn't leave much time to prepare. So I parked the trailer by the barn (sorry Ed, I know that's not where it goes) and packed it over the week with the last stuff going in Friday morning. Julia came to help to which was awesome. Carmen was a bit tense about the trailer which is opposite to what I want. Rather then load her right away I let her graze for about 10 minutes until I saw her begin to relax and then I loaded her.

When we arrived at the clinic site she backed out, looked around and said 'oh, here. Okay then'. And that was her attitude through the entire three clinics. There were no meltdowns, spooks, tension or issues. It was incredible.

pretty much her approach to the weekend
Of course it could be because she was flirting with Kalimo all weekend. Which is hilarious given her thoughts about him at the show. I'm sure that he was all like 'bitches be crazy'.

I'm not going to do a lesson by lesson recap. Instead I'm going to focus on my learning and how it impacted my riding and Carmen's way of going. This means I may skip around a bit to help it sound cohesive (well at least that's my goal).

My goal for the clinic was to really figure out the bend for Carmen and I. She tends to get tight and really stiff. To sort this out for us the focus of the three lessons for Carmen and I was on two main things:

1. slow Carmen down. Don't worry about impulsion because it makes her rush. Instead slow her right down so that she and I can feel each step. Then add impulsion. (all of this is an oversimplification but I'll talk about it later).

2. Use my seat to control speed and transitions (then add leg/rein as needed).

Slowing down is hard for both of us- we both tend to want to hurry. Which I realize is counter productive but I wasn't being effective in slowing her down without an argument. The first lesson we spent a lot of time on it and it was hard. However, I could feel how soft and easy it was really helping with her bend. At first she was a bit resistant but as she began to understand it Carmen became quite obedient.

screen shot of us doing a shoulder in on the first lesson. Look how
correct and soft everything is! 
I was still struggling quite a bit with using my seat (pelvic area) effectively. I also know how important it was. At the beginning of the second lesson Johanna showed me how tight my knees and ankles were. By keeping them loose I was able to feel my seat lock in place and could use it much more effectively. I know about the soft joints but this time I could feel my body understand it. Here's a clip from the third day showing how easy it was to get her into shoulder in and straighten and then leg yield (the clicking your hear is the mike rattling against my helmet as we trot):

I love how soft everything is. It's not that she didn't try to take advantage at times- she totally did (she is Carmen after all) but it wasn't major and it was more like 'okay okay'. 

I'm giving Carmen a massage while listening to
Johanna explain something. Look at her face. 

Our canter work was incredible. Starting on the first lesson- I asked her to step into canter and she did with the lightest and fluffiest of canters. It felt balanced and together and was so easy to sit- it took very little muscle to stay centered and balanced.  I honestly didn't want any of my lessons to end.

from Saturday's lesson

and Sunday. I loved the lighting in this one
There was no flailing or carrying on. I could steer her with my seat and keep her flexed/bent without hauling on her. Here's a video from Saturday showing how soft the transitions were:

I would find the feel, lose it, regroup, find it. Johanna always gives you time to figure it out. Once she  has you doing something she tells you to go off and play with it while she advises in the background. It's different and can be difficult to get used to not having someone direct your turns, shapes etc but it's so valuable. It creates independence and understanding with her there to mentor you. On the third day I spoke with her about what I was feeling in my warm up and wanted to know if that was what she was seeing as well. Fortunately she confirmed it which made me happy because I need to know if I'm doing it right when I'm riding on my own.

I told Johanna that I really wanted to work on having my seat so engaged and having Carmen respond to just the seat but that I was likely going to have to use my legs and hand to help her understand and to make sure I get what I'm asking. She said that of course I would because Carmen needs to build her understanding. She then said 'but I know you will get this' with total confidence. Which made me feel really good because she doesn't say things like that willy-nilly.

In my last ride (on Sunday) right at the end, Carmen and I were in the groove when Johanna called out 'now add impulsion'' . I sat up and asked her with just my seat and a little leg. Carmen lifted her whither and went into what felt like an extended trot. At the very least it was an awesome lengthen trot. I was able to sit it half-way down the long side and then had to post. Her front legs were flying in front of her and her hind legs were pushing us. It was like being in a plane at take off. Unfortunately,  there was a glitch and this did not get recorded. But that's okay. I have the feeling in my head. I brought her back to a walk and told Johanna that that felt like a good place to end. Which is also what Johanna encourages- stop when the horse understands and feels good about herself.

While Carmen is often difficult on the third day of an event this was not the case this weekend. She must be starting to understand better or feel okay with the new place. Because she never spooked once (I know I already said that but it bears repeating). She loaded quietly and unloaded calmly as well. In the stall I took off her halter and she gave me a gentle nudge before ambling out to the pasture. In the past she usually trots off without so much as a 'see you'.

What a great experience. Thank you Johanna for teaching us (and Karen for organizing, and Stacie for hosting and Jill and Angie for being supportive and fun).

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Lesson Recap: Forward Ho!

I cannot believe that it's October already! My last lesson with Shanea was at the show in early September. We haven't been too successful in booking regular lessons for a while. I have found that my progress, while it doesn't completely depend on regular lessons, it does help to have check ins.  After some back and forth texting we were able to set a time for Tuesday after work.

I was excited to have the lesson because things have being going so well. Not that Carmen doesn't have her moments but the spooks are much less spectacular and we are able deal and move on. So even though she felt a bit tight to me when we started I wasn't super worried. I stuck to my warm up plan which consists of walking her around, seeing if there are any spots that she is concerned about and then help her work through her angst.

Shanea arrived just as were dealing with the 'troll of the day'. In this case it was our old favourite between H and C. My approach is to go though on the left rein (which is her better rein) and then right after H do a tight turn back to the rail (essentially a turn on the haunches) and carry through the corner. What this does is get her through before she has a chance to think 'oh yeah, I bolt here'. I slowly move the turning point down the rail and then we're done.  Shanea and I discussed this and how it works well for Carmen in breaking her habitual spook. I can write a whole post on this but that's not what this is about.

The goal of the lesson was to have Carmen on the outside rein. She tends to carry more weight on her inside legs which makes the outside feel like it's not there at all. The answer is outside rein and inside leg which is simple and not-simple all at the same time. But when I get her there she flows forward and is far more happy and relaxed. So it was a lesson of getting it, losing it, getting it back.

As we progressed we got it more easily and with less flailing. She began to reach for the bit and come over her back.
she could be a bit more in front of the vertical but look at
her stretching from her whither. 

I wanted to work a bit on our 'medium' trots. It was so much fun because as I corrected my posture- staying up and open she began to really understand the ask and respond. After a few times across the diagonal she gave me her best one to date. She was pushing, over her back and soft on the bit.

I am so obsessed with this photo right now
Here's a video of it:

After this one we left it to percolate and went on to do some leg yields. I was struggling with the right leg yield but the lefts were really good. It all comes down to straightness but we made progress.

We finished with canter work. And it was some really nice canter work. Our left lead felt fantastic- soft, balanced and straight. Our right lead is always a work in progress. There used to be a lot of flailing and loss of balance. It's much better now. She's beginning to reach under and push off rather then dump herself on the forehand and lose her balance.

lots to improve but I love that she reaching under herself 

I love this clip of our canter to trot to walk transitions. I love how soft she is and how clear the transitions are. This is where we ended it because she had done so well. Shanea was really happy with us. She commented on the improvement in my riding and how Carmen and I are communicating now. She had thought that our lesson would be a spookfest (my word not hers) given how we started. She was pleased that we didn't dwell on it.

This weekend Carmen and I are headed to a Johanna clinic. I'm excited for her to see us and to keep working on improving.