dancing horses

dancing horses

Monday, December 27, 2021

Eat, Drink and Be Merry

 Despite all that is happening right now we had a lovely Christmas. 

My two adult children came home. My son brought his dog, Ripley (she's made appearances on the blog) and my daughter brought her two kittens. If you do the math that makes 2 dogs, 3 cats (with our Willow) and 4 adults in one small farm house. You would expect it to be chaos but it really wasn't. We had a great time. 

oooh Christmas

The weather just before Christmas was cold rain followed by plummeting temperatures. The wind was fierce too. I basically resigned myself to not riding and to begin pining for my own indoor. But then the weather turned mild and the ring thawed and I was able to ride both Christmas eve and Christmas day. 

Christmas eve and Carmen was listening for Santa's bells

In between that I baked (cookies, chocolate cake, cinnamon buns, peanut butter balls) and cooked (full Christmas dinner) and made cocktails (I made a wine cocktail with San Pelligrino and orange juice it was delicious and then a mudslide with kailua and baileys).  We are all so full right now. 

My family was very good to me this year. My son got me the third book in a series that was autographed by the author. That was exciting. My daughter bought me an ice cream maker! First of all I love ice cream. If I ever turn down ice cream there is something wrong with me- take me to the hospital right away. When I was a child we visited some friends and they made ice cream with a churn and snow. I was shocked- I didn't know you could make ice cream and it seemed like magic to me. 

wizardry- turning cream and chocolate into ice cream

My first attempt was chocolate with salted caramel chips. Spoiler alert,  it was delicious- velvety and rich chocolatey. Now I'm scheming for all the things I can do with this.....

Speaking of possibilities - Ed bought me a Pivo! If you aren't familiar, a Pivo is a 'smart tripod'. You download an app and connect it to your phone. then when you ride it videos and follows you around.  I tried it out for my Boxing day ride (yes, I rode 3 days in a row!) 

 I used a gorilla pod on one of my jump standards in the middle of the ring. 
 note the best mare standing while I set this up

It did lose me once but otherwise worked as advertised. Here's a clip of some of my pre-ride warm up:

Our rides these days tend to be around 30-45 minutes. The ground is not perfect and I don't want to make Carmen sore. I like to use winter to keep it light and fun. I find that she's really listening to my half-halts. 

white horse on a dark background definitely helps

ears forward for the camera!

not her best side but still pretty good

I am excited to use this for lessons. I won't use it for every ride on my own but will use it periodically to help me stay on track. It's supposed to be able to be used for a remote lesson so I'm wondering if I can make that work. 

I have had Christmas' that were truly awful. So it was nice to have such a nice, low key one that was about the simple pleasures: family, food and ponies.  And lots of love. 

Thursday, December 23, 2021

Winter Solstice

    In the winter
all the singing is in
the tops of the trees
~Mary Oliver~

The shortest day of the year fell on December 21. Here it was a beautiful winter day. The kind of day that people who say 'I love winter' are talking about. We had a fresh fall of snow and it was light and fluffy. The sun was shining and the air was warm. As we get further into winter those days will become like hens teeth. 

There are days that, for me, feel more special if I get to sit on the back of a horse. Winter solstice is one of those days. It marks the transition from fall to winter. It also marks the beginning of more sunlight. 
I know that with winter coming riding is going to become scarce but the times I do ride are about having fun and enjoying my horse.  The snow provided the perfect footing in the ring and so I tacked Carmen up and off we headed to the ring. 

I'm not a fool and, mysticism aside, lunging first seemed like a good idea. And it was- there was a fair amount of snow falling off of trees that made life pretty exciting. Once I was on we simply puttered around the ring.  My only goal was to enjoy the beautiful day and soak up the sunshine. I drew lines where I needed to but otherwise we simply puttered around walking and trotting. I wanted to focus on my own clarity of intent and signals so that I wasn't making it muddled for her. 

After about 30 minutes I hopped off. It had been fun and I needed to get onto more mundane tasks. The weather since then has gone to back to horrible winter weather. The kind that make you long for life in warmer climes. The thing to hang onto is the knowledge that better days are coming. 

poor exhausted Carmen just can't horse anymore

Sunday, December 19, 2021

A Slow Start and a Strong Finish: 2021 Recap

 It's a snow day and I felt that this was a good time to recap my year and see how I did on my goals for 2021. 

It's looks pretty in the snow

Except  I couldn't find a post about goals. 

Did I go a year without goals? That doesn't sound like me. But the world has been super weird so, maybe? 

And then I found a post about my goals. In March. But it wasn't really a clear listing of my goals. Which probably speaks volumes about where I was back in March. To quote myself: 

"I think that the goals I have this year is to explore our relationship and see where we go. And to see how that impacts on our dressage stuff."

So I guess I can say that I achieved my goal. Yay me. 

All kidding aside, I think I did spend a lot of time working on Carmen's and my relationship and it really paid off. I'm sure I'm not alone when I say that I felt a little untethered this year and it was hard to figure out what to focus on or to make plans since they often needed to be changed. 

We played a lot with liberty this year. It has been eye opening to create a connection without relying on the line. I learned that if she's not connected with me when she's loose there is little point in getting on unless I want to spend a lot of time getting her attention. So I almost always give her a little time free. If she leaves we play with that and if she stays then we're good to go. Still on my most favourite videos. 

Showing did not happen at all this past year. And that made it hard to stay focussed on movement goals. Which might have been a good thing. But it doesn't matter if it was or it wasn't- it's just what happened. 

I bought a new saddle this year. Who can forget this little Spanish beauty

That saddle gave me a solid seat, which lead to me get lots of confidence and letting my seat improve. turns out that if you are not afraid of being launched you can really let your seat be soft and your legs hang. I have transitioned back into my 'regular' dressage saddle and had to lengthen the stirrups one hole. I still use that saddle though. If Carmen is up or we're on a trail ride I bring it out. I am so happy that I purchased it. 

In June we headed out to Karen's for a weekend of fun and ponies. I mean, are there fun weekends that don't include ponies? (#kiddingnotkidding). I had a few breakthroughs with my seat and energy that weekend thanks to Karen. I also had a major breakthrough with Carmen getting into the wash stall. 

After a pretty quiet July, August was a very busy month with lots happening. 

Karen and Paula came for the weekend and Paula and I learned a lot. Horses have given me a lot of wonderful things, not the least of which is some very good friends. I have met some wonderful people that I would never have known (or unlikely to meet anyway). 

Guinness loves Paula

I I went to a  trail clinic  at a very busy lesson barn. The first one I booked was cancelled, but late summer a spot opened up in another I jumped on it. I am glad that I went. Carmen really enjoys them and is often the chillest horse of the group. Which is both hilarious and humbling. It was also incredibly hot and I almost melted. I also got to use my spanish saddle which worked really well with the obstacles. 
Carmen: what's next? I'm ready!

In late august I started taking lessons with Jane and things really took off after that. I felt like our learning curve just took off. I loved how Jane just 'got' Carmen and knew what we needed. A lot of the learning is going to find its way into my goals but honestly, it has been incredible how much I'm learning and how well it's working for us. 

This gave me far more confidence to take the Test Riding Clinic in September. It was a great experience, mostly because Jane was there to coach me through stuff. Attending this clinic made me excited over the idea of showing again. I rode in my Spanish saddle so I could be confident (have I said how much I love that saddle?). 

October was mostly lessons and having fun riding, by myself or with Julia. I took a lesson almost every week up until the last of November. Carmen had a Mast cell tumour removed off of her left ear and she was brilliant through the surgery and the recovery. You wouldn't even know that it happened. Unfortunately, the weather turned to crap and I haven't been able to have a lesson since my last one. 

In December our collaborative book was published. It was a leap of faith to participate in and I'm so glad that I did. I think that that often the best experiences involve taking a risk. 

I know that the year is not over yet but I'm not expecting any big news between now and December 31. It's amazing how much I did do this past year, given the state of the world. I'm trying hard to keep a positive outlook for 2022. How was your year?

I don't know about it being 'epic' but it 
definitely finished stronger than it started

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Still Standing

 This date is always hard for me. 

my all time favourite photo. d'Arcy and 
Steele are gone but Irish is still here

I guess anniversaries always are. While I wouldn't blame you for thinking it's been 7 years are you still honestly crying over it? the answer is yes, I sometimes still cry over the loss of my horse. 

For the record I still cry over the loss of my dogs and family members. Even friendships that I've lost. The older I get the more I allow myself to feel sadness for things that are, well, sad. 

Writing the book chapter this summer was hard. I had numerous tears and had to leave it for a bit and then come back to it. Editing it was really hard. I wanted to just leave it alone. It felt like I was picking a scab. But it also felt cathartic. Re-writing about it allowed me to deal with emotions that I simply was unable to handle at the time. It allowed me to see how much love there was and to appreciate that part of my journey. 

 Looking back on my history with Carmen also helped me to put it in perspective and I realized things that I hadn't before. I found these photos five years apart and I love the difference: 



 It seems fitting that the books arrived the day before the anniversary of Steele's death. It feels right. My story is now out there and there's no way to stop it. I know that it was on my blog but that still felt within my control. I could delete it whenever I wanted. And it's part of a larger work of women who found their way with horses despite everything. It's a good project to be part of. 

For those of you who ordered a book from me- those will be sent out this week. Shirley, at Ride a Good Horse, won the draw for a free copy and I will send it out this week too. 

Sunday, December 5, 2021

Winter is Coming

At least you can't see the mud under the snow

It's that time of year where I'm trying to squeeze rides in around work, early sunsets and rain. Still I have managed to get in three rides this week and a lunge session. 

racing the sunset and ignoring the cold wind

Friday was supposed to be rainy and windy so I figured I wouldn't be able to ride. But that morning it actually was nice out so I threw on my riding clothes and headed out to get Carmen. I was just about to tack her up when it started to rain hard. And sideways. With a shrug I decided to give her a good groom and then send her back outside. 

I went in to shower and then head to do errands. while I was out the sun came out, the wind died and it was lovely again. I hurried home and grabbed her again. At least this time I didn't need to groom. We were just heading out the door when it started to rain. 

Me: *looking at Carmen* are you doing this?

Carmen: oooh, look it's raining. That's too bad. I was so looking forward to our working together too. 

Me: *sigh* We're going up anyway. 

Carmen: But, but, it's RAINING. We can't work in the rain. Have you lost your mind? 

Me: It's okay. We can just lunge. That will be exercise. 

Carmen: Exercise for who, exactly? It seems to me that you just stand there while I run laps

Me: ...

Carmen: And your saddle. The rain will ruin it. 

Me: It will be fine. I can dry and condition it later

Carmen: I'm going to tell Rachael. She will not be pleased with you, ruining good leather like that. 

In the end we lunged, it was fine. No one melted. 

Saturday it was bitter cold in the morning and the ring was frozen solid. But the sun came out and the wind died and I was able to have a ride after all. There were a couple parts still a bit hard but we avoided them. This is what I love about my rubber/sand mix. 

3 hours earlier it was as hard as ice. Literally

As far as schooling goes, it's more exercise than any big leaps forward (except by Carmen of course). I'm trying to keep practicing what I learned in my lessons. I can feel how Carmen begins to look for an exit when the work gets a bit hard. For her, that means tension that leads to spooking. I put my legs on, take the outside rein and we work, with the ease coming from the trying not the evading. We're getting there.  I'd love to get at least one more lesson in before winter comes down hard. 

Carmen: I will never admit that I enjoy this too

In other news, Carmen's stitches came out and it looks amazing. I don't even think I'll be able to see a scar once the hair comes in. The vet was super impressed too. 

doesn't it look great? 

Monday, November 29, 2021

Sunshine and Ponies

 There was a break in the weather last weekend and we actually saw the sun, omg. 

OMG, is that the SUN??!

It was very exciting. I'm just not used to day after day of gray skies and rain and it was beginning take a toll on my mental health. 

I had some work I wanted to do to the ring. Nothing major, just regular maintenance. It felt good to be outside working. I also took Carmen up to the ring to let her move around and to connect with each other. It was a windy day and she was clearly feeling it. But I could tell that she was enjoying moving out.  I took off her halter and did some liberty work with her. She left me a couple times but came right back. It felt more like she was playing than running away. When I offered the halter at the gate so we could go back to the barn she didn't want to so we went and played some more.  After I gave her a really deep groom which she quite enjoyed. 

She's beautiful and she knows it

The next day also dawned clear and cold. But there was rain the forecast for later so I brought Carmen in as soon as the ring had a chance to thaw. This time I tacked her up. I was very careful with her ear and even took off the browband. She didn't react to having the bridle go over her ear at all. 

It seems that the browband was what 
was keeping her ears forward. She 
wouldn't even do it for a cookie

I wasn't sure if I was going to ride, it was all dependent on how the ground work went. She was much calmer than the day before and she felt good so I hopped on to do a 30 minute ride. It had been a few weeks since I rode so things felt a bit rusty. I had tacked her up in the spanish saddle in case she did anything silly. 

As a ride it was nothing to be excited about but I was excited to have ridden. The work I had done before her little break was all still there. Although I had to remind her a few times that we half-halt. A few times she threatened to blow but I just half-halted and carried on and she gave that idea up. 

It felt good to sit in the saddle. This time of year is hard on me anyway and with her surgery part of me was playing out every worse case scenario. To have this go smoothly and that I could ride about 9 days post surgery felt like a win. 

my happy place

Now it's raining again and I am so over it. It's the time of year where riding becomes hit and miss but that's okay. We shall see. I did send a message to Jane to see if we can get the weather and stars to align for another lesson.....

totally looks like Carmen, right? 

Friday, November 26, 2021

Alive and Well (and also now LIVE)

 Carmen's surgery coincided with some really crappy weather. It's literally been dreary and raining for the past week. We did have torrential rain but we were not hit as badly as other areas where road washed out. Fortunately, it wasn't as bad as BC. 

Some updates:

In exciting news my book is now live on Amazon: Riding Through It. Those who ordered an andvanced copy will get those as soon as I get them and can send/deliver them. 

I can't describe how it feels to see my name on an actual printed book.  It's also not too late to win a copy: 

1. Share the link to the book on your social media (blog, IG, FB) and insert the link. 

2. share with me how horses have helped you in the comments (if you don't have a horse, share a story about another animal). 

I've extended the draw to Dec 2. 

Carmen is doing really really well since her surgery. She hasn't been scratching it (yet) and it's healing up beautifully. Once her ears are not tender I will be able to bridle her. 

I made a huge withdrawal from the trust bank with the surgery and I will with the stitches removal. So I've been spending my time putting some more deposits in. I spend time grooming and scratching her. Also randomly going out in the field and giving her treats. 

Guinness is his normal, serious, head of security. I think he's embracing the farm dog vibe a bit too much though. What do you think? 

Friday, November 19, 2021

Hold Onto Me: Surgery Recap

 Carmen wanted me to make sure that you all heard about how amazingly awesome and brave she was. I need to also give a warning that there are some photos in here that some may find disturbing. I don't have anything really graphic or gross but I realize that that is my perspective. (back story on today's post is here)

I am so relieved that this has been done. You know how when you are equally dreading and looking forward to something how time seems to crawl and fly at the same time? That was the case for November. I had hoped to get some rides in last week but the weather was too gross. 

One of my big worries has been Carmen scratching and ripping out her stitches so I asked Ed to enclose her stall. She is not a fan. 

Why am I imprisoned? I demand a lawyer

I know it can't stop all scratching but it will help. This morning I brought both horses in a bit early because it was pouring rain (like honestly, could it stop raining? Please?). Irish was not sure why he had to be stuck inside. 

Irish: Am I getting surgery? No? Then let me out!

Carmen was highly suspicious when the vet rolled up but was so well behaved. She got her first cocktail and, while it was working, the vet shaved her ear. She tried to put cotton batting in her ear to lessen the sound but Carmen was not having it. So we rolled with it. Carmen needed a twitch too but she calmed down when I put my hand on her forehead. She got a second cocktail when the vet started to freeze her ear. 

Feeling the effects of her cocktails

When the vet started her work I was standing on Carmen's left with one hand on her halter and one on her ear, holding it in place. As time passed Carmen became more and more heavy in my arm. The vet offered to use the head stand but every time I tried to take my hand away Carmen would object. 

As I held her head I had the strongest sense of deja vu. I then remembered that, back in September, I had some dreams of Carmen where she was over a deep ditch and I was hanging onto her telling her that I had her and wasn't letting go. Feel free to think I'm a loon but this is not the first time I have had dreams like this about my animals. 

So I stood there holding her while my arms were aching but it felt right to me. Normally I struggle with boredom having nothing to occupy my brain. But I felt very content to stand there and be with her. 

Partway through I could feel her eye starting to move. 
You know in those movies when the dragon opens it's eye and you know that chaos is going to happen? I said to the vet who went and got another dose for Carmen.  Any other horse would be on the ground with the amount of drugs she can handle. I joke that she's a typical spaniard and can hold her liquor. 

Finally it was out. 

It's a fair size
The stitching went quickly. Carmen has two layers: one under the skin and then her skin. 

I expected more blood but there wasn't much

She got a shot of penicillin and banamine and we were done. I think it was 90 minutes from start to finish. 

All done- what a neat job

Some good news: the vet, on examination, determined that the lump on her muzzle was just a cyst and could be left alone. Other good news: all of this is being covered by my insurance (except for a deductible). So that's a major relief. 

After Carmen stayed in her stall, letting the last of the happy juice leave her system. She was pretty groggy but within 45 minutes was back to normal. I had a fly mask to use to protect her ear but the vet wasn't a fan. She told me to go and buy a large absorbine one. The local feed store went rummaging in their storage and came out with one. I got it for half-price but when I put it on it was clear that Carmen hated it. So I took it off and put on the other one and she was fine. I'll see how it goes but if it works I'll leave it as it is. I'll figure out what to do with the WB size fly mask.

I am so relieved that it went well, that Carmen was cooperative and that it's all over (except for the aftercare). This is why it's so important to teach our horses to accept things they don't like in a way that builds trust. I don't mean making them tolerate but to work with them over time so that they understand that it will be okay.  

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Change is Hard

 Heads up: this post is going to get a wee bit nerdy (#sorrynotsorry). 

As you know I've been gushing about my lessons lately. Even Ed has noticed (I'm not sure why I ask you always say the same thing: wonderful!). But they are also really hard and I feel like I'm undoing and then learning a lot of new things. 

And it's hard. I've had two lessons in the past two weeks and the focus has been on me, essentially, not giving up until I get a response. I've realized that Carmen and I are in this cycle. I ask, she ignores, I ask more, she ignores more and then I cave. She doesn't always ignore and I don't always give up but when I get no response I do. 

Anyone who understands learning knows what I've taught Carmen: resistance is not futile. 

Carmen's perspective

And of course that all needs to change for us to progress. 

I recently learned this model in my work and I really like it as a way to look at change:

I like it and it seems to describe what is happening for us right now. 

When she gets super tight my reaction is to take my legs off. Jane wants my legs on. And my elbows at my side - not gripping the reins in a hard contact but not letting her pull herself apart either.  It feels like I'm being really really hard. But it doesn't look as awful in the videos and Carmen is responding. 

The ADKAR model from Prosci

In our second lesson, as I was warming up, Carmen decided that down by A was certain death. I could feel her obsessing over it and I knew that that would colour our whole ride- she would have a good chunk of her attention down at A and not on what we were doing. So I decided to head down there and work on it before Jane came.  Normally that works quite well for us. I softly show her that it's all fine and she settles. Not that day though. I could feel her working up to a bolt. So I'm riding as best as I can and Jane arrives and sees what's happening. 

So we spent the entire lesson working on that circle by A. The goal was to get Carmen to respond to half halts by bringing her hind end under and not sprawled out (at least I think that was the goal) and to reach to contact so she could follow the rein and soften her neck. 'MORE LEG'  I heard over and over until I was sure that they were going to fall off. 

It wasn't a miracle change but by the end of the lesson Carmen was responding to half-halts from my seat at walk/trot/canter and happily going around the circle at A. It wasn't a miracle change but by the end of the lesson Carmen was responding to half-halts from my seat at walk/trot/canter and happily going around the circle at A. 

Carmen: yes I can walk softly but not sure 
I want to bring my legs underneath of me

so much better 

The next day Julia came with her sister, who rode Irish while Julia did some video and called out advice. It was a bit of a disaster. Carmen was back to fretting about A and even bolted on me. I got off and lunged her and then got back on. WE ended in a better place but not as good as the day before. 

Carmen: lalalala I can't hear you

Carmen: eeeek, Me: argh

I shared a clip with Jane and she pointed out that, right before Carmen spooked, I didn't half-halt. I reviewed the video clips that Julia took and compared to my lesson. I realized that, while I was asking Carmen to slow down and come under, I didn't insist and she was totally able to blow me off. 

So the next day I told Carmen you and I are going to have a conversation today. And as soon as we started I asked her to half-halt. And insisted. 

And you know what?  Carmen was soft and listening and underneath of me for the entire ride in every spot of the ring. (no media but you have to believe me). 

So I feel that we're on a good track. This change is hard and it would easy to give up because it doesn't always feel like it's working when I'm on my own. Clearly, it's because my ability is not fully there without support. Which is fine. I am gaining awareness and knowledge (I pretty much always have desire lol). Jane is helping me get the skills and is reinforcing me. I'm also getting reinforcement from it working. 

I don't know when I can lesson again. Carmen's surgery is this week and I don't know how long before I bridle her again. I do plan to play with liberty and ground work. And then we're getting into winter weather so riding might be hit or miss, depending on whether the ground is frozen. 

not a bad way to end

Are you working through any change right now with your riding? How's it going?