dancing horses

dancing horses

Sunday, May 31, 2020

The Last Breath of May

this is from last week- the trees are now leafing out nicely

Spring is turning into summer. Our weather has turned warm and with it the black flies have come out. I don't know if it's because of the mild winter but they seem to be especially fierce this year. I had a lesson booked for Thursday evening and I got ready as per usual. I coated Carmen and I in fly spray and there was a nice breeze. I figured it would be okay. 

It was not okay. Carmen was being driven mad by the biting, swarming little demons. And frankly so was I. I lunged her to see if that helped. Finally I looked at her, she was trying very very hard but was barely keeping it together. I decided that it just wasn't worth it. It felt more like torture and I couldn't see what value we would gain. So I cancelled. Shanea was very understanding. We decided that, until the flies calmed down, we'd have to ride in mornings. 
the old apple tree at the edge of the field is in bloom. the smell is heavenly. 

Friday we did groundwork. I realized that it had been a while since I had done a session of just groundwork. When I was done, I slipped her halter and let her graze while I sat in the ring enjoying the warmth. Saturday I awoke with a massive headache. Fortunately the weather was dreary and drizzly so I spent the day in idleness, doing a few chores and reading. 

Irish amuses me- he's been coming with his flymask askew. What
really makes me laugh is that he has his left ear in the right ear cover.
Not even sure how he did it. 
Sunday morning Julia wanted to ride early after her night shift. That worked for me and my head was 100% better. I wanted to try on her new fly bonnet I bought to match my black and blue saddle pad. It was made by Fun Bonnets. I had order from her in the past and really like her work. She did not disappoint. 

When I mounted and we walked off from the mounting block Carmen began to pin her ears and hump a bit. I was surprised because she just doesn't do that. I gave her rein and let her walk. She kept her ears pinned and shook her head. I stopped her and did some thinking. I wasn't sure what was going on but decided to head into the woods to see if she improved. Which she did. Our hack was lovely. 

Back in the ring I found her to be forward and responsive. In fact, I found her to be a bit 'noodley'- which was better than being hard sided and stiff. Despite our start she was actually stretching out over the back and really reaching for the bit. 
random photo of Ripley trying to get her stick into her pool 

We worked on straightness and her adjustability. To the left is was easier to get her forward and back in the gait. On the right rein she wasn't so adjustable so we practiced with trot-walk-trot, gradually shortening the walk steps until it was trot-almost walk- trot forward. 

I know that Carmen's saddle needs to be adjusted (soon) and the saddle pad I used was thinner than the one I had been using. I wonder if she was feeling the difference and, at first, not liking it but then discovering it was more comfortable. Or she was being stung by something. I don't know. 

What I do know is that we had a ride without any fights or blowups. We finished the ride in a happy place and that has been my goal. The sun came out during our ride and the day ended up being a beautiful summery day. I spent the whole day outside enjoying the warmth. When you live in Canada you really appreciate it when things warm up. Even with the bugs. 

and doesn't she look pretty in her bonnet? 

Monday, May 25, 2020

A Good Lesson

I had another lesson last Friday. And it went so well. Really well.

Rather than write about the lesson itself, I wanted to talk about what makes me call a lesson 'good'. I recognize that this definition may vary between people but I suspect that there are a lot of similarities too.

In no particular order, here are the features that make a good lesson for me.

1. Picks up on what was worked on in the last lesson.

In between lesson I work on my 'homework'. So I like it when we pick those things back up to fix or to move to the next step.  Shanea and I always start by discussing how Carmen has been going since she was here last. This time I shared that my rides in between have been amazing and one that was terrible. In that one Carmen was just unable to horse and was not interested in my input. I actually got off and lunged her some more and then got back on. I talked about what I tried and what worked/what didn't. That gave Shanea a place to start with us.

I have had lessons where it's felt like the same lesson over and over and it felt like I was stagnated. 

2. Instructions that actually help me to do the task. 

I think it was Megan who talked about 'First and second toolkit instructions'. I will likely get this backwards, but 'second toolkit' are things like 'make her rounder' vs what I should do with my body to achieve this. Karen is amazing at this. Shanea is pretty good too. Sometimes I have to stop and talk with her because I'm not quite getting it. 

We've been working on the Second Level Turn on the Haunches. Turns out I don't know how to do it properly. It's hard. Shanea tried lots of ways to help me understand and finally it made sense. We're getting there. Aside: I think I need to look at some video examples so if you have any links, let me know. 

3. Positive focus. 

Not that I need to hear that I'm awesome. But feeling that I'm wrong without advice on how to do better is NOT helpful. 

like get her forward when she's planning to exit stage right
I already know I have a lot to improve. But I have had lessons that have made me feel like shit (not from Shanea) and, you know what, these didn't really make me a better rider. They destroyed my confidence. 

no need for barriers to learning- unlike Ripley here trying to stop the tractor!

4.  Working in the Zone:

It's a lesson that pushes me but not so out far of my comfort zone that I'll crash and burn. It's the concept of  Vygotsky's 'Zone of Proximal Development'. The concept is simple: there is what we can do all on our own (like a walk-canter transition) and things we cannot do (like piaffe). But in between there are things we can do with help. 

I don't need a lesson focussing on what I can do, or even what I can't do. But that part in the middle? That's where the magic happens. We're working on rocking her back on her hindquarters and pushing from her hind legs rather than dragging herself along by her front. It is working. At least I think it is. It's so hard to not just pull on the reins. My abs are so tired by the end of the lesson. The plus side is that when she is balanced and under me she is much less likely to spook. 

using my abs here big time. 

5. Fun. 

Riding is supposed to be fun, right? I don't mean a party but it should be enjoyable. I like talking with Shanea- she has a good sense of humour. So does Karen. It feels like a collaboration not a dictatorship. It is important to me that Carmen does not view every ride as drill and hard work with no reward. Some horses will tolerate that but she will not. I'm getting better at recognizing when she's starting to fizz a bit and Shanea and I discuss how to move away from one thing and do something else. 

a fun way to work on condition without it feeling like work (at least to me). 

I'm sure I could get more and more detailed (after all that's where us horse people live, amiright?). But I think that covers the broad strokes. 

What did I miss? What makes a good lesson for you? 

Monday, May 18, 2020

All Dressed Up

This was Victoria Day weekend in Canada and the weather has been beautiful. I had four glorious days off in a row and I planned to make use of the time.  I caught up on some farm chores, took the dogs on lots of walks (they are currently snoring on the carpet in doggy exhaustion) and, of course, rode. Saturday was rainy but it cleared up in the afternoon and I could squeeze in a short ride. 

I'm getting better at keeping her under me and using her hind end. I am struggling with contact, I feel that I'm doing well but when I look at pictures I think my reins are too long and my arms look tight. Sigh. Anyway.....

Sunday I had a lesson booked with Shanea. It was the end of day so by then I was a bit tired. I much prefer to ride in the morning.  This weekend was also supposed to be the Johanna clinic and I had saved the  new saddle pad/ear bonnet. Of course the clinic was cancelled and I was missing my friends and spending a weekend immersed in horses. 

Christmas gift from my daughter

I decided that dwelling wasn't helpful so I got Carmen out in the morning and gave her a good bath. When I was done, she was gleaming. That way I felt good about putting on this shiny outfit. 

Carmen was not feeling it though.... I think she looks awesome
As always, our warm up takes a while. Our first trot is almost always a shit show. I'm attributing it to the saddle needing adjustment (yet another thing delayed due to the virus). I tend to give her rein and encourage her forward. Getting too strongly after leads to arguments and not asking her to move out leaves us stalled in this balky, uncomfortable place.  

reeeeally not feeling it
But as we work through a number of transitions and bending and she begins to feel better. 
Shanea has a good understanding of Carmen and what she needs. She also has a good understanding of how I let things slide and I need to tighten up. Like our shoulder in. We did a lot of work one getting her to bend through it and now just half-ass it. 

not too bad and at least I'm not pulling on the inside rein
The wind was pretty breezy but that was a godsend because the blackflies are out with a vengeance. Poor Shanea ended up eating a few I think.  

We are doing better on being straight and keeping her on the outside rein. Not always, but it feels more consistent. Our biggest hurdle is her distractibility which impinges on her suppleness and rhythm. So we can be going forward and then she becomes behind the leg. 
not tight here but thinking about it

Our canter work is a lot better- I can keep her straight and forward. When she tightens and gets super bouncy I'm better at riding her through it and not just giving up and clutching.  Our right canter is more of a struggle (not a new problem). She's trying though. When she gets distracted she falls out of it and I am trying to regroup and pick back up. 

Add caption

After our canter, Carmen came into a lovely, forward and powerful trot. Shanea was encouraging me to ride her forward into that and not choke it out. We were motoring but I was feeling unsafe. And she gave a big start. 

deke right
We regrouped but not as good as before. I realize that she and I are both a little overwhelmed by her power and that leads to issues. We need to work on that so we both feel in control of it. 

I was so excited with this lesson. It felt like we're making real progress. 

Plus we looked snazzy. 

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Inner Peace

Way back in the day Carmen was very very spooky when she was in heat. Now I find that she's a bit grumpy, tight and not so forward.
horses are in their happy place- the back field

 Old me would have gotten after her to be forward.

New me works with how she feels and focus on getting her to stretch and soften before I ask for forward. This can mean a longer warm up.

And I don't even care.

I was listening to a Jane Pike podcast on trusting your intuition when riding. I really enjoyed this one (truthfully I enjoy most of them) because it was about giving yourself permission to explore what would work with your horse and be okay with making mistakes.

My inner dressage diva is slightly horrified.

But my inner horseperson is fist pumping and yelling wahoo.

We are having much fewer arguments these days. Not that we are having none. I am not afraid to draw a line but I'm not flustered as easily and I simply fix and go back to work. 

Don't get me wrong, I am definitely taking my lessons and listening to Shanea. 

But I'm giving myself permission to play with her and see what helps. 

Ed is making a chicken coop. Exciting times on the farm. 

Fun fact- since that time Carmen tried to bolt and I said 'cool, let's go' she hasn't bolted since. I feel her thinking about it and then, is like, nope, screw it. 

random photo of the little grass snake I found on my walk. 

This week Carmen is having the heat from hell. If you touch her flank she gives the high pitched squeal and pins her ears. Despite this  I decided to ride after work. It was a bit breezy but lovely. Carmen was quite up in the barn so I figured I would lunge and see what happened. She was definitely tight and even gave a big scoot during the ground work. However, she was trying really hard and I decided to mount. 

We went on to have a 25 minute ride at just the walk. I wanted to play with what she needed to respond to the lightest of aids for transitions, SI/HI, leg yields etc. I quite like walk rides. It is very similar to yoga- I am asking her to stretch and bend and use her core but slowly. 

We did the whole ride with only a few jumps from Carmen. By the end she was soft and supple and really relaxed. I hopped off quite happy with this mini ride. Carmen is much more willing to listen to me and rely on me to give her good information. 

I started on this journey with Carmen with my destination, route and plan all mapped out. We have taken a lot of side rides, ended up in a ditch (figuratively) and I've almost quit a dozen times. And I still don't know where we're going. Not really. But at least now I know we're both going in the same direction and that is something. 

coming to say hi

Friday, May 8, 2020

Working on the Teeter-Totter

You guys, it finally happened! I had an in person lesson with Shanea! She and I had discussed it at the end of our last lesson. She had some requests from others. I knew that we could do the lesson and stay well away from each other. And that is exactly what happened. I was up in the ring warming up and she came from her car to my ring.

The weather was sunny and warm but also windy. I hadn't been able to ride for a couple days so I was semi-expecting her to be a bit up. Instead,  she was practically asleep. I did our ground work and even go her to canter to try to get her going a bit.

I mounted and getting her to do our relaxation patterns was pretty easy. So when Shanea arrived I was excited to tell her that we needed to work on getting the energy up instead of down. I told her that I was more confident in getting the up energy down than getting the low energy up. It is because I love the relaxation, but I need more energy without her thinking that I'm punishing her for relaxing.  While we chatted Carmen took a nap.

A big piece of the answer was to encourage her to move out but to nurse it along. I do love that Shanea understands what Carmen needs and isn't telling me to 'get after her'. Instead we worked with her and then asked for a little more and a little more and a little more.

 sorry for the blurry screen shot-
stepping under and not bad for us to start

We also worked a lot on straightness. Turns out I have no idea what being straight on the right rein actually feels like.  Carmen tends to look to the outside and I try to correct that with the inside rein. All that does is make her more crooked. To correct it, I wasn't allowed to touch the inside rein until I got her straight on the outside with inside leg to outside rein (have you heard of this whole inside leg to outside rein thing?). What was cool was that as we worked I started to really  feel it and Carmen became so adjustable.

Like most things we would get it, lose it, get it back. But as the ride came on she became more and more supple. Riding haunches in/shoulder in was just a little movement of the seat and a little outside rein.
shoulder fore to help her straighten- but what the heck am I doing with
my inside hand and shoulder? 

The other part of lesson was getting Carmen to step under herself and push from behind. It required me to be very aware of my seat and what it was doing and not holding too much. We played with lengthening and shortening the walk. At first she thought I wanted halt but as we worked it became easier and easier. Especially once she became truly straight.

We then started asking it at the trot. At first it was trot, walk a few steps then trot. Then it was trot, ask for almost walk and then trot out. Then everything became so soft. I worked super hard on keeping my hands quiet and soft. Shanea asked me ot feel the bit with my elbows and back, not my hands. That helped but it's tricky and I always want to do far too much with my hands. Sigh. Poor Carmen. She is becoming very tolerant of me (Carmen:  I know. *Sigh*. I deserve more cookies).

Carmen began to tire and wanted to hang on the bit more. We worked her a little longer, playing with the canter and then called it quits. I don't want to make her too sore.  I loved this lesson so much. I love working on the teeter totter of forward and back as well as her energy.

I like her balance here and how she's stretching out from her whither

While I really appreciated the virtual lessons, having her there was so much better. I am so enjoying Carmen this year. I also have a sneaking suspicion that she's enjoying me. It feels good to not be in a battle. Sure, sometimes I negotiate and sometimes I have to draw a line but I'm getting much better at letting it go after.  Whatever happens this summer with shows I think that Carmen and I will make a ton of progress and it will be good for us.

Monday, May 4, 2020

Technicalities: Virtual Lesson #2

I arranged to have a second lesson on Sunday- this time over Zoom instead of Facetime. I was hoping I could use Zoom to record the lesson. It did record but it did not work the way I wanted- the quality was really poor and every time Shanea spoke it switched to her so I have no media.

instead of my ride here's a photo of a mare feeling fresh. 

The weather Sunday was glorious- sunny and warm and everything seemed to be sparkling. Carmen was really mellow so I knew it was going to be a good ride. And it was. There was one spot that was causing her concern but nothing too serious.

The focus of the lesson was to get her using her hind end to push and not just drag it along like a cart. (No Carmen, I am not saying that you are a cart horse. Sorry, no need to be offended! Although I will point out that pulling carts is a noble endeavour.....). 

I was impressed with how soft she was in the bridle and how she was reaching forward. Which was also hilarious because Shanea's main criticism was that she was too long and loose and not 'up' enough (oh the irony!). Frankly I will take it and was not too worried. I've worked really hard to get her to soften and relax so I am totally okay with her being too far in that direction.

When Carmen would drop her back and disconnect I was to use a 10 metre circle to get her rebalanced and then carry on. That helped and it really helped me to feel the difference between a connected and disconnected Carmen. The difference of her back coming  up and her stepping under and her, well, not was striking. I do love working on these technical details: how much rein, leg, seat do I need? I have dug out my spurs again. Not to get forward but Carmen has a habit of coming against my leg and ignoring my request to bend when she needs to look out at something. The little spur helps me to increase the pressure to help her yield. Because I don't need to use so much leg I can stay more balanced and not tighten my seat.

Carmen's opinion about spurs.....
We also worked on walk-canter-walk transitions. In the walk to canter I had to make sure she was stepping under and then ask. When I did that I could really feel her whither lift into the transitions. When I didn't do that the transition was flat and on the forehand.  

Canter-walk is more tricky for us. Carmen tends to fall through the downward one and lean on my hand. Turns out that this is a little bit of a balance thing and a lot of my fault thing. Turns out that when she drops to trot and leans on the reins I drop them and this causes her to fall. I need to use half-halts and my seat to balance. We had some really really nice transition on the left rein but really struggled on the right. She was getting a bit tired and grumpy about it. We gave her a break and then worked through it. I worked through many transitions focussing on being not-frazzled and just quietly balancing her and not dropping the rein when I finally felt her begin to understand the ask. We finished with a couple nice ones and let it end there. 

It was such a fun lesson- working on the small details that we need to have solidified for a good second level test. I'm sure that we both had sore cores after that but it was worth it. 

Comparing Facetime to Zoom I have to say that FaceTime worked a lot better. If we need to do another virtual lesson we will use FaceTime. Restrictions are starting to lift so I hope that we won't have to. It's very easy for Shanea to come here and teach and maintain social distance. Fingers crossed that we can do that soon. 

I have to show one more photo. After my lesson I gave Carmen a quick hose off and was letting her graze. Irish clearly was enjoying the sunshine.

I swear he was snoring

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Up and Down

Spring in Nova Scotia is always a fickle thing. So far this week we've had rain, snow, sun and wind. It's been cold, warm, and everything in between. It makes any consistent riding darn near impossible. Which makes having no real plans at this point a good thing- I can go with the flow and not feel any stress.

it is pretty when the sun shines though

My vet had recommended that I try adding in a vitamin for Carmen because she wasn't sure that she was getting enough with what I was feeding her of the Fibre Nuggets. I can't give Carmen the recommended amount because she will blow up like a balloon. Her recommendation was to add a little over the months to her feed when I am training and to drop her to just hay and the ration over the winter. I tried to estimate what would be a good balance for Carmen and began to add it. Within 3 days her energy level was over the top. Last sunday we had a stressful ride and were falling into our old habits of arguing.  I decided to cut the amount of vitamin in half and she became more rational within a day or so. It might be coincidence so we'll see.
last sunday I was able to give the horses the first bath of the season
I did manages to squeeze a few rides in. Most of the time I'm just focussing on getting her to relax her topline and reach for the bit. It is coming. Pole work is helping.

my new favourite pole lay out. It has so many possibilities
My quieter seat, hand and, well, attitude is helping as well. I had proof of that yesterday. The weather was clear but the wind was unreal. A rainstorm was moving in and you could feel it in the air. And yes I still decided to ride. My plan was to at least lunge and go from there. I could see that Carmen was trying super hard with the ground work but she was still super tight. I had the thought that I could help her more from the saddle then the ground. 

I mounted with a plan of just walking and asking her to stretch and breathe. She was super tight and her legs were literally pounding the ground. I gave her some rein, supported when she needed, but never ever pulled or tried to force her. Every try was rewarded with verbal praise, loose rein or rest. We did large and small circles and many changes of direction. I asked her to leg yield to loosen her shoulder and to stretch to loosen her back. When she trotted I let her go and then just asked her to come back to walk. If she had cantered I was going to let her do that too but she never did. The trees were blowing and creaking in the wind, it was wild. Gradually I felt her begin to let go and breathe. Then I felt her back release and we began to move better. I let her feel how good that was for a few minutes, then rested. Then we did a little more and I hopped off. 
my daughter turned 30 this year. I always wanted to buy her a pony but she
didn't want one. But look at this- heels down and everything! 

My goal is to have her end every ride feeling better than when she started. I don't always succeed but today I did. I realized that we had made a jump forward because I was more successful in getting her to relax while riding instead of on the ground. 

During this  Covid-19 pandemic what are you working on (whether riding or not)?