dancing horses

dancing horses

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

A Good Start- Lesson Recap

We've been having an easier winter than normal and I've been taking advantage of it as much as I can.  Earlier this month Shanea had contacted me and we had arranged a lesson. The day was gorgeous and the ring was perfect. Alas, life intervened and I had to cancel. I was disappointed but also did not regret giving up the time. Sometimes you have to suck it up.

I figured that I wouldn't get another chance to ride in February but it turned out I was wrong. Things have thawed again. In fact my ring went from being coated in ice to being actually too mucky to ride in. I tried Sunday and Monday but it was too soft and slick. I did manage to get some light ground work in but couldn't do too much. One thing I've been doing is tacking her up every time. I'm trying to close the gap between how she is during our ground work vs under saddle. Sometimes I don't ride. Sometimes I do. And sometimes I just hop on and ride 20 feet and hop off.

Shanea offered to teach me on Tuesday if my ring was okay. Fortunately it was. The nice thing about my ring is once the frost is out of the ground it firms up pretty quickly. Not that it was perfect today, but if was okay for walking and trotting if we avoided a few spots.

I brought Carmen up to do some ground work first. She was clearly trying to tune in but was a bit distracted. I could hear a machine that I thought was an ATV in the woods. As we worked the noise became louder and more distracting. Again, Carmen was not freaking out but she was definitely aware. It got louder too so I decided to do what another horse would do- I pricked up my ears and marched to the end of the ring to see what was making the noise. Carmen walked behind me with slack in the lead. I stood there with her at my shoulder.
Me: You know, it sounds like a helicopter
Carmen:  *shrugs*

And that's what it was. A helicopter came over the trees, fairly low. Carmen and I watched it pass over and I gave a wave. It disappeared over the horizon and I took her over to the mounting block to get on.

We were walking a bit when Shanea came up. I told her what we've been working on and where we are. Carmen is definitely out of shape so I didn't want to push her too hard. My goals were to work on softness and bend and get us started on the right track.

here we are coming through troll corner
As a lesson it was nothing to really write about and it was totally awesome. Shanea was very positive - well she's usually positive. But she was happy with how I was doing rating her speed with my seat and how I wasn't letting my body tense or try to hold her. We spent a lot of time at the walk and then picked up a trot. Carmen would spook a few times (very minor) and I didn't grab her once.

My half-halts are a lot better. We picked up the trot with the goal of being steady and straight. And really it was not bad at all. I was impressed with how soft she was in the bridle and how hard she tried to listen.

leg yield- yes ma'am 
I was happy with how I didn't grab her or be too stiff. We were having fun. Carmen had lots of breaks. At one point I stopped and dropped the rein to have a rest. I was talking to Shanea when Carmen marched right up to her 'okay, you have to love me now. 

She might be getting a bit addicted to the praise.

Here's some of our work with transitions and half-halts.

We worked for about 40 minutes, which felt like enough. To cool off we practiced some turn on the haunches. I found that she tended to drop onto the forehand and pull herself around rather than turn softly. We tried it a few times and, frankly, it wasn't very good. Carmen was getting resistant but I sensed that the resistance was from not understanding. Shanea had me walk down the long side, do a few steps of half-pass and then ask for the turn. This made more sense and she flowed a bit better (albeit widely). After a few of these where she was starting to understand we stopped. I know that the next time Carmen would be able to take it a bit farther. We finished with the back up which was pretty smooth and straight. I hopped off and I looked at her- she looked pretty pleased with herself.

This mare, guys. I am having so much fun with her. I am excited for this year.

unicorn in progress

Monday, February 17, 2020

Present Tense

Normally I spend winter fretting about not riding and feeling bored.  This year feels different. Not that I'm not anxiously waiting to get back to regular schooling. I totally am.
Not as cold as it looks, but still winter

But I'm also using this time to work on myself and my goal of controlling/choosing my emotions.

I've been diving into videos, reading and podcasts. I'm finding them all very helpful. In the past I think I would have dismissed it as being a bit wack-a-doodle. Not completely, but it made me uncomfortable. I cannot remember who said it (I think it was Stacy Westfal's podcast but can't swear to it) that you can view riding as 'transactional' or 'relational'. And that made a lot of sense to me.

Anyway, one of the things I've been really working on is being 'present'. It's not easy. My mind tends to wander, even in the saddle. I find myself thinking about what happened during the day or what might happen tomorrow.

I have been practising and failing a lot. But I've also been succeeding.

The other thing I've been working on is choosing to be positive with the horses (and others). That is working really well. I find myself truly enjoying the time I spend doing chores. The horses are really responding.

hard to take photos when she wants to be close.
But look at that adorable nose...
The trick is, of course, is whether this translates to work under saddle. In the past I would have worried about it. Now I'm curious. After a deep freeze that left the ring treacherous with ice we had some snow and then a warmer temps. This dissolved the ice under the snow and made the ring good for riding again.

Sunday was warmer and I brought Carmen up to the ring to do some ground work and possibly ride. I stayed with her mentally and she responded really well. It then started to rain but I still mounted. We rode exactly two circles, I dismounted and leaving the reins over her neck I said 'coming?'  and walked to the gate with her ambling behind me. 

Monday was a holiday for us and the weather was even warmer. So warm I pulled the blankets off the horses and let them soak up the sun. 

clearly Carmen is wintering well. But look at Irish- he's looking great. 
Julia came out to ride as well. I started with groundwork but I didn't need long to see that she was right with me. I settled into the saddle and she marched off a bit grumpily. I brought her to a halt and dropped the reins until she settled. My goal for the ride was to have her soft and bendy and for me to stay present in the moment.

While the ride was nothing for anyone to watch, I noticed a few things. First of all, every time my mind wandered she became tense. When I brought my mind back she immediately settled. Our spooks were mere flinches and there was only two. One was her almost halting in response to something she saw in the trees. After the stutter-step, Carmen walked forward to the tree and I dropped the rein. She looked at it warily while I breathed and then she released her breath and dropped her head to relax. 

As we continued to work Carmen began to settle in and enjoy herself. In fact, after a while, when I would soften the rein she would pick up a trot (not that I was holding). Not that she was heavy in the bridle or taking over. More like she was enjoying it and wanted to go. So I let her.

At the end of our ride we were standing at the far end just relaxing on a long rein. Carmen looked towards the woods and I could feel her question.  No,  I said we can't go in the woods, there's still too much ice. She sighed and then reached around and nudged my toe with her nose. Okay then, it must be time for carrots. Feel free to hop off. 

For me those were the big things. The other pieces: leg yields, transitions, circles were the chorus not the main bits. I hope that this doesn't sound too hippy-dippy. Because that is not me.  I was also working on making my seat and hand following,  keeping my balance even and my aids clear. But go ahead and consider me out in left field. I don't care. This feels good to me and Carmen is clearly responding. 
leaving the hay to come and say 'hi'. Also, no, she's not pregnant.....

Friday, February 14, 2020

First Date Anniversary

Five years ago I was in Virginia meeting Carmen for the first time. My friend Karen shared a FB memory post from Feb 14, 2015:

I love to see people smile. And some smiles are so much more meaningful than others, when the smiler hasn't been able to smile for a while. Today I saw just such a wonderful smile that lit up a happy face, and it made me very happy.
I honestly don't know how it's been five years already. I was a mess back then and if I hadn't had Karen with me and Ed cheering me on back home.

All I know that I was broken hearted but when I sat on Carmen for the first time I felt my heart start to heal a bit.

boy she has changed

And here we are five years later, still together.

Me: Carmen do you know you have a strand of hay on your face?
Carmen: I hear that vertical stripes are slimming
 Both of us have grown together.

standing ground tied while I clean her stall and refill her hay bag
And, because it's valentine's day Irish also wants recommendation. After all he's the sweetest horse around.

Happy Valentines Day everyone!

Sunday, February 9, 2020

What's in the Box?

Two weeks ago a post popped up on my FB from Equestrian Fashion Outfitters. It was for their 'mystery boxes'. They have two- one for horses and one for riders. The rider one promises a pair of breeches and '1-3' casual items, an accessory and a horse treat sample. All for $199.

I hemmed and hawed about it. I was intrigued by the surprise and I do love a bargain.

In the end I pulled the trigger and placed the order. You tell them your size and discipline. The problem with sizes is that they are very brand dependent. So I sent an email to clarify my sizes.

It arrived within 2 days.

The box itself was not impressive but then clothes don't always take a lot of space. When I opened it I was shocked by how much was in there. 

An Isabel Werth long sleeve polo, Isabel Werth full seat breeches and socks. Plus a coordinated horse bonnet. 

Which would more than equal the cost of the box. But wait there's more: A Horze rogue and an Iris Bayer winter jacket.

Plus some boot lifts and horse treats.

All the tags were still on so I did the math (how could I resist) at the cost added up to $499. This is a steal even if the items were year end clear out.  Even Ed thought it was a good deal.

Everything fit, although the breeches area bit lower cut than I like, but they are not terrible. The jacket I love. I've been looking for one like this and I'm glad I didn't purchase one.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Is There Still a Place for Horses in the City?

Excuse me while I haul out my soapbox.

When I was little we lived in the country. Then my parents split up and we had to move to the Halifax. I was not happy about it- I missed the air, trees and open land of the country. Mostly I missed the animals. And of that I really missed seeing horses. Like many of you, I was 'horse crazy' when I was young. (let's face it, I still am).

However, in the heart of the city was this magical place called Halifax Junior Bengal Lancers. I would look out the car window straining to see the horses. Like many families, money was really tight and riding seemed like an impossible dream. However, when I graduated from University and was preparing to head off to graduate school my mom asked me what I wanted as a gift. Without hesitation I told her I wanted to go to 'Lancers' for their adult 'learn to ride program'. She was taken aback but paid for it without hesitation.

At Lancers I learned about how to groom, take care of tack and to ride. And I have not looked back. Really, this 6 week program set me on the path to where I own my horses and farm. I am not a lone. Hundreds, maybe thousands of people have learned to ride since it was established in 1936.

Halifax was built on a peninsula and now sprawls far past that. However, land on the peninsula is at a premium and there is less of it. It won't be a surprise to hear that the land that many are eyeing the land that Lancers is on with a view to it serving a different purpose.

the indoor arena is the white roof, beside it is the barn and the outside paddock

The most recent proposal is to cut off part of the paddock (which doubles as a turn out and outdoor riding ring) to build a parkade.

Horse people can immediately see the problem with this. The paddock will be made significantly smaller. As well there is the risk to the horses (and riders) while it is being built. It's not rocket science to know that to actually construct this the machinery will have to be in the paddock during building. Which means that during construction the horses cannot be out. After, there will still a risk having the parkade that close.

As always, these things are never simple. The city/province is not evil- there is a lack of parking downtown, especially for the hospital.  I can totally see why someone may look at having horses in the downtown as frivolous and unnecessary. I can even see that some people may look at it as elitist and for rich people And wouldn't the horses be happier out in the country?  Isn't that where they belong? 

But, I think we lose something if Lancers is forced out of the heart of Halifax. They are part of the city that prides itself on maintaining its historical roots.

at one time horses were common
Halifax still has a mounted police- largely ceremonial. 

Halifax Police horse in a Pride parade

There are many horse crazy children (and adults) in the city. I think it's important to see them even if they never ride. If Lancers hadn't existed I wouldn't have been able to ride there. Travelling out of the city to ride was not an option for me. And no own would describe my family as 'rich'. 

Losing this for a parking lot makes me sad. 
Sad for the people who won't be able to ride anymore. 
Sad for the horses who might get injured. 
Sad for the loss of history. 
Sad that we have lost our connection with animals. 

It makes me think of these lyrics: 
"Don't it always seem to go
that you don't know what you've got till it's gone
They paved paradise 
and put up a parking lot"

I have no input on this decision. I don't even live in the city anymore. But Lancers is asking for help and if you want to check out their website. 

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Knock Knock

I used to feel with Carmen that I was always knocking on her door, trying to get her to let me in. 

Believe it or not, I actually was able to ride twice this week. Friday was warm and everything was thawed. My ring was actually perfect. I tacked Carmen up but she was not so sure about the whole thing because she was without Irish. Irish was really sweet though and stood up by the ring dozing in the sun.

I wasn't sure if I was going to ride but I tacked her up anyway with the plan that just exercising her with lunging would be good regardless. The wind was up and she was pretty wired.  My goal of lunging is to move forward but with relaxation not tension. Carmen is super good at moving forward and being tight. Side rein might bring her down but I haven't found that they help her stretch. Once she spooked and tried to bolt but she won't pull me away (unlike a few years ago). She slammed to a halt but still had energy so she reared up. Kind of like Silver on the lone ranger. I stayed still and simply said 'kinda over dramatic don't you think?' She looked at me and then we went back to work.
Look at my ring. For Jan 31 this is amazing

In lunging I can find the spots that are worrying for her. My goal is to get even the smallest level of relaxation and then we go away. This really helps her confidence and when we return she relaxes more quickly and to a greater extent.  In the past I would be really frustrated by this. Now I shrug and realize that my opinion that she should just be over this is not helpful.

I think I lunged about 20 minutes. I looked at her contemplating mounting. Now even 6 months ago I don't think I would have. While she was more relaxed I could see that she wasn't fully relaxed. But she was tuned in to me. I also realized that I had the tools to deal with her mounted. Which might be a bit arrogant and I realized that I could be wrong.

Turns out I wasn't wrong. Carmen was definitely worried and tight.  But I find that I am really much better about not buying into that tension with my own. I used my core to be in the saddle (not tight and hovering above it by tightening my thighs so that's progress) and gave her rein. She gave a big stutter-stop coming by troll corner and I just said 'oh hi, what's up' and we carried on. Once she froze and I saw a piece of plastic blowing in the wind. I relaxed and let her look, then asked her to go forward. As soon as I felt even the inclination to go forward I took the pressure off. Within a minute we were walking by it on a loose(ish) rein.

For the ride I focussed on being clear with my seat and soft with my hands. I really want her to reach for the bit, not duck behind or try to grab it out of my hands. It feels that we are making progress.

The next day was also nice (not quite as friday but still good). Julia and I rode in the afternoon. This time I decided to not lunge. I love that I'm feeling more confident and that that confidence is not based on physical strength (in the sense of outmuscling her).  When I was adjusting the stirrups and getting organized she had her head low and relaxed. I reached over her neck and started to love on her. She stayed there drinking it in. Honestly, Carmen has never been comfortable with me reaching over her neck like that.

I hopped on and right away she showed me that the bank of snow was a bit worrisome (also close to where the plastic had bene the day before). I repeated my approach and soon it was a non-issue. We had a good schooling session of trotting, leg yields and playing with contact.

highly suspicious snow bank

When she fusses or tightens I explain that bending and softening feels great and she should try it. When she does I praise but if she doesn't I make sure I don't tighten but keep asking. It was a really good ride. We finished with practicing of our back up. Usually she raises her head and goes back stiffly (and crooked). This time she stayed soft in the contact and backed up easily. That's where we stopped. 

We watched Irish and Julia for a bit finishing up. 
they were in the zone
We dismounted and were chatting while a light snow fell around us. I was smiling at Irish because he's looking so good this year. Carmen turned to him and pinned her ears. 
What is that about?  I asked her. Carmen then took three slow steps forward to stand between me and Irish. Then looked pleased with herself. I honestly think she was making sure I don't give him too much attention. 
Carmen: After all, it's all about me. 
Irish: *sigh*

I am so grateful that I signed up for the TRT method. It has given me tools and principles to work through things with Carmen. Now, even when she's worried, I can knock on the door and she will let me in.