dancing horses

dancing horses

Monday, September 28, 2020

Showing Up and Doing the Work

 Fall has arrived with its mix of weather. On the plus side our drought seems to be over. Although it's probably too late for my paddocks. I do enjoy riding in Autumn- the weather is warm enough that you don't need all the layers but cool enough that the bugs are pretty much gone. Recently we are experiencing warmer than normal temperatures. 

I never tire of this view

I had a lesson booked for friday and the weather was stunning. Carmen was feeling pretty mellow along with the weather and I found myself humming as I got her ready. 

I have to confess that I really just want things to go along on a nice upward trajectory. But the reality is that Carmen is not always the same every ride. Like it's not like she suddenly woke up and said 'hey, I'm not worried about things anymore and I LOVE dressage.'  But I'm getting better of keeping myself centred. 

Not always though. I doubt I'll ever be the zen role model.  But I try to show up each and every ride/ground work session and figure it out. 

I've been loving our lesson warm up these days. We start with getting her to lengthen and shorten her walk stride. If that doesn't work we start with just walk/halt/walk transitions. I love how loose it gets her back- it really starts to swing. 

I wish my hands were so backward in the energy but 
otherwise this is a nice halt

From there we go to trot. Shanea has fully bought into the notion that we need to bring Carmen along and that pushing her too fast results in her arguing. So we accept some pretty crap trot at first with the idea that we work to move it forward and free. 

not bad but her neck is pretty retracted

Through transitions and circles we get her moving forward and feeling good. 


In this lesson Shanea set up trot poles to get Carmen to think about her body and moving from behind. Her tendency is approach the poles, fling her front end over and hope her hind end follows. 

You know, the slinky toy approach. 

Carmen: all these trip hazards, someone needs to pick these up

My role was to sit up, support with leg and hand but not interfere too much. Which is, like, really hard to find the right amount of support without dropping or driving. But we kept at it and it worked. 

When we switched to the right rein it was like starting over. No, not like at all. We had to start over. Part of it was she was getting tired. The other part is that Carmen is far more likely to spook/react on the right rein.  It wasn't an issue with the poles. It was an attention issue. I wanted her to pay attention to the poles and she thought that the bushes were far too interesting. 

From there we did some canter work- again working on her pushing from behind and not flinging her forelegs out while her hind legs fall behind. 

I can definitely feel her withers coming up in the canter. I like that I'm sitting up better. I do need to be a  softer in my seat. 

It was a good lesson. It wasn't anything spectacular, not by a long shot. But it's the every day work that will make the changes. As long as I keep showing up. 

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Compliance V. Connection

 Once again I am a terrible blogger so let me try to catch up.  In my defense work has been quite exhausting and I find myself searching for energy at the end of the day to write. 

Anyway, enough excuses. 

Last weekend I went off to another Obstacle Clinic with Mike and Nikki Porter. I had put myself on the waiting list and found out there was a spot. Then another spot opened up and I talked my friend Paula into coming with me. 

Carmen: why am I here? 

This time I was going with goals that had very little to do with the obstacles. I wanted to get some further insights on how to improve my connection with Carmen after the things I learned at the last clinic.   My goals were to push her a bit and not walk on eggshells around her. 

Saturday morning after meeting the others and discussing our goals we started with the ground work.  It was interesting- Carmen pretty much did all the things. But her ears were not happy and I was not feeling any connection. 

I've been here before. Often. It's hard to know what to do - she's being super obedient but also distant. Like the student at the back of the class who knows all the answers and so doesn't really engage in the learning. 

Now you might be wondering what the problem is with this. After all she's doing what I ask. 

Part of it is spiritual- I want to have a sense of partnership with my horse not feeling like I'm just a passenger. The other part is safety. I find that if Carmen is not engaged with me in what we're doing she's very likely to find something else to focus on and make decision's that are not good ones. 

Carmen: why must you irritate me with these things

However, I kept working away feeling like I was an irritant to Carmen but not sure how to approach it. Then Mike and Nikki set up the 'box' exercise- where you have to get your horse to stand in a box drawn in the dirt without moving your feet.  Mike came along and put ours out quite far. Nikki gave me a longer whip to use. It was tricky- especially the backing up part. I had to make my ask quite strong with the rope to get her to back up. Her initial response was to stiffen and raise her head while glaring at me. 

But then we got it. 

And got it again. 

And when I looked at Carmen she was gazing at me with her full attention- ears up, eyes soft, body relaxed but ready and saying 'what are we doing now?'.  

Well hello there

And that was interesting. 

In the afternoon when we did the obstacles in hand we were to to work our horses around the obstacles and then ask them to go over it from a distance.  We stood on the obstacles and lunged the horses around us asking for changes of pace and/or direction. then we would ask them to go on the obstacle but not be beside them. Turns out that this is easier on Carmen's left than on her right side. from that direction she had no idea what I was talking about and I was doing it wrong. But we worked through it and I had her full on attention again.

  I spent the night thinking on that and trying to figure out how to translate this to under saddle. 

The next day, in the morning the plan was to do the obstacles under saddle. there was a part of the ring set up to be open for riding. The plan for my group was to intersperse riding with obstacles. I was probably one of the first to get on (after reviewing in hand first) because I really wanted to spend time doing that. 

Carmen at first was not super keen on this (side note- she's changed her shape and lost weight so saddle fit might be playing a role here. I have an inquiry out to set that up). But Nikki really helped me with that- keeping her going. The phrase she used was to 'support her but not drive her' which made a lot of sense. I think I get so worried that she's going to bolt that I override. sigh.  

But it really really helped. WE would work, do an obstacle, work, rest on an obstacle. Interestingly enough, Carmen was really good about the obstacle work- there was no convincing her about it, she was all business. We not only pushed the flintstone car- we actually dragged it behind us to go back. And she gave zero craps about that. For reference- this is an old video of Carmen pushing the car (last year). It's her favourite thing of all the things. 

When I was told we were done I was shocked to see that I had been working Carmen for 2 hours! It seemed way less than that (at least until I dismounted).  

That afternoon Carmen dozed in her stall while I worked around her. She's never done that- her stall manners are really good but she's never slept in my presence. I felt doing more would be gilding the lily so I did not ride in the afternoon. Instead I took her home and let her enjoy her paddock for a few hours. 

This is her happy place

This clinic helped me to understand that I can ask for more than just compliance. I can ask for the connection and I really need to do that before I ask for more complicated things. I need to figure out how to do this with the changing moods of day to day for both of us. I know I have a strong desire to seek it but I'm not sure how to help her have that same desire. 

I suspect I will be flailing a lot. And failing but I hope to build on this success and figure out how to move forward with it. 

Skeptical chicken has doubts

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Triptych: A Tale of Three Lessons

 I realized that I am behind in my lesson posts. I'm sure you are all fine with that but I like to recap them for my own learning. If you recall I asked Shanea to push me out of my comfort zone and she has taken that to heart. 

Lesson 1: Straight and Supple

This happened before we went away to PEI. Carmen was feeling really on and not spooky even from when we started. It was a great because we could dive into the nitty gritty without all the working through her emotions first. 

Shanea started by asking me to shorten and lengthen her walk- using my seat and my energy. I could use my hands to take a bit but had to give it back. I heard a lot of the phrase- have her on your elbows not your hands. It was so cool to feel how I could do this simply by how much I 'allowed' with my seat. Also cool was that, as we worked, this exercise really helped Carmen to soften and relax her back. She really began to swing. 

I love how she's reaching here

The lesson focussed on keeping Carmen straight- she has a tendency to throw her shoulder to the wall and her haunches in. Some of it is her tension and strength and the rest is all me. I spent so much time trying to keep her on the rail that she thinks she has to throw her shoulder to it. And now I'm used to that so it feels straight. Shanea is asking me to feel her straightness and where her hind legs are. It's been interesting to do that. Karen talked about that as well. Keeping her straight on her right lead is a real struggle. That has been our 'difficult' lead for a while. We have been tackling it a bit at a time. In this lesson we got it a few times and then we stopped. 

uphill anyone? 

Lesson #2: New Place, New Work, New Mindset

My rides after that lesson were quite, um, spicy. I stayed on task and just worked through it. I've been working on my mindset of viewing Carmen's extra energy as a positive thing that needs direction. I decided that this weekend I really wanted to do two lessons in a row. I thought it would help me build on what we did. 

However, to make that work I needed to bring Carmen to a nearby arena on Friday. Krista (same person who did the clinic with me) was really welcoming about Carmen and I coming. My lesson was the first one so I could lunge before. Friday was cool, cloudy and breezy- perfect spooking weather.  To be honest I considered faking being sick to get out of going. But I didn't and trailered there.  Krista has a 'guest' paddock and Carmen was quite happy in there- as long as I stayed near anyway. 

Horse Heaven: grass paddock surrounded by apple trees

I brought Carmen into the arena a good 45 minutes before the lesson. It is a lovely canvas arena and it was making some flapping noises in the wind. Carmen was not a fan- which was logical. I spied a flag in the corner and I went and grabbed it. I've done lots of work with flags with Carmen as part of the TRT Method. However, Carmen took one look and ran backwards. 
Carmen: oh my god- it's attacking
Me: it's a flag. You've seen it before. 
Carmen: But this one is small and everyone knows that they are the deadly ones. 
Me: *sigh*
However, I do know how to help her with this and 5 minutes later she was bored. I then took the flag and flapped it over her head- it sounded a lot like the canvas. Working through that helped her to understand that she didn't have to worry about the arena. 
Carmen trusting me despite evidence to the contrary

When Shanea arrived we went to work - starting with the walk shorten-lengthen work. Then Shanea had me focus on keeping her in shoulder fore to keep her shoulder from throwing it into the wall. The exercise was a series of 10 metre circles down the long side with shoulder fore in between. This was very tricky and required all our focus. Which might have been the point. 

But I found that I could really feel when she was straight and crooked and, more importantly when I needed to aid to prevent it. 

I was super impressed with how we both handled things at this new location. I am finding that my seat is much more secure so I am able to sit through her spooks and re-direct her energy. In this lesson I could feel her using her hind end more and coming from behind rather dump on her forehand. Shanea laughs at me but when she's trotting from behind and is light in front I call that trot 'fluffy'. I have no other way to describe it. 

looking light and fluffy here

Carmen worked really hard for us. Even when the arena started to creak a bit as the wind picked up. Not that she didn't notice but there were no melt downs. We finished with some canter work but as soon as it was good we stopped and let her relax. 

I was really excited about how we were to not only work but to advance our work. Working in the smaller space of the indoor helped me a lot. 

I stayed and watched a bit of Krista's lesson but Carmen was only happy when I was nearby and I couldn't do both so we headed home. Frankly, it was good for us to go somewhere, work and go home. Carmen was quite happy to find herself back in the field in the afternoon. 

Lesson #3: Onwards and Upwards

I hadn't the heart to tell Carmen that we had another lesson today. Fortunately, it was at noon so we could have a quiet and relaxing morning.  When I was getting her ready she went back and forth from being sleepy to cranky. Very likely she might have felt a bit body sore from the work and I figured it might be an interesting ride. The weather was sunny, calm and warm enough to be comfortable but not hot. 

Spoiler alert- it turned out that it was an awesome ride. 

Carmen was definitely a bit spicy but not that bad. We worked on getting the walk supple and relaxed and then adding in trot work. I was doing a lot better at keeping her straight but not perfect. We did this fun exercise at the trot of: turn down quarter line, leg yield to wall, hitting at the centre letter (B or E) then riding a half 20m circle and then shoulder in down the side. It required me to be on the ball with the aids: 
  •  make sure that she didn't bulge her shoulder during the turn
  • that she waited for me to start the leg yield
  • and keep her shoulder off the wall

It was fun. Her trot got so fluffy that I could feel it all the way up to my diaphragm. 

From there Shanea had me practice our half-passes at trot. I bobbled the aids for that at first having my outside leg too far back but after stopping and discussing it I understood at least the principle first. I could feel it really starting to gel and Shanea was sounding quite excited about it. It was nice to feel the push from her hind leg. 

And all of this work happened while she was off and on worried about the outside of the ring.

The butterflies were particularly fierce. 

not too bad for a start

At this point I was thrilled and could have happily stopped. Shanea asked if I felt up to trying some canter half pass. Remembering that I had to be pushed I agreed.  Shanea had me pick up a canter, do a 10 m circle and then come down the centre line. The goal was to ask for a few strides of half-pass, come back to trot and praise.  The first few attempts were not great but not horrible. Carmen did do a big spook at the end of one but we regrouped and carried on. The breaking it down into small chunks helped Carmen and I figure it out without getting flustered. We got a few good ones on both leads and then stopped. 

I was thrilled with the work we've been doing. I swear that Carmen's hind end is taller because of the muscle she's building.   I was glad I had two in a row like that- I think it helped us to move ahead. 

fluffiness personified

Saturday, September 5, 2020

Beach Ride Master Class

 You all remember my friend Karen and her stallion Kalimo- I write about them fairly often. Kalimo is her imported PRE and he's stunning. 

Karen and Jim own a beautiful house/cottage in Prince Edward Island (or PEI as we call it). Every year she takes her horse for a couple weeks vacation. This year she and Jim invited Ed and I to come for a couple days. 

one of the many views from their deck

I looked at my schedule and found a couple days I could take off so we made a date. 

Then she said 'bring your riding clothes if you want and you can ride Kalimo on the beach'. 

The morning we had chosen dawned rather gray and wet but it was warm. when the weather began to improve we got ready. Karen rode Kalimo down to the beach and I drove her truck. When she arrived we used the tailgate as a mounting block and I got on. I was feeling a whole range of emotions and thoughts- excited, happy, worried I would fall off and Kalimo would take off and get hurt, etc. Karen, of course, was not worried (or she hid really well). 

Nonetheless we were off and I started my riding lesson. (note: the narrative is much better if you imagine Kalimo with the voice of Antonio Banderas, which he really has). 

Kalimo: Oh hello, Señora Karen told me that I was teaching her friend how to properly enjoy the beach. Come, we are off. 
Me: Wait, I want to take a between the ears photo. 
Kalimo: Señora, there is no time for such foolishness. We must go- the beach awaits. 

I threw my phone at Karen to take some photos because there was no arguing with my teacher. At some point her sister Margaret came and took many photos that I'm using in this post. 

I sat there breathing in the sea air, watching the seagulls fly off and trying to remain relax while my inner 12 years old was positively bouncing with glee. We headed off down the beach. 

Kalimo:  Señora, you must relax, this is fun. Say hello to the man walking there so he can admire me. 
We had a brief chat with the gentleman walking. I believe that if you are out in public it is good to make sure that people are not frightened and see you and your mount as friendly. 

Kalimo: Yes, now we carry on. See the little birds? We must not scare them. 
Me: The sandpipers? Yes, I see them. 

Kalimo very carefully move sideways to avoid them. The seagulls he ignored completely. 

Kalimo:  you are feeling good? We can trot now. 
Me: ummm
Kalimo:  Trust me Señora it will be fun. 
Me:  okay. 
And off we trotted. He was so good and gentle and clearly having a great time. I'm sure that I was laughing a lot and I bet the local cottagers were wondering what weird seagull was cackling. 

I got really brave and asked for a canter. 
Kalimo: Ah, Canter! Well done Señora! 
Me: okay, maybe we come back now
Kalimo: No, no, you have just started, it is fine, we will keep going. 
Me: But I'm thinking we should trot now.  (I think I accidentally tightened up here because Kalimo shifted gears into a more forward canter). 
Kalimo:  Feel the breeze in our faces, our manes blowing in the wind. We are magnificent you and I. 
Me: But there's this cliff face coming up, maybe we should trot. 
Kalimo:  Señora, please, I am a professional, we shall stop when it's time. 
Me: *gulp*
Sure enough when we got close to the cliff he slowed so soft and gently to a walk. 

Kalimo: I told you señora there is nothing to worry about. You are with Kalimo, nothing bad will happen. 
Me: Okay then. 

I began to relax and really enjoy the ride. We did a lot of trotting and even more cantering. It was exhilarating. 

With the sound on you can hear the wind and the surf. 

I honestly do not know how long we rode but Kalimo finally felt tired enough to do a walk on a long rein. 

I offered to be done but he was not ready so we went back down the beach. I think he would have stayed there all day. Going up and down the beach, stopping to allow walkers to admire his beauty. 

But finally it was time we had to go. Karen asked if I wanted to ride him back to the cottage. I said sure as long as she was fine with it (of course she wouldn't have offered otherwise). She told me to walk him up the road and stop at the stop sign, cross the rode and then follow the track on the field to her place.  Kalimo went off well enough but half-way up the road he wanted to turn around. 

Kalimo: We have left Señora Karen at the beach. We must return and get her. 
Me: no, Karen told us to go she's following in the truck. 
Kalimo: I have never left her behind on the beach. Never. We go back. 
Me: I'm afraid I'm going to insist we carry forward. 

Kalimo: I do not like this señora but I will follow your advice. 

It was kind of funny- our walk got slower and slower the farther away from the beach we got. By the time we got over to the field and I saw Karen waiting at the house I called out to her
Me: We'll be there in about an hour.
Kalimo: I am so tired Señora, and you make jokes? 
Me: I am sorry, I shall give you many many many carrots when we return. 
Kalimo: that would be appreciated. 

I do not know any riders that don't imagine riding on the beach. I'm sure that they are out there but I've not met one yet. This ride was amazing on so many levels. Kalimo is so much fun to ride, he responds to the lightest of aids and is very sensitive but so kind and calm at the same time. For Karen to offer him to me was an honour I will not forget. 

Karen told me to lock this memory down and even think of a song to go with it. That way when I need a good memory I can call it back up. It took me a while to think of a song but then it hit me on the way home: "I Cannot be Broken" by Claire Guerreso (her work is so good, you should check her out). When I got home friday Karen had made this video for me with a compilation of photos set to the music. I was overwhelmed. 

Here it is if you want see it: 

This is a trip that I doubt I will ever forget. 

Tuesday, September 1, 2020


Like I mentioned in my last post I had a lesson booked for Friday. When Shanea arrived I confessed to my recent funk and that I hadn't been riding but that I had been doing other things. She shared that she had heard that confession from many of her students this week so maybe it's not just me.  Anyway, I told her that i realized I needed some pushing to get out of my comfort zone and I asked her to do that. It was (of course) a much longer conversation than that but to make it short, she rubbed her hands together gleefully and said 'All righty then'. 

And push me she did. Carmen was feeling quite hot and wanting to lean on the bridle. It's a hard thing to fix because too much rein and she bolts, too much hold and she leans and carts me around. However, I do have some tools from my Better Balance Clinic (and past lessons based on Centered riding). I realize that I need faith in myself that I can ride out the shit and not freeze. 

How Shanea see our lessons (probably)

Shanea's goal was to keep her hind leg under and not have her all strung out - that's when she gets away (which is also what Carmen told me). So, to a certain extent, there as a bit of hold the rein and boot her hind leg back under. Not as bad as you might think- just making it clear that her legs needed to be under me, not waving around out behind.  

Pictured her: Carmen leaning on the bit and
shoving her legs out behind

It's no surprise the Carmen is a hot horse. Her sire was known for being hot and her full sister is also quite similar (we met via FB last  year I think). Sometimes her hotness becomes a bit too much for me - and I think for her as well. But she is who she is.  I need to ride it and figure out what she needs. Shanea likes a lot of going straight and forward into contact. I like to do circles when we lose it but then I can see her point that I'm avoiding the going straight. So we compromise. Which means I try to go straight and she ignores the occasional circle I throw in. 

That said, most of this lesson was on the circle to help her bend and push with her inside leg. I could definitely feel when her hind legs were under me. 

Better with her body. I let the reins get long and then my hands were
all like 'omg, we're going to die let me crawl under your chin'. 

All told it was a good lesson. I used a lot of the breathe/ground/grow and that kept my seat pretty solid in the saddle. There were some really good moments and by the end of the lesson she was pretty much over the concept of running away from the leaves. 
so much better here- and the rein is loose because I'm trying to get her
to stretch that Andalusian neck out and unlock herself. 

I realized that I can push myself and her and not end up in a train wreck. The next day I rode early and she was really good. I wish I had a lesson then because it felt like we could have really built on the day before but c'est la vie.  Sunday she was in between Friday and Saturday's mood but it was still a good ride. I set up some  puzzles in the ring to play with: trot poles with every other one elevated, a gate, some cones for bending etc. 

Saturday morning was beautiful 

Monday I decided to not ride and head to Zumba class instead. It was my first time since the pandemic started (they've only been going in person a little while). It was a lot of fun and she one of my favourite songs by Lizzo - Juice. It was fun to get back to it. 

Tuesday Carmen was lit. I had to dismount and work her hard on the ground. Then I got back on and worked her more. I was pretty clear about my line and it did work.  We were both sweating but Carmen was using her hind end and not bracing so I counted it as a win. 

Tomorrow Ed and I head out for a couple days of vacation and I'm really looking forward to it.  Maybe Carmen is too.  Joanne will be babysitting and the animals all enjoy being spoiled. 
Joanne with her grandson and Irish. 
Irish is the sweetest horse on the planet, I swear.