dancing horses

dancing horses

Thursday, August 27, 2020

If You Love Something Set it Free

 Lately I've been finding my motivation to ride lacking. Which is really weird for me. I know it happens and I know that I would tell someone else to just be patient and let it work itself out. 

But since it's me my inner criitcal voices all decided to weigh in at the same time (you're sick, you are chicken to ride, lazy, what will Shanea think. etc etc.). These voices are not helpful. 

Yesterday I got home from work and was not feeling the need to ride. In fact I was feeling pretty tired. But I have a lesson booked for friday and my voices were singing full on in my head. 

I decided to try something new. I went up to the ring and using a variety of poles and jump standards I made a small space to try playing with free-lunging/ liberty work. I have tried it in the past but my ring is too big and Carmen can simply just go from one end to the other and not really listen to me. I have also signed up for a liberty clinic in October so I thought that I might as well see where we were. 

I brought Carmen up to the ring and walked her around on the lead to see the new set up. She was intrigued and, because she's Carmen, highly suspicious. 

Now way back in the day I learned how to 'round pen' a horse. I also know that the philosophy has changed- or maybe it hasn't. But I wasn't interested in chasing Carmen into exhaustion to get her to tune in. 

You have no idea what you are doing said the loudest voice in my head. And Carmen definitely reacted to that. At first she was ignoring me then getting upset with me. I know that it wasn't just me she was reacting to- I was asking her to go into the corner that she hates and I had no line/ halter or anything so she probably felt a bit unprotected. 

I realized that while I might not know much, I do know some things about ground work, body language and intent. So I decided to focus on what I did know, starting with being clear in my head that I wanted her to do X rather than hope (honestly, at some point I will learn that with horses, like many things, hope is not a good strategy). 

Carmen: what new torture is this? 

And so she began to respond. Not without testing, but with less drama. She began to tune in and respond. I would put on pressure and then remove it. When she would stop and look to me I would let her be. If she became distracted or tried to graze I would ask her to work. Not in a punishing way but in a matter of fact way. 

A few times she thought about pushing through the poles (or going under). I was prepared for that and the main gate was closed so I figured it would be fine if she did get out. It also helped me to rate my pressure. 

pressure on but my body language is not tight

In the last few minutes I decided to set up my camera and video us doing some work. I divided the clip into segments - probably poorly but there you have it. 

I am playing with transitions here using my voice and body language. It's not perfect but she's trying and we're working it out. You can hear Guinness barking in the background. I tied him up because he likes to try to help. Partway through you see him trot though looking all proud of himself because he slipped his collar (little bugger). I mostly  ignored him, except to order him out a few times. Which Carmen took as a instruction to go. I like how one ear is on me- she's aware of the stuff around her but also paying attention to me. 

In this clip I'm playing with 'leading' without a lead rope or halter. I played with this earlier and I realize that I needed to walk with purpose and she would follow. If I kept checking she would leave. I liked how she hesitated to follow me into troll corner but then decided to stay with me, even though she could have left at any point. 

I'm playing with starting/stopping/backing up/jogging to see if she would match me. Which she's trying to figure out. I used the whip and my voice to help her understand what I wanted. Guinness is being a brat and in the middle you see me waving my hands as she and I discuss her trampling him. I'm asking her to move her hind quarters or shoulders by where I'm standing and where my energy is going. I then ask her to follow my shoulder and stay with me. 

This was fun. It definitely felt completely different. I can't emphasize enough that I don't know what I'm doing. Do not use me as an example. 

I'm just playing. But maybe that's the point. Maybe I need some play time. 

Carmen: that was fun

Monday, August 24, 2020

Best Laid Plans of Horse and Rider

 I had a lesson booked for Sunday at 12:30 and I was really looking forward to it. I had been working on my lessons from the Balance Clinic the week before and it was working.I've also been introducing Carmen to the concept of relaxation and forward. Mostly on the lunge/ groundwork. I can get her nice and relaxed but then everything stalls out. So I've been working on establishing the relaxation and then asking for more. 

I was ready in plenty of time for our  lesson and Carmen was doing really well with the groundwork. In fact she was even overtracking at the walk (not an easy thing for an Andalusian!). Shanea arrived after I was mounted and I put on her coaching system while I chattered happily about what we had been working on and how she was doing. We started out lesson and I was in the zone. Carmen was marching forward, my seat was following and I was doing a good job staying in the moment (my thoughts can wander): 

walk forward, give with the hands, ask for bend through the corner, straighten outside shoulder, march on, there's C, oh and cows in the yard....

wait, what? 

Carmen and I came to screeching halt (well as screeching as you can get at the walk) and stared in disbelief down at the yard by the house. There was a small herd of cattle happily exploring our yard. 

what the fuck? 

Not the actual cows but used for dramatic effect

Carmen was staring totally rigid. I was too close to the rail to dismount and totally forgot that I can dismount off the right side. I asked her to sidepass two steps and then hopped off, all the time aware of my vulnerability should she decide to explode. Fortunately, she stood like a rock and didn't move while I dismounted (training is sooo useful in moments like these). 

I sighed deeply, threw the reins at Shanea and headed down to get in my car to drive to the neighbours and let them know that their cows were on the lam. 

I was annoyed. Not at the neighbours so much as at the universe. I drove down to the owners house and for the longest time no one answered my knocks. As I was walking back to the car I heard a shout behind me and I knew it was the woman who was profoundly hearing impaired. I pulled out my best charade moves to let her know that the cows were at my place and it worked because she hit her head in the universal 'oh no!' sign and then hurried into the house. I got back in my car and headed home. The cows were now headed to another neighbours and I waved good bye at them. 

Now it's 5 after 1 and there's like 25 minutes left in my lesson. Julia had arrived and said 'I almost hit a cow in your diveway'   I asked Shanea and she was so awesome, texting her next one that she would be late. We then decided that this was the perfect time for her to hop aboard and ride Carmen. We've been planning on it for a while so why not today?

It was really interesting to watch the two of them work together. I could really see Carmen's tension in her shoulders and those muscles were very active in the beginning. It helped me to see what was happening to me from the ground. 

you can see her shoulder muscles here (also no criticism of
 Shanea here please- that's not what this photo is for) 

Carmen's preferred way of going is with tight shoulders and her back legs out behind. In riding it feels that she's totally disconnected - which I guess she is. 

her legs coming out behind is her first sign that she's 
thinking of exiting stage left

As Shanea began to work her I could see her hind legs starting to come under her more and those muscles begin to engage. She began to track at the trot and over trot at the walk.  And then I saw her core start to work. It was really cool. She has a lot of power when that happens. Which, to be honest, makes me a bit nervous and likely her as well. Shanea, however, has a ton of confidence and really solid seat so she can simply take that energy and channel it. 

beginning to work but trying to decide if the grass
was hiding vicious snakes. 

Also cool? Shanea complimented me on how light she was off the leg and sensitive to the seat. And that she has a new appreciation about how Carmen works my core. 

I did not have the lesson I planned but I did have a good lesson. It was good for me to see how she can go when asked. I know that I don't ask a lot from her and I'm trying to fix that- maybe this is the kick I need to get me going. 

I really want to ride that trot

Later that afternoon the cows came back. I think I should sign Carmen and I up for cattle penning lessons.....

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Better Balance Clinic Recap

 The clinic weekend is over and Sunday night I was too tired to write anything. 

First of all the clinic was a great success (from my perspective anyway). There were a variety of riders and horses and everyone learned something new or got clarity on things. What I love about Centered Riding is how it focuses on increasing your awareness of your body and how to make small (and large) adjustments to help your horse. 

was surprised about how tiring it can be to host and ride in a clinic. Even a relatively easy one like this where everyone was friendly and easy going. I was able to reconnect with old friends and make some new ones. With COVID-19 we had precautions and the clinic was basically split between my place and Krista's. 

What I love about Karen is that each lesson was different while all were on the same principals. I saw some big changes in horses and riders over the weekend. I don't like to talk about others because I want to respect their privacy. So I thought I'd share what I learned over the weekend. 

Friday night we all got together and Karen reviewed the principles of CR:

  •  soft eyes- a hard gaze increases tension and the horses can feel it. 
  •  anatomy of the rider with a focus on the pelvis. We all talked about the imaginary ball of energy (or the center) in the pelvis that we can spin or rotate to help the horse. I've always struggled with this concept in terms of putting it into practice but more on that later. 
  • Center, ground and grow: the idea is to balance yourself physically and mentally so that you are able to influence the horse. 
  •  energy and mental states: energy and mental states can be positive or negative and will create a different 'state' that must be recognized and then dealt with. We also talked about how our horses also can be in the different quadrants and how that can affect our rides. 
We had wine (well most of us) and got on our yoga  mats to try exercises. There was a lot more detail (obviously but that's the bare bones).  Part way through it started to rain (we were out on the deck) so we moved into the loft of the garage to carry on. Then we had cupcakes. Frankly I think every clinic should start with wine and cupcakes, right? 

Paula brought Georgie, her beautiful warmblood mare. This created a lot of excitement in both horses and Irish turned into a major level creeper. He would just stare and stare at her. If she or Carmen wen in he would lose his mind. 

Full on Creeper 

Saturday was cool and breezy- there was a definite feeling of fall in the air. I had put myself first in the schedule so that I could then be available to host. Carmen was definitely up. In terms of energy she was in the high energy/negative state which leads to her being spooky, reactive and ready to fight me. I was probably there too (but not as high as Carmen) because i was tired, worried it wasn't to go well and wanting everything to be perfect. I was up 30 minutes before to do groundwork and lunge. 

tension anyone? tight neck and back, short steps

She was much better when I got on but still felt a bit like a powder keg. Karen had me a do a lot of centering (finding my ball and having a neutral pelvis - not tipped forward like I do when I'm worried), grounding through a deep breath and growing (lengthening my spine and stabilizing my core). It worked really well to bring Carmen back to me and keep her underneath. As the lesson progressed I began to feel more in control of myself and, therefore, in control of her. Carmen likes to drop out her hind end and then fling her shoulders to get away. She may not be big but she's pretty powerful. The key is to use my seat/core to keep her under and stay balanced. Here's a video of her doing a pretty big spook and us recovering. 

I didn't know what set her off and then I saw Willow cutting across the ring with a rodent in her mouth. Well that's what I saw. Carmen maintains it was a grey tiger carrying the carcass of a horse. We agreed to disagree on that. However, I was impressed with how quickly we were able to recover and carry on. 

Getting on our listening ears

Julia rode Irish in the clinic and he was really good. Julia did a great job keeping him on task and listening to her. Georgie was really good for Paula too. She is a big strong mare and there's a lot of distractions at my place (and one creepy, staring horse). But she was listening and responsive. They looked stunning. 

We had a quick lunch and then I drove everyone to Krista's for the second half. It was fun to sit and watch the others take in what Karen was teaching and I saw a lot of good work and happy horses. One horse and rider opted to do an in-hand session and that was fascinating to watch Karen teach and then the rider apply the strategies. I filed what I saw away for future use. A half-sister to Steele was in the clinic too. She is a lovely half-andalusian black mare and I was so excited to see her go. There was an adorable 'medicine hat' paint mare and Krista's horse was adorable. He was a rescue and the hypothesis is that he's a draft/paint cross. He has beautiful feathers and looks a bit like a gypsy vanner. He looked fun to ride. 

That evening I had a bit of stress moment. Ed had dinner ready for when we arrived but the horses needed the stalls done and to be fed, I had to drag the ring and the water pump for the barn decided to conk out. I thought that the well was dry (the barn has a dug well). And I also needed to make dessert. I felt a little overwhelmed and snapped at Ed when he came to tell me supper was done. I then went in the house and vented with my friends who then stepped up and helped get dinner on the table (Ed ws dealing with the pump) and threw dessert together. After a good meal I felt a little better. So next time I will plan a bit better. 

I had a better sleep Saturday night and Sunday was nice and sunny. I did groundwork with Carmen and then some in hand work while I practiced my centering and grounding. It was interesting to see how that worked on the ground as well as in the saddle. 

When Karen arrived I told her that I wanted to practice centering, grounding and growing at all three gaits so I can learn how to use it to control her speed/tension.  I also played a lot with my 'center/ball'. It was fascinating to see that visualizing the ball turning left or right resulted in Carmen turning left and right without me using leg or rein (at least not conciously). We were able to stay light in the contact throughout the whole ride with only a few times of her leaning.  

I was holding Irish while Julia practiced using her core 
to prevent being pulled forward in the saddle. Those lines are
Irish's whiskers because he kept photo bombing. FYI, that was
a great exercise 

From the trail clinic a few weeks ago I began to visualize our path as being on a 2 foot wide balance beam so that we wouldn't fall in. I find that visualization worked really well for both of us. But I struggled to keep both the ball and the track in my head at the same time. Then I started visualizing a marble track to combine the two and that worked really well for me. I said excitedly 'I got it! It's a mable track!' Which I then had to explain to Karen. She humoured me about this but honestly it went well. The idea is that my center was a marble running along a track. I suppose a bobsled track would be a similar idea. 

Looking much better

Here's a video of using centering, grounding and growing at the trot and walk to keep her from speeding up. I can definitely see a change in her coming back to me. This will really help us with our lengthens. 

And canter...

In this video I am asking her to come back to me and not speed off across the center line using my core. It's not perfect but it's so much better. 

And here I'm using my core to guide her on a smaller canter circle and then transition:

I was really happy with this lesson. I felt like I had developed some skills and made some progress. Plus I had a lot of fun with horse people. I will definitely do this again. 

Friday, August 14, 2020

How to Prepare to Host a Clinic

 I am sure that you all remember that I posted I was going to partner with a near by barn owner to host a clinic in June. Of course, due to all things COVID, that did not happen. But we did manage to find a weekend that worked for everyone at a later date- August 14-16. This is my first time actually organizing something like this on my own property. While it's been fairly low-key, I did learn a number of things that I'd thought I'd share. 

DO: Listen to your husband when he suggests you should take the week off before in order to prepare. Even if you think you're just humouring him and you might as well use up your vacation. There is more to do than you think. 

DON'T:  Tell him that you're humouring him unless you want the odd  remark when you're working really hard to get ready and it's over 100 degrees outside. 

DO: Decide to weed whack the ring early in the week. 

DON'T: assume that you have enough twine in the weedwhacker. You don't. But do show it to your husband who will miraculously have twine and know to re-wind it. 

Husqvarna battery weed whacker. this thing is amazing. 

DO: Brush the dog before engaging in any house cleaning. Do this outside because it's hot and you will have enough fur to actually knit yourself a new dog (if you want to spin it into yarn but you won't want to do that. Trust me). 

DON'T: Assume that brushing the dog will make a difference. It won't. As soon as said dog comes inside and scratches an itch your floor will be covered in fur again. But at least you know that you tried and that's something. 

DO: Spend the better part of a day taking everything out of your tack room and cleaning it. It will look really good and lift your spirits. 

DON'T: Walk your mare over the bridge outside your ring because she will will stung by a wasp on her fetlock and it will swell making you panic (she's fine). 

DO: Rope your husband into helping you at dusk to flip over the bridge while you spray wasp killer on everything. (normally I avoid killing any bugs around here but I just can't have them that close to the ring and taking over my bridge). 

Optional: As you are spraying all the freaking nests and egg (there must have been a dozen!) say "hello I am Teresa Alexander-Arab, you attacked my mare, prepare to die." If you do say it make sure you use a terrible spanish accent. You may also want to use your own name- that's up to you. 

I was shocked- there was one largish nest and number of
smaller egg nests. Ugh. I think they were paper wasps

DO: Make sure you bake on the hottest day of the summer. Not that you couldn't buy the blueberry muffins or chocolate cupcakes (with salted caramel frosting) but that seems like cheating. 

DON'T: Obsess over the weather forecast. You can't control it. Oh who am I kidding? Go ahead, just know it's futile. 

DO: Find a shirt that will match your saddle pad and bonnet perfectly and order it online. Be surprised that it comes on time and that it actually fits. 

That's all the advice I have for now. Oh wait, one more thing: 

DO: Get really excited because you are going to be having a ton of fun with your friends. Also remember to appreciate your husband who agreed to do all the cooking for the weekend. 

stay tuned for updates! 

Sunday, August 9, 2020


 August 8 was our 33rd anniversary. In the grand scheme of things it doesn't really signify much in terms of special anniversaries.  Although 33 is a 'master' number in numerology it is a highly spiritual number. Regardless, being with one person for 33 years is nothing to dismiss lightly. Typically we don't get each other presents for our anniversaries but we will often go out for dinner. 

This year we made plans for dinner with Karen and Jim and I had a special surprise planned. 

from 2 years ago when we were in Prague

For this story to make sense I need to back up a bit. You may remember that our good friends, Andrew and Cynthia moved out to the Yukon for a couple years. Every summer they would come home for a visit and Andrew would get his little red sports car out to drive around. Except this year they couldn't come home (because of C-19) so Andrew asked Ed if he'd like to 'exercise' his car for a few weeks. I was hesitant- being responsible for someone's fancy car is a bit daunting. But Ed was excited and who was I to argue. 

Ed has been having a blast with this little red car. And it was clear to me that he was falling in love. He started looking at ads and talking it over with me about buying one. But, unless you want to buy new, finding the perfect car is not easy. So I started messaging Andrew and he agreed to sell me his car. In the meantime Ed started asking Andrew if he'd consider selling it and Andrew kept saying no no no. I was encouraging Ed to just keep working on him while inside I was laughing maniacally. 

It seemed like Saturday would never come. I made a special card for Ed and my plan was to wait for him to go to the bathroom at dinner and put it by his plate. But as dinner went on he sat and sat and sat there. So just as we were ordering dessert I got up and went to the washroom. I nabbed our waitress and asked her to give him the card with dessert. 

When his coffee arrived he saw the card and gave me a quizzical look. Open it!  I said. Later he said. No! DO IT NOW! So he did. As you can see it's a chintzy home made and cut out little booklet: 

So corny

Now he's looking at me thinking I must have been drunk to write this

getting really confused 

Now he's sure that I've lost it. What is this all about? he asked me. 

On the next page was a photo of the car: 

she's a 2013 Mazda MX5 hard top convertible

Ed stops at this point and says, what the hell is this all about? 

Turn the page! I say, grinning like a fool. And on the last page is a photo of the transfer papers. 

Ed puts it down stunned. What? he asks. 

I bought you a car!!!!  I say. And he's speechless. Absolutely speechless. And overwhelmed. 

And I'm so happy. All these years and Ed has never complained about the money I spend on horses (well not much). He helps me take care of them and supports me to do what I want to do. His dream had always been to have a red 2 seater convertible and I decided he should have it. 

that smile says it all

Besides, since there's no horse shows this year maybe I can win 'wife of the year'. 

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Unplugging and Recharging

I just finished a glorious two week vacation. We had planned a big vacation in September but that ended up having to be cancelled. That left me we some time I wanted to use up so I decided to take vacation over the summer.  Before I started I was definitely feeling the stress of work so  I used it as a time to unplug and unwind. 

I basically got up every  morning, went outside, and didn't come back in until supper time. My plan was to take each day as it came. I even went out to the pasture and sat to see how the horses would react.  
what are you doing down there? do you have carrots? 

It started off great with the obstacle clinic. Not only was Carmen an angel but I had so much fun hanging out with Karen and Paula. There was much laughter. As a bonus, a young girl was offering to clean out our stalls at the end of the clinic for a small fee. We all jumped on that one! 

fun was had by all and it got me off to a good start for riding at home

I rode almost every day and squeezed in a couple lessons. 

I got some projects done, like painting poles that had almost all the paint worn off. 

Ed: why are the tips of Guinness' ears red
Me: ummmm

When I wasn't riding or puttering I sat on the deck and read. I think I read 3 books while I was off. It was glorious. 

The little women are providing lots of entertainment. They 
come running every time they see me FOOD!!!!

Ed and I took a day and drove over to the valley to tour around and have lunch in a lovely little restaurant. It was a fun day. 

The last two weeks were exactly what I needed. I returned to work Tuesday (Monday was a holiday) feeling rested and recharged.  And the best part? After this week I am also off next week. But don't tell Carmen! 

Carmen: Vacations are hard work. Somebody save me

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Being Cut by Occam's Razor

A few weeks ago I was contemplating calling the vet to do an evaluation on Carmen. Our rides were deteriorating and bolting/ resisting was becoming more frequent. I couldn't figure out why. 

Then I headed to the Obstacle clinic and she was absolutely perfect. For example, on sunday we were standing beside another horse when a loud and strange noise happened outside the arena. The horse beside her began to freak out, she looked at him, blinked and then went back to standing with one leg cocked. 

Two days before she lost her shit over a sparrow outside the ring. I was sure it was something physical and I had numerous theories:
  •  ulcers, even though treating for these wasn't working
  • sore stifles- even though she wasn't lame and was able to spin on a dime
  • tumour on her ovaries
But her behaviour that weekend put all these theories out of my head. 

Clearly the issue was me. 

I was so worried that she was hurting that I was too tentative in my asks and backed down when she protested. From this she learned to use her behaviour to get out of work. For the past two weeks I've been making sure that I'm very clear on what I'm asking and reward when she's trying. When she engages in her  negative behaviour I increase the pressure and don't back down until she softens. 

That lead to ride we had, frankly, a brawl. It was not pretty. 

But since that time we've been steadily improving. 

Nice and soft here, no sign of the brawling Carmen

Our rides consist of me being super clear and honest and having expectations that she will respond. In stead of worrying about her  tension I use it as a 'tell' and ask her to do something (usually bend). If she spooks we work hard in that area and, when she softens we move on. 

When things are good we stop and have a break. But even the break has a rule- we stay in the same spot until I pick up the reins and ask her to move. If she moves on her own I put her back, however many times it takes to get her to stand. 

You can't tell here but we're standing on a long rein. Last week she could no more stand here than I could stand on my head. Of course the heat wave has helped her to enjoy the shade. 

Shanea is very supportive of this and doesn't object when I stop and drop the rein as a reward. She's seeing how well Carmen is responding to this. 

We can now work on actual dressage things. Like trot to square halt transition.

and half-pass

The change in bit is helping too. She's more responsive and less likely to lean. 

She's becoming more focussed on what is happening inside the ring and less worried about outside. 
It's not perfect but it's much better. 

I should probably bummed that I was so wrong and made this so complicated. But I'm not. In fact I'm relieved. I've learned some important things about myself and Carmen. I've changed my mind set of Carmen being a 'spooky' horse to one of her being a sensitive and somewhat dominant mare. I've learned that I can actually sit her antics and make her work through them. I definitely couldn't do that before. 

Unless I'm completely wrong again. But what are the odds of that? 

Carmen: don't worry, I'll let you know when you're wrong. 
Me: Thanks. I think......