dancing horses

dancing horses

Friday, September 24, 2021

Wet Saddle Pads

September is beautiful in Nova Scotia

There is an old cowboy saying that 'wet saddle blankets make good horses'. For the longest time I really believed it and worked hard to ride often and, well not 'hard exactly, but I had to talk myself into a ride that was just a walk or walk/trot because it felt like cheating.  

I honestly believed that all and any time in the saddle was time well spent in terms of training. 

Then Carmen entered my life and, although I had many a wet saddle pad it didn't seem to lead to the outcome I wanted (a horse that wasn't going to injure or scare me).  So then I started to work on important things like focus, understanding and our relationship. 

Which was really important and made a huge difference for both of us. But somewhere along the way I had begun to doubt the wisdom of the 'wet saddle pad' theory and dismissed it. 

As you know I've started to lesson with Jane and, let me tell you, those lessons are hard. I am working on changing my riding style and being more clear with my aids. Jane is calling me out on my position flaws. She's definitely doing it constructively and I am very appreciative of the detailed feedback. It helps a lot. I'm finding that turning my shoulders to the right is really hard. I think that there's a lot feeding into that. My work set up for one and the fact that I'm left handed definitely means I'm more oriented to the left. Carmen is more left oriented but so is Irish and, while I know that horses also have one sidedness, I think that the common denominator is me.  So I'm working on my shoulders turning both while mounted and randomly throughout the day. 

Our canter departs and down transitions are so much less 'flail madly' and way more 'balanced and uphill'. In our last lesson we were doing serpentines with a simple change over the center line. Talk about making me stay organized and planful. At first Carmen was 'WTF is this new torture' but then was all 'I got this, look at me'. Then we did a canter across the short diagonal with the aim of doing a counter canter to M but I felt a shift and then we were on the right lead. I brought her back to trot and halt and looked at Jane. 

Me:  Was that a flying change?!

Jane: *smile* no, she did a single trot step. 

Me: oh

As excited as I would have been with a flying change, doing a single trot stride into a new lead also shows how balanced she's becoming. Carmen was all smug you were wrong and so I fixed it. I never get enough credit for that. 

don't worry we get our fun in too

At the end of our lessons both Carmen and I are sweaty and tired. But it feels good too. For both of us. Which is making me re-evaluate the wet saddle pad hypothesis. I don't think wet saddle pads are, in and of themselves, the making of the horse. I think it's the quality of the work that counts. Like you can be sweaty because you're running from a bear or sweaty at the end of an intense workout. Only one of those scenarios will have you feeling fitter and saying that was awesome! 

I've been trying to incorporate this into our rides. We work harder, I ask for more and then we have a break. Carmen is tuning in more and clearly enjoying the work. I'm gaining confidence and even find myself thinking about showing again.  

Seriously, if you ever want to see NS come in September or October

Sunday, September 12, 2021

A Little Push

 I quite enjoyed reviewing the videos of my tests from last weekend's 'show clinic'. Not because I was brilliant but because it enabled me to see things that were good to build on and things to improve. Often my show videos are such a mass of tension that that's all I can see. 

Watching the videos helped me to see when Carmen was pushing from behind and when she was not. In my rides since then I've been trying to work on it, with varying levels of success. However, 'Rome wasn't built in a day and all that'. I realize that I've been accepting Carmen's jog because it felt safe and quiet. However, that wasn't going to get us anywhere, unless I switched to western pleasure (and I'm not ready to do that yet).  

It's been a beautiful late summer

According to Carmen, going faster means she gets to dump on her forehand and how dare I alter the terms of the contract. Fortunately, she doesn't have a lawyer (at least I don't think so, egads can you even imagine?) so we keep pegging away at it. I've also been working on my half-halts and keeping them in the rhythm of the stride, not holding until she gives. That is harder to remember and I often catch myself holding. I'm getting better at recognizing it sooner so that's something. I can definitely feel on it helps balance her. 

On Saturday I had another lesson with Jane and, spoiler alert, it was fabulous. Our ride was earlyish (9:30) and the weather was sunny but windy. The kind of wind that usually has Carmen scooting all over the place. I had her up early and we did a lot of groundwork until she was settled and focussed. By then Jane had arrived and I told her how we'd been doing.  She also spoke to me about the show and said, the way you both were in the ring was really good and I hope you understand that that was not luck. I assured her that I knew that it was more than that. 

In our lesson we worked on getting Carmen to shorten her walk and then lengthen out of it. I wasn't to over use my hands or over push with my legs. Everything was to be gradual. I struggled with that a bit but it began to click together.  

the rainy summer means that the pastures are still lush

Our trot was slow as per usual starting out (although Jane said that it was better than our first trot a couple rides ago). Again I was to encourage her forward in the rhythm of the stride but not nag or kick her. And a lot of our work was on shoulder in. It's getting there but I still let Carmen cheat by bending her neck. The funny thing is that when it's correct, I can feel it right away and it's so smooth. I worked on trying to get that feeling in my bones so I could do it on my own. 

Carmen was definitely up and felt quite ready to zoom off in many directions. But Jane just kept us on track and pushing forward. When I would hold too much (or too long) she'd tell me to 'lighten my arms' which helped me with this idea of softening but not letting the contact go. We had some lovely canter work in there (I really need to figure out how to get some media during our lessons). Our last two canter transitions were lifting up through her whither and our downwards were balanced and into the correct rhythm so there was no flailing of trying to get it corrected. 

no flailing here

Near the end we were doing  a lovely SI to the left and I gave a little too much on the outside rein (like literally an ounce because she was so light already) and the little minx threw in a big spook/spin;  but we were able to circle back and carry on. Jane explained that I had given too much rein and Carmen was able to take advantage of the loose outside rein to spin away. I think she viewed it as good feedback for Carmen to do that because otherwise I would never know I was throwing contact away. Carmen was quite tense in one corner and getting a SI coming out of it felt impossible.  I wasn't getting any movement of shoulders until well past S. 

At the end of the lesson Jane said "now about that corner.." I'm not going to lie, I thought that she was going to tell me that Carmen was nervous and I should go to it gradually and work on getting her confidence. But, nope. It was about me not getting the SI until almost half-way down the long side.  I realized I was doing that because I was believing that her going through the corner was enough, and asking for me was mean (well not that I had it laid out in my head that clearly but that is what I was doing).  Yes, it's part of your compromise- she doesn't run away and you don't ask too much. 

What Jane helped me to understand is that Carmen and I had been stagnating in this compromised state where she stays calm and I don't push (I do hold though) and that I need to get through that to get the work that she's capable of doing. But not push like a fight, but to ask for a little more and a little more until it's there. 

Today I rode early and Carmen was a bit up again. But I stuck to the plan of shoulder fore, shoulder in and forward but not rushing. We rode in every part of the ring and I supported her through the spots that she was unsure of. I practiced coming out of every corner in SI, except for the tricky one. I wanted to make sure that she clearly understood the task. Once it was really consistent at all three other corners and walk and trot (I didn't canter) I then asked her to do it coming out of the bad corner. At first it felt like shoving a big octopus into a small bag- all these parts were going all over the place. I made sure I was correct and just kept repeating. Then she did it and I was so happy I rewarded her. Then I asked again and she was soft coming right out of the corner so I stopped and hopped off. 

Years ago when I rode hunter/jumper in Ontario the owner of the barn I rode at would occasionally give lessons. I did more things with him than any of the others. There was something about the way her taught that made you believe you could do it and so you did. I find it similar with Jane. She has a way of piercing through the noise in my head and getting me to do it. Which gives me confidence that I can do it. When we fail there's no criticism although there might be an analysis that lets me know where I made a mistake. But there's no implied criticism about making the mistake (if that makes any sense). 

I think that this is just the push that we needed. 

my friend brought her French bulldog  puppy for a visit.
Can you even handle the cuteness? 

Monday, September 6, 2021

Slaying of Demons

 In my last post I was feeling unsure about the upcoming show clinic. Truth be told I had these little voices in my head: 

you are not ready

All you've done is toodle around this year

Carmen is not ready for this challenge. 

 Of course I am not the only rider with those voices and I'm quick to tell others that they are wrong.  On friday the clinic was almost cancelled because the clinician, Sue,  had an accident (not  horse related) and was in the hospital. She will be okay but it will take a while.  Paula called me looking for contact info of the organizers. I managed to track down the clinic secretary and let her know. We then brainstormed who could replace her on such short notice. Fortunately, Sue's sister, Jane (yes that Jane) was able to fill in. 

Clearly I could not back out now. Friday my ride was a bit wild. The weather had become cool after the remnants of hurricane Ida dropped a bunch of rain and wind. But it wasn't a terrible ride and things felt okay.

I took this as a positive sign

We headed ut early Saturday morning and the drive was pretty easy. I met Paula there and we unpacked everything. After the 4th or 5th trip I joked 'and in 24 hours we get to do this all again!' It was different doing an event with covid restrictions but there were only 9 people in the clinic so maintaining distance was not hard. There were two adorable little girls in the clinic. I loved watching them with their horses and how excited they were. 

The format of the clinic was: 

Saturday- rider and coach have 30 minutes in the show ring

Sunday- test of choice being judged and scored, then a critique and a short session with judge and then ride the test again. 

I had arranged for Jane to come and give me a lesson on Saturday to help prepare. I was honest and told her that my worry was that Carmen would get tense and I would fall into it as well and we'd do our 'spiral of doom' dance. I didn't care about the test so much as I wanted us to be connected and soft. We started in the warm up ring and then, when it was our time, went into the show ring. It was so helpful to have her there walking me through all the things we had worked on in our last lesson. We worked a lot in shoulder fore and shoulder in to keep her hind leg connected. I confess that I fizzle out on that when Carmen resists but Jane was having none of it so we had to work through it. She also was getting on me for letting Carmen shuffle along in a jog and not ask her to go to the bridle. But gently, not booting her. 

Jane: going slow like that is not going to keep you safer 

Me:  it feels like it will

Jane: ha! 

And I could definitely tell that going forward was the answer. And I knew that, but had forgotten. As well, Carmen is really good at going fast, which is also not the answer. Sigh. Riding is hard. 

Anyway, it was an excellent lesson and Jane said that she could see improvement since our last lesson. I felt a lot more ready.  It was weird having a such an easy day on saturday. Everything was done by 4:00 and I was done by 2:00. Paula and I had time to go to the local tack store (I needed to buy a bucket) and we stopped at the liquor store to pick up a beverage to have back at the barn.  We ended up getting supper early and then back to Paula's. By 9 we were both in bed, like senior citizens. 

Sunday was a lovely day and, by some miracle, Carmen managed to stay clean over night. I had a blanket on her but I was expecting to see manure ground into her neck. I could feel my show nerves coming up. With my breathing exercises and self-talk I managed to keep it at a low simmer. 

Our warm up was pretty good. My friend Tanya came and help me with some good advice (like breathe, soften your elbows). Carmen had some thoughts about a door that had been open but was not closed but we worked through it like normal. Then it was time to enter. We went through the chute and into the ring. I took a deep breath and we started.

Halt at X and Salute

 I had a reader but to be honest didn't listen to her at all. I had the test memorized and I was able to keep my brain on my riding. I tried to be diplomatic in my riding and not pick any fights. As a result we cut some corners and I never pushed the lengthens. Heres' a video if you want to watch it: 

When I watch this I am quite happy with not. Not necessarily from a 'you nailed first level' perspective but how we are working as a team. When I watch this, I see moments of tension -especially the stretchy circle. Because she was really distracted I opted to shorten the reins to keep her with me (the judges comment for that movement was 'smart riding'). In the past I would be concerned about being perfect. This time I managed to keep my focus on being with Carmen. Not that there's not a lot to improve. My marks were a range of 5.5 to 8; most were 6.5-7. I really liked leg yield to the left. I don't know if you can tell but about half-way in I started to smile because I was really enjoying our ride. 

Then it was time for the critique. Jane asked me how I felt about it. I told her that overall I was happy and there were some nice moments and some struggles. She agreed with me and then came down to give me coaching. It was all about using shoulder in, half-halts to balance her and get her into the corners and don't let her cut them. It was a blur but I could feel us getting more and more together as we progressed. Neither of us had time to worry about things. 

Jane: We have time for to ride it one more time. 

At first I thought about saying. nah, we're good and I'm happy'. Which was true but the other part of me was like  you can do this and Carmen will be fine

And she was. 

This felt a lot more cohesive to me. In the end my score was about the same but I loved how I was able to use half-halts effectively and ride her to the letters. 

Leg yield left

I felt that our canter work was a lot more balanced and soft. She could shift more on her hind end but it was a lot better than our first work. If you want a shorter video here's one of just our canter work. Look at her ears and how she's tuning in to me. 

I was so happy that I came to the clinic. I had a lot of demons associated with this ring and it felt like they were all slain. It feels like a validation of the work I've been doing on my relationship with Carmen and on my riding skills.  The voices were wrong, not because everything was going to be fine but because I worked to make it fine and had help. I am profoundly grateful for everyone who has helped and cheered me on. I am not the only one with demons and everyone who was there had goals they wanted to achieve. I believe that everyone had a wonderful time. 

Carmen loaded and we were headed home shortly after lunch. She was so calm and relaxed getting off and not her usual impatient self while I put on her fly boots and mask. As soon as she was out she rolled over and over knocking off all the shine that I worked so hard to put on. But she looked so happy I could only laugh. 

I think that this is the cutest photo I've ever taken of her

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time

 Way back in May I signed up for dressage test riding clinic. It was to replace the dressage show that would normally happen on that weekend. Then it was cancelled because of the third wave of COVID (I am so tired of the pandemic). 

You know how I've been spending my summer- working away but increments and mostly just having fun. Then the clinic was rescheduled for the September long weekend (again in place of a show). And I signed up for it- requesting to do Second Level Test 1. 

I thought we were done with showing....

The format of the clinic is nice: Saturday you have 30 minutes with your coach in the dressage show ring. Sunday you ride your test with a judge. She will give feedback and you ride it again. Both rides are scored with the idea that you will show improvement. 

Now the weekend is looming and I'm becoming mildly panicked. Don't get me wrong- the format is ideal for Carmen and I. It gives us a chance to work in the ring in a low pressure situation. As long as I don't put too much pressure on both of us. 

I plan to ride in my Spanish saddle, since it's not a formal show. I even gave the organizing group a heads up so that there wasn't any last minute issues.  

What is my problem  you ask? 

Well, I'm unsure if I should actually do 2nd level or First Level Test 3. I don't know if we're ready for either but I am not doing training level. Carmen does better if I keep her brain busy, otherwise she finds things to keep her busy. 

Carmen looking for things to worry about

My other worries are more related to performance anxiety and how that will impact on Carmen. It's been a couple years since we've done anything resembling a show. You may recall that Carmen and I have mixed results in that ring. 

Don't worry I am going. I just need to be clear in my goals for the clinic. The best way for me to do that and maintain accountability is to put them in print on my blog: 

1. keep myself and Carmen soft and connected

2. don't worry about the perfect movement but pay attention to setting her up for success. 

3. circle if I need to

4. don't forget everything I've learned about riding: sit up, half-halt, be soft in the aids. Dont' try to look pretty but just ride. 

5. have someone read my test

6. dress for a clinic not a show. I know that this might rub some the wrong way but my plan is to braid Carmen but for me to wear neat and tidy clothes that are comfortable: i.e. a polo shirt and my favourite dark breeches. 

Wish us luck and feel free to share any advice. :) 


Thursday, August 26, 2021

Soft and Steady

 Last week I had an opportunity to have a lesson with Jane and I totally jumped on it. I've spoken about her before (I had a lesson on Steele and I've talked about taking advantage of her wisdom at shows). 

Jane has such a strong understanding of learning theory and she uses it in her teaching. I have not had a lesson with her on Carmen but she has seen us at shows and at a clinic. I warmed Carmen up on the ground and was just feeling like I had her attention and could get on when Jane arrived. I explained about how I stop and reward Carmen for solid tries or improvements and that she is not a horse that tolerates drills. 

no photos from the lesson so recycling an old one

Right away Jane picked up on my over use of the inside hand and little contact on the outside. Her goal was to have equal contact in both reins. This was difficult- Carmen is so used to going hollow on the outside and I want to use the inside to pull her head around to the inside and, funnily enough, that does not improve things. But as we progressed it got better and Carmen became much more solid underneath of me. 

We also worked on slowing Carmen down. What Jane saw is that she makes her front legs go faster and drags her hind end behind. The goal is to slow the front to let the hind do more carrying (I am probably explaining it poorly).  The other person who always tried to get us slower was Johanna (classical dressage instructor from Spain) so clearly they were on to something. I know intellectually that there's a difference between speed and impulsion but it's so easy to lose track of it and let the rhythm settle into itself. 

We also worked on my corrections/aids. I was trying too hard and making them too abrupt and pissing Carmen off. So have slow I was to use my core and gently (if needed) use the tiniest of pressure on the reins with the movement. And OMG, that worked so well. It allowed me to rate her pace without disrupting the rhythm. At least when I got it right.  I needed to use my shoulders more to help move her into shoulder in and, it turns out, I am straight and upright but not flexible that way. So that was work but I could feel how it helped. 

Random photo of Bear River winery- boasting
the first grape vines planted in North America. 

We tried some walk-trot transitions in shoulder in. Carmen found these quite difficult and wanted to straighten out first (Carmen: you're doing it wrong, just a second I'll fix it) and then when we kept working on it the transition was quite delayed but Jane said to not worry- she's trying to figure out how it works. We did some leg yields on a circle- Jane wanted me to use a slightly opening rein to the inside and leg yield out. For some reason I could not wrap my mind around that at all. It was weird but I felt like this impossible to get my body parts in the right place to do this. Which I admitted and we worked with what I could do (I've been practicing this since). 

Some other wisdoms: 

  • don't worry about mistakes that is where the learning happens
  • there is no 'set it and forget it', it's all about ask, relax, ask, relax
  • never throw away contact
  • Carmen needs to be engaged in the work otherwise she starts to become creative (and that rarely works to my advantage)
  • Carmen (and me) really like to get things right- that leads to us anticipating and getting off-balance. 
  • Oh my god, just slow down (that was me, Jane never had that exasperated tone even when I deserved it)
  • weight adjustments in my seat need to be soft and subtle but they do make a huge difference
  • keep her neck straighter coming out of her shoulders. 
It was  a lesson that left me feeling inspired and eager to take things on. I found a lot of parallels to other lessons (especially with Karen and Johanna) but it is helpful to hear them in a different way. I was excited to practice my homework. 

It's been hot so hiding in the woods is a good idea
Irish is heading into the light. :) 

Sunday, August 22, 2021

Foundational Work

 It's a fact that we are never done with working on the foundation with our horses. With that in mind I headed off to a Trail Clinic last weekend. I had originally been signed up for one in May but it had to be cancelled when things shut down again during the third wave of covid. 

I have gone to one clinic every year since my first time back in 2017. Each time I come out with something new or refined. I was disappointed to have the May clinic cancelled and when someone posted that there was an opening in their clinic in August, I jumped at it. 

Throw back to our first time over the teeter

This time the clinic was at a large english barn, which would be my first time not with primarily western folk. The benefit was it closeness- the drive was about 90 minutes, mostly on highway and straight roads. When we got there I realized that this was the biggest, busiest place I had ever taken Carmen. There were horses out in small paddocks and people bringing horses in and out, cleaning stalls and generally bustling around. I found where we supposed to go and unloaded her. I was feeling pretty chill but I was prepared if Carmen was not so sure. However, she followed me in and went into her stall without hesitation. 

And that was the way the whole weekend went. Carmen was a rock star. Nothing fazed her at all. Our morning session required us to walk down a road between paddocks full of curious horses. The location was in a large outside space with trees all around and houses at the other side of the trees. Carmen cared nothing. There was even a tent and she was all 'ooh what's that? Let's go see!'

Me: c'mon put your ears up
Carmen: it's too hot
Me: people will think you're grumpy
Carmen: they know I'm a sweetheart. 

My goals were pretty simple- I wanted to keep her engaged with me and curious. I wanted to be soft and clear with her. I was curious to see how much freedom I could give her and have her follow my intent and body, not the lead-in. 

It was nice to go to a clinic without a big problem that needed to be fixed. Rather I just wanted to check where we were with thing. And it seemed to be a pretty good place. I did ask Mike for advice on one thing: Carmen yields to poll pressure quite easily but if she steps on her lead when grazing and feels stuck she will fling her head and rear up a bit. Of course that results in the lead letting go so, from her perspective, that was the right thing. I've been asking her to yield with it lower and lower. Mike helped me to tweak that a bit and we've been working on it. 

Can you even handle the cuteness? 

The other thing I was super happy about was how chill she was in her stall. It was a portable stall in the ring. Across were smaller stalls that horses were brought to in order to prepare for lessons. Horses came and went and sometimes she was all by herself. She was fine with it. 

I was eating a granola bar and felt like I was being watched.....

The weather was so hot and humid it was ridiculous. Once the fog burned off in the morning it was hot. Despite being basically dipped in sunscreen I felt like a piece of bacon by the time it done. The rest of the clinic was in the indoor. While it was still hot, it was out of the sun and felt a lot better. However, I have never enjoyed a shower more at the end of the day. 

The day we left. I didn't have the heart to kick her out

It was fun to watch Carmen look at the obstacles with total confidence and happiness. She does love knowing the answer. It felt like a great way for us to connect and refine our communication. I loved meeting the new people and there was one young woman who was so keen on helping her horse and making huge gains in their confidence. I remembered being that person and I can remember how it felt. I was so happy for her and loved watching them work together. 

Carmen and I played with the car (her favourite thing) and I wanted to practice dragging it back. After a couple tries she was totally fine with this car rattling behind her. Here's  a video of her pushing it back in 2019. 

We left early on Sunday because I had a family barbecue. I pulled the trailer up by the barn and then led Carmen out to get on and she sauntered right on in. I swear she had swagger. I was so proud of her. 

distance work. 

Monday, August 16, 2021

Small Steps

 How did I get so far behind? Before it was because there was little to write about. Now it's because Carmen and I have been doing many things. And now I am a couple posts behind. I shall try to catch up. 

Last weekend was a long weekend here in Canada (I don't know if it is elsewhere). We had originally planned to have a Balance Clinic like last year but it needed to be cancelled for personal reasons (not mine and not for me to post about. But I will say hug your family).  

It's been a hard year for many of us and so we decided to switch the plans to a fun weekend. Paula came with Georgie and Karen came to have a weekend away. Except that we made her teach in the morning before she was allowed to have fun. 

Guinness and Paula having a very serious conversation

Both Carmen and George were excellent all weekend. Paula was worried about how Georgie would react to the chickens but she was totally chill about them. The chickens themselves were hilarious because they like to hang out in the extra stall but I had it set up for Georgie. Every time the door was left open they would make a beeline there and give baleful looks when asked to leave. I now totally understand the phrase 'ruffle someone's' feathers'. 

we were here first. Also, how come we
can't have nice soft shavings? 

On Friday, Paula and I played up in the ring with our groundwork. It was a good reminder to me to not slack off on that. I've been working on getting Carmen to seek out the spots that bother her in the ring and rest. I've also been asking her to 'seek' out the tarp as a spot. What I do is set up the tarp and 'lunge' her, as she gets close to the tarp I take off all the pressure and then let her choose to rest (or not). If she doesn't, I ask her to go and repeat.  Last time she did well with it in one location but struggled in the others. I got her to be a little better and then stop. This time her eyes lit up "I know this answer!"  and she headed right there and stopped looking at me all proud of herself.  It goes to show how just looking for a small improvement will lead to gains later. 

Yes I took a picture of Georgie knocking
over a pylon but loo at her walking over the tarp

Karen arrived later and we ate a big dinner and enjoyed talking about horses. Over the course of the weekend I had two lessons from Karen. She remarked about seeing me warm up Carmen on a loose rein. Which is true- I do that now, unless she's sending all sorts of signals that she is not okay. I Of course, then I am usually not getting on until she's ready so that rarely happens.   know I started slowly with this and I don't really know when we got to the spot of me just asking her to walk on a long rein but here we are.

Karen picked up on how Carmen weights her inside more than her outside. Particularly going to the right. It's subtle but you can definitely feel it. Karen had me think about doing a 'ground and grow' but with just the outside part of my body. That was different but it helped her to shift her weight over. It definitely worked better than my pulling on the inside rein and kicking the inside leg. The rest of it was pretty much the same- using my seat for transition, reinforce with the reins/legs, be insistent when I need to and let it go right after. 

No pictures of Carmen but here's Gorgeous Georgie 

I was able to really drill into the turn on the haunches. I've been struggling and I told Karen that I needed very specific instructions on how to ask/fix/support because, while I can recognize that she's walking a circle I don't want to be hauling on the reins to keep her there because that's not going to work. The best piece of advice I had was to walk the ToH with my seat bones. That helped me to not freeze or tighten and seemed to make sense to Carmen.  

On Sunday we did run through of Second Level Test 1. It was a bit of crap show to be honest but mostly because I was asking things too late and not setting her up. I have fallen into the trap of only asking when things are perfect rather than working on getting them perfect in time for the transition spot. Definitely a thing to work on. 

we do have nice beaches here and the water was not too cold

Aside from riding we also went to the beach and ate lots of food. Ed cooked lovely brunches for both mornings (sorry Carmen). We had a big steak dinner Saturday night and then sat around the fire chatting and having a few beverages. It was lovely. I think it's sweeter because for so long we couldn't get together. The value of getting together with friends for a quiet, low-pressured riding weekend cannot be underestimated.  

Monday, August 9, 2021

WTF was that? Modern Pentathlon

 Historically I've been a fan of the Olympics. I have found myself emotionally invested in the outcome of sports that I never paid attention to in my daily life. After the glow of the medal ceremonies fade I return to my normal life and never think of it again. 

This year I haven't been so into it- mostly because of the misogyny and racism but I did watch the Olympic dressage and plan to watch eventing and show jumping when I have a chance. Then my FB feed blew up over the women's Pentathlon equestrian phase. It appears that a german competitor lost her shit during the show jumping and ended up losing her gold medal because the horse 'would not cooperate'. There were cries to remove the sport from the olympics and petitions to stop the show jumping phase. 

let me interrupt this rant with a picture of 
two patient souls waiting for me to get it together

 Now, I try to not jump on the bandwagon without delving more. Turns out that the Modern Pentathlon is comprised of five events: fencing, swimming, running, shooting and show jumping.  My initial thoughts on reading the news stories about the 'naughty horse' was that 'a bad workman blames his tools'.  But it's easy to look at a few examples posted and believe I know all about it. 

So I watched the entire equestrian phase (Canadians can find it here, about 3 hours in.  I don't know if the link works for other countries).

And I was appalled. I did see competitors who knew how to ride but most of them not at that level. I did see horses who understood the job but still needed a rider to put them in the right spot for the jump and very very few did. These horses gamely tried or stopped because it was not safe. Most riders wore spurs and had no business doing so. 

I saw riders come off and get back on. Like, how is that even allowed in this competition since it's not allowed in any other equestrian sport- if you fall off you're done. I saw riders with a death grip on the reins and kicking the horses forward. Most of the horses were confused. 

And then I saw Annika Schleu's ride. Normally I don't believe on piling on and I'm sure that this woman is getting her fair share of hate online. But honestly, she crossed so many lines I don't know how to feel sorry for her. I have spent a long time working on improving my horse knowledge. I did not see a horse that was feeling 'uncooperative'. 

I saw a horse that was terrified and in full self-protection mode. And in that state,  he was hit again and again and again. Finally he went forward only to be ridden really poorly to jumps and he had to either destroy them or refuse. I am sure that his belief that he needed to get out of there was reinforced by all the emotion coming from Annika. Which got him beaten again. finally his nightmare was over. Yet we're supposed to feel sorry for Annika? 

I don't fucking think so. We've all been there with horses- maybe it's a competition, maybe a clinic, maybe a trail ride and our horse has a melt down. We stop, pat the horse and go back to the stall to stew, maybe cry and then build a plan. Blaming the horse in this situation is like blaming the loss of a hurdle race on the trip hazards on the track. 

Can you imagine if the final event was a canine agility course and she beat the dog like she did that horse? She'd have had to go into hiding. 

Saint Boy did not stop Annika from getting her gold medal. She didn't deserve it. 

Let's summarize the failures of this event: 

1. animal cruelty. Honestly, is that not enough?

2. if your sport includes riding horses you should fucking learn to ride. If I don't know how to swim I'm not going to enter a swimming competition. 

3. lack of accountability. There was so much:

 The UPIM issued a statement that it ""regrets the trauma suffered by Saint Boy in this high-profile incident and has penalised the coach who violated the UIPM Competition Rules by striking the horse from outside the ring." Her penalty was to be thrown out of the games but nothing more. The is inadequate. I doubt that Saint Boy even registered the punch but it speaks volumes to her view of animal welfare. What about Annika? She needs to be penalized as well. 

A horse is not a motor cycle. It is a living being with feelings and needs to be respected. Who is speaking for the welfare of the horse? A dressage horse was eliminated because he had a bit                  of blood on his mouth. A rider in the other sports can be eliminated for excessive use of the whip.  Why did this not happen? 

 I looked at the Canadian FB and website the pentathlon. It was silent. On the FB page there was a photo of riders kissing their horses. How sweet. I'd prefer that they take a look at the FEI rules for the welfare of the horse and actually apply them.  

4. A failure to secure the safety of the horse and rider. A horse in the state that Saint Boy was in is a danger to himself, his rider and those around him. Letting this ride continue as it did put Annika in danger. That he did not flip over on top of her was a minor miracle. 

Saint Boy was screaming for help and the Olympics failed him. But they also failed all the other horses in this competition. If we, as horse people, don't stand up for the welfare of the horse who will? I'm terrified that this will be add to the argument that riding is cruel or that competitions are cruel. 

The Olympics started with misogyny and racism and ended with animal abuse. Not exactly the gold/silver/bronze that anyone wants to win. What a legacy. 


Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Mid-Summer Magic

 I am entering week two of my vacation. It has been a lovely mix of relaxation and social events. I like to say that I'm practicing the three 'R's: reading and riding and relaxing. 

Riding under storm clouds. They held off for the ride

Last weekend Ed and I went to a small town a couple hours away with another couple. It was wonderful. If you ever visit Nova Scotia I strongly recommend that you visit Annapolis Royal. It's a jewel of seaside town with great food, friendly people and artwork. There were pride flags everywhere.  I love that the town prides itself on it's inclusivity (pun intended). 

Our bedroom at the B & B 

Saturday morning farm market

one of my favourite houses in the town. There are so many! 

delicious wine and great hosts

we went to a local Moonshine place. Love the bottle on the left. 

Fort Anne- built in the 1700's

The pandemic has helped us to appreciate what is nearby rather than dream of far away places (even though we still have plans on that). 

Carmen and I are trucking along. At least I think that we're doing well. Carmen may have her own mare-pinions on that but she does seem happy. We even did another solo hack and no one died.  

I forgot my helmet so I asked her to stand here while I ran down 
to get it. She never moved while I was gone. 

I've been working on a special project as well. I will tell you all about it at some point. It's a big leap for me into something new. 

I have watched the dressage part of the olympics. I hope to catch up on the rest. I was inspired by many of the brilliant rides. I have some things to share about the keyboard warriors weighing in on the horse events. But that is a different post.  Can we talk about the Lusitanos for the Portuguese team? I am obsessed with this guy: 

Fogoso and Rodrigo Torres

This weekend a couple horse friends are coming and we will immerse ourselves in horses. I am looking forward to it. I shall try to emulate Carl Hester but not expect Carmen to be En Vogue! 

Sunday, July 25, 2021

Down the Rabbit Hole: Mind and Body

For many years I did not really understand how closely linked these were with horse. 

Well, that's not completely true.

I totally got how the mind impacts on the body.  A nervous horse will carry themselves with tension, often spook etc. A happy horse goes ahead with a relaxed frame. 


not relaxed

Much of my work over the years with Carmen has been to get her mind relaxed so her body would follow. 

More recently I've come to realize that horses don't have a sense of their mind and body as being separate entities.  I believe that for them, it's a chicken-egg thing. If their body is relaxed then so is their mind and vice versa.  

Not that this is my own discovery. I've been listening to much more learned horse persons than me (Karen Rohlf, Warwick Schiller, Tristan Tucker etc) as well as my own experimentation.  

I think that this is true for all horses but really evident with reactive ones. I think that his true for peoples well. Like when we wake up cranky- it's easy to find things that give legitimacy to those feelings. Even though, on another day, these things wouldn't bother us at all. 

For Carmen, I think she often felt off-balance and that made her feel uncertain and running away seems to be the right answer. My fearful and defensive response did not help this at all. 

With this theory, I have been helping Carmen to find postures of relaxation as a path to get her mind to settle. It is interesting to see it work. If I can help her balance herself, she feels more comfortable and is more relaxed. 

Listening ears

When Carmen is unbalanced (physically or mentally) she becomes tight and impossible to bend. Her hind legs go out behind and she disconnects from her front end- which is often resembling a giraffe and not a graceful steed. 

all of that pictured here from way back

I find that helping her to bring her hind legs out and not allowing her to fling her head up. I struggle with the not letting her fling her head because it feels like I'm wrestling her onto the bit when that is not my intent. The trick, I find, is to release a rein so that there is a place to go. The other key is to not let myself tense as well.  

forward ho

It's all a work in progress. But it's so freeing to not have to convince Carmen that the flighty birds are not a threat but rather that a bend can sort a multitude of feelings. 

Carmen: the most noble of steeds

Monday, July 19, 2021

Inside Out- Lesson Recap

 Julia and I had a lesson on Friday and we really just picked up from where we left off last time. I had been working on my 'homework' of the outside aids (for turning and straightness) and asking her to step under through the transitions. It was a cloudy, foggy morning and my phone lens was a bit fogged up which led to some interesting effects. 

Happy with this halt - both of us look ready for whatever is coming. 

Carmen was in a good place mentally from the start of getting ready and through the whole lesson. We started with a hack that Carmen led on a loose rein. I've been playing with neck reining on our hacks and she's figuring it out. I really want to get her somewhere that we can move out a bit so I'll have to work on it. 

Right from the start Shanea had us counter flexing to get her on the outside aids. In all honesty when we started on this in the past I wasn't convinced that this could help. Mostly because Carmen often wants to look outside for danger anyway. But this time I could start to feel her getting straight and understanding the ask rather than looking out with her shoulder popped to the inside and ready to spin. Instead, I could feel her centre under herself. 

normally going to the left she's overbent to the inside, 
I'm quite happy with her straightness and stepping under here 

From there we then added in asking her to flex and soften to the inside. I could feel her respond and, instead of fighting it, lifting herself and filling the outside. It was super cool and Carmen also seemed to enjoy how it made her body feel. I could feel her back lift up under me. It was amazing to feel the interplay of the outside rein, inside leg to bend and slight flex of the inside ring finger and have her flex and lift. 

At times she would lose the self-carriage and fall onto her forehand and try to push her nose out. Especially during downward transitions. The tricky part was to not let her plow down but not hang on the reins. Convincing my hands that pulling was not the answer was hard but it really helped. If she got to heavy and leaning I would do a sharp correction and then release. Otherwise she will happily put her weight on the bit and drag me around. 

Half-halting right after the transition.
I know she's overflexed here but this is so much better 
than when she would plow down and pull. I also
like how she's stepping under, instead of falling on her forehand

Much better

From there we worked on canter and her left canter was absolutely the best we've ever had. it was soft and forward and malleable. She stayed with me through it all and didn't try to grab control. After that we did some work on the right rein in trot. Again, Carmen was right with me and I said to Shanea "I know that we probably should canter on the right but I feel that she worked really hard and I don't want to make her sore.'  Shanea agree and we stopped with me promising to canter her right lead the next day. By then we had been riding about 90 minutes (with the hack at the beginning). 

Carmen was pretty pleased with herself. When I dismounted she stood there absorbing the praise and then had a big pee. I was impressed that she kept working even though she clearly had to 'go'. I was also happy to find out that she will pee when she needs to. 

I love this photo- it looks like mixture of strength  and softness