dancing horses

dancing horses

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Center and Grow

Neither Carmen nor I are patient individuals.

Shocking I know.

Johanna has zeroed in on this in pretty much every clinic. However, without her direct guidance I find myself approaching slowing down in the wrong way- basically using the reins to hold her in.

While it does make her slower, it has some negative consequences:

  • constricting her posture
  • increasing tension 
  • increased heaviness on the bit
  • really crappy gaits- short, choppy and vertical.
  • increased spookiness
Her feet would slam on the ground which is not good for her joints. Or mine for that matter. Since it felt so awful, I would give up and let her go, hoping that she would burn through her energy and relax. But fast, choppy, tense gaits don't feel great either. And it didn't really work for her. Irish responded well to being allowed to 'go' - he would expend his energy and then come down. Carmen does not - she escalates. 

Since I can't have Johanna or Shanea all the time I've been working on figuring this out on my own. 

The key is (of course) using the seat- not allowing her to go fast. But that's neither simple nor easy to communicate to an equine partner who has her own notions of what should happen. 

Me: hey Carmen, here I am using my seat to ask you to go slower....
Carmen:  lalalalala, oh look a squirrel RUN AWAY. 

 Now that my seat is more stable it is getting easier to at least transmit the message. But the bit is there for a reason and I recognize that I need to use it to make sure my message is transmitted. And then let go. Not dropping it totally but not hanging on for dear life. Sometimes the rein is on much stronger than I would like but I'm getting better at having it like that only for a long as I need it. 

The other piece has to do with myself. We all know that horses are mirrors and reflect back the energy we project. I too am really bad about reflecting back the emotion of those around me. If someone is being stressed or anxious I find myself picking up on that. So you can imagine how that works in a spiral for Carmen and I. 

change 'marital' to 'riding' and 'spouse' to 'horse' and it works

So I've been working on myself as much as Carmen. My goal is to slow us both down and not perpetuate the negative spiral. I don't always succeed but that's okay. Because when I do succeed it works out great. I hate ending a ride feeling like I just did battle. 

Yesterday was a beautiful day and I was determined to ride. Julia met me at the barn and we tacked up the horses. I mounted Carmen and we headed off into the woods. A few days before Carmen led the whole way but in the ring she was a bit of a hot mess and I worked hard to get her to pay attention. This time I asked Julia and Irish go first. I had a looped rein with one hand and spent the hacking time working on having a quiet and following seat- unless she sped up. My whole demeanour was casual and relaxed.

Back in the ring I could feel her tense up so I spent a lot of time just keeping a relaxed seat and soft rein. But when she wouldn't slow down I made her to it and then dropped back again. I kept the pace nice and slow. 

Initially she was good but it felt more like she was humouring me rather than listening to me. So I kept working her. Our trot was slow and I played with the half-passes. She seems to really enjoy them and I could feel her shift as we played with them. At this point they are not really half-passes, more like quarter-passes. But they did the trick and she began more tuned in to me. In the end I dropped her rein and she dropped her head and snoozed. 

I kept the ride somewhat short with the goal of having a strolling mentality then a work one. Our pace was not technically correct but it was quiet and true and I kept her relaxed. It feels good that I can influence her being relaxed rather than leaving it all up to her. 

Horses. They make us face ourselves and grow.
Guinness keeps a close eye on us

Thursday, November 21, 2019

The Wind Beneath My Wings

I had so much fun in my lesson on Sunday that I jumped on the chance to have another one this Thursday. As we move into late fall that ability to have a lesson will become more and more difficult.  I figured that I should capitalize on the opportunity.

I had to make this gif of her impatience. It made me giggle- it's so Carmen. 

I did manage to get another ride in on Wednesday. Well, sort of. The weather was brisk and cold with heavy clouds and drizzle. Carmen was definitely feeling it and she was quite anxious about everything. I am dealing with this differently this year. Not to anthropormize here but she reminds me a lot of someone with anxiety. When they are having an anxiety attack telling them to calm down or get over it will not work. Instead I work her using my TRT method stuff. When she felt good I got on but after a bit I had to hop off because she was fizzing. I did about 5 minutes of work in hand and then hopped back on. We mostly walked and I could tell that she was really really trying but was feeling a bit overwhelmed. So after walking for about 10-15 minutes I called it.

Today was also cold with heavy clouds and brisk wind. I honestly am not a fan of November. In the morning I took her up to the ring and did some of our TRT patterns.  I worked her in the 'safe' zones and then in the 'danger' zones. She tried really hard and did well. The wind blowing the dry grass was a bit much for her. There also could have been someone/something in the woods.

When it was time for the lesson I took her up a bit early and lunged her. Shanea arrived just as I was ready to get on. I told her that the far side was, in Carmen's view, a danger zone and we agreed to start working in our safe area and then work down towards the far end. That is why you will see in the videos that we are staying in the top 2/3 of the ring.

I was excited when Shanea said that she wanted us to work on our half-pass. It seemed like such a great great thing that we would actually be ready to school it. I have done some playing with it but nothing too serious.

not sure if it's easy to see but she's reaching under and heading over

Although sometimes tight, Carmen actually felt pretty good most of the ride. We started at the walk and she figured it out pretty quick. Her conformation make the collected movements easy for her- when she's mentally there. She seemed intrigued by this new ask. We started with riding shoulder fore and then, when that was set, riding the half-pass from that. At the walk there was a lot of time to prepare, ask and correct.

We then picked up the trot and tried it. It was, as you might expect, not awesome but she was really trying. I can feel that she wants to throw her haunches in a bit (especially on the right rein). But she didn't get really fussed about it- mostly worrying if I was going to take us down where the trolls were lurking.

Carmen asking if I'm sure I want to go this way
When she would get flat and on the forehand we would do a 10 metre circle and then carry on.

Working on the half-pass was requiring enough of our attention that it was easy to forget about the threat of imminent death. Mostly.  But every time I asked her come to back to me she did. We gave her lots of praise and walk breaks along with asking her trot out a few times as well.

much safer going this way....
After a break we went on to some canter work. Her canter is coming along in leaps and bounds. She's rocking on her hocks and when she gets a little off-balance and/or on her forehand she listens when I ask her to come back.  We did a canter circle and then down the long side. She got a bit excited and I brought her back. We began to work on walk-canter-walk transitions. Not sure what I was doing wrong but she began to pick up the wrong lead repeatedly and then got annoyed when I brought her back.

proof that it's not all unicorns and rainbows
We then just brought her down to a trot and, despite that all I was asking her to do was trot on a circle she began to melt down about the canter transition that I actually wasn't asking for but she was convinced I was going to ask her and it was going to be terrible.

I knew that persisting was going to get us no where so I halted her and dropped the reins. This lets her decompress and get her marbles back.  It works really well. I picked up the reins and we went back to work. Here's a little video.

It's all early, baby half-passes. BUT HOLY CRAP GUYS WE'RE SCHOOLING HALF-PASS!  In case you can't tell that I am excited by this. Shanea was thrilled with where we were. She also was quite complimentary to my riding. I told her Yes, this is the benefits I've been getting from my cantered riding lessons. I find that they help me figure out my seat. We talked about maybe arranging a CR clinic down here. I'm hoping that I can pull this off.

I was so happy with how hard she worked for me despite being sure that there was danger all around. In case you were wondering we did make our way down to the far side of the ring and no one died.

poor wind blown mare is still feeling pleased with herself

Monday, November 18, 2019

Riding the Dragon

After my wake up call on Sunday I made sure to spend time with Carmen this week. Friday I lunged her before heading to work.

 Saturday I had made arrangements with Julia for her to bring out her younger sister to ride Irish. The weather was bitter! The sun was shining but the wind was high and really really cold. I was half hoping that they would not want to ride in this but they showed up. It's not like I could chicken out, right?

I can always expect that this weather would result in Carmen being really up and spooky. I made sure to lunge her well first. She was pretty good and when I got on she did really well in listening to me.

me and my dragon breathing smoke
Sunday was set to be much better for the weather. Which was great because I had booked a lesson! It had been a long time since I had one (Shanea was away) and I was excited. Julia came to ride Irish too and she came early so we go for a hack before the lesson. When we came back to the ring Shanea was up there setting up some trot poles. 

We went to work, starting with the walk. The goal was to slow her down and keep her flexed to the inside. Shanea pointed out that I was letting her get away with looking to the outside and not insisting that she bend. Once I became clearer with that I was then able to soften and she began to respond with a softer cue. 

The work was simple- forward, soft and bent. I could really feel Carmen's back coming up which made it really easy to feel when it wasn't up. It's hunting season but there is no hunting allowed on Sunday. I was not surprised to hear ATVs in the woods behind our ring. Carmen however was not so sure about it. I would have expected her t have a total melt down but she didn't. She wasn't sure but she tried.  Having Irish there helped. I was getting a kick out him- he was definitely showing off for Shanea. I watched him trot down the long side all 'look at me!! Look! Look how good I am!'

I didn't even know Guinness was behind us! How cute is that? 

We did some leg yield work that was actually quite good- she didn't get all crooked or try to rush/avoid. 

straight, listening ears and crossing over

I was really happy with our work. It seemed that we were just picking up where we left off. It was time for our canter work. To be honest it's been hit or miss lately but Carmen felt really good for me. We were walking and it felt like the canter was right there. So I asked and she lifted into a beautiul canter. 

I could ride this canter all day
Often, even when she picks up a nice canter it will fall apart going into the various spooky corners. This time, though, when I put my leg on she went forward. I'm really happy with our canter work here- it's not perfect by a long shot but all the elements are there. 

We finished up working on our lengthen trot. It's coming too. It was better in our last lesson but I was still quite happy. I could feel her being light and off the ground rather then dumping herself on the forehand and running. Although that did happen as we got to the end of the diagonal. But it was still good. Note Irish supervising like the grizzled veteran he is. 

It felt great to be back in a lesson.  I'm finding that I'm getting better at staying upright and not letting my thighs tighten and pop me out of the saddle so much. when It happens I notice it pretty quick and fix it. I find that this is usually a step towards competence. 

Shanea told me at the end that she was super impressed with us. I expected her to be more spunky!  She said. 

So did I, but don't tell her that. 

Friday, November 15, 2019

The First Deadly Sin

Before I get into my post, last week a surprise arrived in my mail from Nicole. Not that it should have been a surprise. I just forgot that I won the foal pool.

I love this so much. She captured them all beautifully 

You know, for a person who probably thinks far too much I can still do some pretty stupid things.

My rides on Carmen have been going really well. Which led me to become a bit complacent.  Add in the decrease in riding because of, well, late autumn (and the weather sucks and it's dark and cold and rainy) and add in a mare that does not like to be taken for granted and you can have a recipe for disaster.

Spoiler alert- no one was seriously hurt.

It started with me wanting to get a ride in on Sunday morning before the young woman who is learning to ride Irish came out (that's a different story).  It was sunny and a bit windy.

I should have lunged first but I didn't want to didn't think I needed to.   Carmen seemed fine at first but lost no time in telling me that there were trolls on the far side of the ring and she was having none of it. I kept trying to work her through with some success but nothing that stuck.

I was getting a bit annoyed but wanted to get to a good point and be done. I began to work her really hard at the gate and then offer the far side as a place of rest. She wasn't buying that at all. But I figured she would figure it out. The young woman came and I told her I needed some time.

So I'm working Carmen at the gate and then she does this nasty little deke to the right and then a big swerve to the left. I was completely unbalanced and there was no saving it so I let go and fell to the ground cursing as I landed. I jumped up, asked the young woman to get my lunging stuff and the proceeded to lunge the crap out of Carmen. I know that I was at fault here too but that was a nasty little move and I couldn't let be the end of work.

Once she was worked hard, I hopped back on and cooled her out at the walk all over the ring.

I wasn't hurt but I was annoyed at myself. The signs were there and I ignored them, figuring it would all be fine. I also started to think back about when I had last done our groundwork and I really couldn't remember.

Bad me.

The next day was a Remembrance Day and it's a holiday here. In the morning I went out to get Carmen from the field. I always walk out, stop and wait for them to turn to me and come towards me. Carmen looked at me but was a bit reluctance.  I just waited for her to relax and then I put her halter on. 

We headed up to the ring and I had all my stuff up there. We spent the next 30 minutes or so reviewing all the groundwork exercises: following, backing up, the clock exercise, dealing with plastic bags and noise makers. As we worked we fell back into our easy companionship and I realized that it was missing before. I turned her back out to chill for a couple hours.  

Relaxed with one ear on me 
I turned her back out and headed to the ceremony. I rarely miss it but now with my son in the Air Force and going to Kuwait soon it has more personal meaning. 

After lunch I got my tack ready and went out to get her again. This time she saw me and came right to me with an open and happy gaze. I tacked her up and we went up to the ring. I lunged her a bit first but she was fine. So I hopped on and guess what? 

Carmen was fine. 

Just fine. 

Not that she wasn't worried about the same areas but she wanted to know my opinion of it and then listened to that opinion.

And our session was awesome. Since then she's been tuned into me and happy for me to groom or lunge her. 

Lesson learned (at least until next time). 

Monday, November 11, 2019

Flexible Fit Bridle Review

I've been looking at new bridles for a little bit. As much as I like Carmen's bridle it's not the best fit for her Andalusian head. It's a lovely bridle but it was on the top holes for everything and the nose band always seemed to be a bit loose. It also looked a bit tight behind her ears and with the brow band.

I don't know if you can tell but the throat latch is loose
but the bridle is tight behind the ears. 

can you see the gab in the nose band? 
Let me be clear- the bridle is not a terrible fit. It just didn't feel perfect. The issue is that the andalusian head is not the same as thoroughbred or even a warmblood.  This made me hesitate about buying another 'off the rack' bridle. I did think of buying one a size down and cobble it together but that wouldn't fix the brow band and crown piece. 

But the internet is a great resource and after searching around I stumbled upon Flexible Fit Equestrian. They have a variety of bridles and you can custom order your bridle to fit your horse. They even have a form you can fill in if you are not sure of what size to get. That is the option I did and after a bit of back and forth they recommended the various components. 

With that settled I needed to decide if I wanted to order a bridle from Australia. Returning it would not be easy (or with it). I read reviews, did price comparisons and decided that it would likely work out. While I was contemplating I had signed up on their email list. I quickly realized that there were often sales. 

So I waited, keeping a close eye on my inbox. 

After a couple weeks I got a notice for a 20% discount and I pulled the trigger. I ordered on October 29 and it arrived on November 8th. Not bad for coming from another continent! I opened it up with a mix of excitement and 'what have I done?' 

However, I was blown away by the quality of the leather and workmanship. I ordered the gel padded crown piece and it was so very soft. I ordered the regular nose band (not crank) with the detachable flash. I love how it can be removed and there will no little tab hanging down (which I hate). It was nice to have to buy either a 'dressage' or 'event/hunter' bridle but be able to mix and match the pieces. 

You can customize the brow band and when I saw this one I thought it would be perfect on Carmen. I showed it to Julia and she said it looks like a viking head band! 

 I did a quick fit on Carmen and it seemed to fit well. I took it apart and conditioned it. I've ridden in it twice now and it's has softened to her head really well. 

the first day I put it on. I do love a flat nose band. 

from today (Carmen thinks that it even makes her orange fly bonnet look good)
It fits really well behind her ears and on her forehead. 

I am definitely pleased with this bridle. Of course it's always possible that it will not last but I honestly doubt it. And for something that cost less than $200 all in (taxes, delivery, currency conversion) it was a great deal.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Passion or Pathology?

I just got back from a two day conference on Autism. It was very good full of great and useful information.  One talk that I was looking forward to was a presentation on Autism and how it presents in females. Historically, autism has been largely a diagnosis for males at a ratio of 4-1.  However, there has been a recognition that the features that present for females is different (like many things the diagnostic criteria has been created for and normed on males).
you know that this is a horse blog, right? 

How does this relate to horses, you ask?  Hang on I'm getting to that.

The lecturer was saying that the, like males with ASD, girls can have very intense interests but it's not the same. 'often it's horses' she said. My ears pricked up. She went on to describe a young girl she was working with: 'she had books on horses, her wall was papered with horses, all she wanted to talk about was horses. I asked her what her plans were for the weekend and told me "I'm riding horses! Of course".  Everyone laughed. The lecturer said that it wasn't that she loved horses, 'lots of people like horses'  but the intensity and how this one interest overshadowed everything else.

Sound familiar?  It definitely did to me.

I do not believe that I have autism. Although, like the majority of people, I have some features in common. After all, autism is a cluster of symptoms and falls along a spectrum.* But even if I do, I am functioning fine and feel no need to have this explored.

But is my intense interest in horses something that is pathological?
I can never get enough of this. 

Merriam-Webster, defines  pathological as "being to such a degree that it is extreme, excessive or markedly abnormal.  Passion is defined as "a strong liking or devotion to some activity, object or concept."

It seems to me to a rather narrow line and probably depends on your perspective. I spend a lot of time and money on horses. I'm either taking care of, riding or thinking about them. I have always been this way.
I don't even want to think about how much money over the years....
It's highly likely that one day I won't be able to be around horses. I am not looking forward to that day and I feel bad for whoever will have to look after me because I'll probably be really grumpy. I confess to not understanding how people can go their whole lives without this all consuming passion. Although, if you give me a couple drinks, I might confess that perhaps they are happier.

So I don't know. What is the difference between passion and pathology? Do you know? Are we all one mental health visit away from a diagnosis? Do we care?

It's possible that I am overthinking it.

Just maybe.

What do you think?

*This is note to say that, personally, I don't like to use the term 'Aspergers'. It's not because of the thinking that Aspergers is simply on the high functioning side of the spectrum. It's because Dr. Hans Asperger worked under the Nazi regime, believed in Eugenics and sent children deemed of 'no value' to their deaths. I simply cannot honour that name. https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-018-05112-1

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Small Portions

Carmen and I continue to school at the lightening speed of a herd of turtles.  And it’s all good.

I mean, it’s not like we’re doing nothing.  I can certainly stand more of this.

I have set up two wee jumps- one on the straight and one on the diagonal. I have been weaving them into our rides. I remember reading Walter Zettl’s book and how he said that jumping and dressage were intermingled. Not that either my dressage or jumps will ever be at his level. Sunday I was pleased when we leg yielded, picked up a canter, headed straight down the ‘spooky’ side, popped over the X and then halted. I decided to end it there.

Wednesday I had to drive to a conference in the next province. I wasn’t planning to ride but the morning was so lovely I decided to saddle up for a short ride. Normally I don’t ride Carmen if I don’t have time - just in case I get into trouble. I decided, then that perhaps I shouldn’t leave it up to Carmen to decide how the ride show go. Maybe I should make that decision. So I did.

Guinness supervised and as I was riding around the rail I spied our kitty, Willow hanging out. She seemed quite intrigued with what I was doing and decided to stick around. 
Carmen: I’m not so sure about this. 

Honestly, Carmen felt pretty good. I could feel her back up under me and she felt good. Willow decided that us trotting was very exciting. She would watch and as we got close she would duck under the jumps or brush and then leap out as we passed.  

It went better than you might think.  Carmen would cock an ear, I would tell her ‘yes, that’s Willow’. Carmen scooted a coupe times but nothing major.

Don’t be fooled. She’s not innocent

  I stopped after 20 minutes and dismounted. It was a great way to start a day. 

The clocks rolled back on the weekend. Which makes riding after work a lot more difficult.  Sigh.  I hate it.  

The horses are not fans either. 

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Breathing Room

Sorry for the lack of blogging. I haven't been riding much between work and weather.
always time for cookies though

 I am actually okay with this. Which makes me wonder whether this is really me. Typical me would be annoyed at myself and putting pressure to spend time in the saddle. After all we all know that saying 'wet saddle pads make good horses'. 

But I don't believe that as much anymore. Like everything else, reality is more nuanced. Especially with a sensitive, reactive horse like Carmen. Instead I'm recognizing that stressed out me does not result in a good training session no matter how wet the saddle pad is at the end (not that we don't work hard).

Last year I was feeling very unsettled because of the whole ulcers ordeal. When she began to feel better it was like we had gone backwards and I had to rebuild. I don't have that this year. We are in a much better place and that makes me feel less urgent.
Yes, I'm feeling much better but more carrots would
be really good for me. Just sayin'.

 As you know I've been using the Tristan Tucker stuff or a while and it has made a huge difference. I am also a fan of Warwick Schiller and he has this great new series on his youtube channel called The Principles of Training.  I have getting a lot out of it. I love that it's on principles rather than a recipe approach.

The one I'm really getting benefit from is his discussion of helping horses find the balance between being too reactive and too quiet. What I got from this is that when Carmen gets to be too 'up' I need to help her get back down. It seems to be helping. When Carmen gets tight and spooky I can ride her through it but getting her to let go of the tension was not happening. Of course I don't want to stop when she's being resistant because that just reinforces her to say 'no'.

we do the TRT leading exercise a lot. I find it really helps me
to know where she is and helps her to relax. 

For example, today I was riding her on a circle and something spooked her over by the rail. I rode her a few times on the circle asking her to bend. At first she was not having it but once she gave a little I rode her by and then stopped, dropped the reins and let her regroup. Then when I picked up the reins again she was more settled. Giving her time to breathe and let down is helpful.

Our rides are focussed on transitions- coming more from behind and less grabbing the ground with her front legs. The more back she gets the better and less spooky she is.  Her shoulder-in and haunches-in are really coming along nicely.

I'm also continuing to play with the itty bitty jumps. She give zero cares about it. I can feel her lock in and go which is nice. It gives us other things to do.  We are probably ready to add some more jumps and raise it up a bit now. I'm going really slow with this to build the confidence of both of us.
we are jumping so high.....
Also, note the jump coach

It fun to pick up a trot, hop over the little X, turn and do a haunches in down the long side, etc. It keeps us both busy. 

Our gains are slow but they feel solid and we're having fun. 

That's enough for me.