dancing horses

dancing horses

Saturday, May 29, 2021

Experimentation Results

 Research in 'real world' is rarely perfect. There are too many variables and some are uncontrollable. This is particularly true with horses. 

In my last post I had a lesson in my spanish saddle. I wanted to ride in my dressage saddle for the my lesson the next day because I was find that the both Carmen and I were better in the Spanish one. I wanted Shanea's opinion as to whether the dressage saddle was bugging her. If so then I would get the saddle fitter out. In my brain I was having this conversation with Ed: 

Me: well you see dear the new saddle I bought has revealed that I need a new dressage saddle as well. 

Ed: so you're saying that you bought a saddle and now, because of that you have to buy another saddle? 

Me: pretty much. 

Ed: *sigh*

As you know the lesson had been awesome and I was excited for Tuesday. However, the weather was very different. The wind was fierce (steady at 40 km/hr with gusts of 60). My lesson was after work and I had hopes that the wind would settle a bit. 

It did not. 


I got Carmen ready and, honestly, she was lit. I lunged her and went through our groundwork. She was really good but clearly ready to fly. When Shanea arrived I told her that I was not comfortable riding. Truth be told, I would never choose to ride in wind like this. It simply is not enjoyable. So we decided that Shanea would ride. That way we could evaluate the saddle and school Carmen. 

I was glad that Shanea rode. Carmen was super tight but she was able to work her through it and get her to relax. 

you can see Carmen scooting away,
but Shanea had her back in two strides 

It quickly became evident that the saddle was not bugging Carmen at all.  The wind, yes. The blowing grass, definitely. The saddle, nope.  

As they worked Carmen became supple and more relaxed. Not completely. I still stand by my decision to not ride. But you know when you watch your coach ride your horse and you think 'damn my horse is fancy!' ? That was the feeling I had. 

In talking after we realized that Carmen goes better in the spanish saddle because I feel more secure and it helps me to sit in a more upright position. Shanea's advice: keep riding in the spanish and then have short rides in the dressage to get carryover. 

To be honest, since there are no dressage events this year (again!) I am in not hurry to get mastery in the dressage saddle. In the meantime I will keep playing. 

Also, when does it ever happen that it turns out that you don't need a new saddle? 

Monday, May 24, 2021

All That and a Bag of Chips

 When we went into another lockdown all riding lessons were prohibited as well. To be honest it peeved me of because the sports that were allowed and those that weren't seemed arbitrary. For comparison, my husband was able to golf with 4 other people but I couldn't have Shanea come and teach me in my outside ring. I also understand that it's difficult for people to understand and I also know that some would flout the rules.  I did write to our provincial sports association with my concerns. Others must have done the same because they decided that the rules could be changed. We could have lessons as long as we met certain conditions (6 feet apart, masks when we can't, outside if possible, private lessons only). 

I was super excited. My rides at home have been going really well but it's always good to get support. I actually arranged for 2 lessons- one today and one tomorrow. Sunday was a beautiful day- sunny and warm. Late afternoon the weather turned suddenly with heavy wind and rain. This morning it was sunny again but with a cold north wind. Carmen was agitated by this sudden change (25 to 2 degrees in 12 hours is a big switch). I didn't want to have to spend an hour before the lesson getting her to settle so I lunged her early in the morning. She got to move out and we played with liberty and groundwork. 

Totally biased but I think she's pretty

I tacked up with my spanish saddle because I had a specific question I wanted Shanea to help me answer. I've been riding in it for a while and it feels to me that she goes better and I ride better in it. I thought to get Shanea's idea on it today and then ride in my dressage saddle tomorrow to see if there's a difference. If so then I need to have our dressage saddle evaluated. 

Shanea noted that I sit up straighter in the spanish saddle and am more balanced. As for the lesson it was exciting for Camren and I. Probably not for others. There are definite improvements in our transitions and contact. Carmen was nice and soft in the contact despite having worries about some highly suspicious bushes. 

her neck is a little short here but she's soft and light

I need to make sure that I don't bail part way through a transition and let her dump on her forehand. After our warm up our lesson was largely on a 20 metre circle. I like how we keep it focussed and simple. Carmen seems to enjoy it too. What was nice in this lesson is that, while we were far from perfect, she was listening to my corrections.  Poor Shanea must be getting tired of telling me to ride the hind end but I promise that I'm trying. Our canter work is coming along really nicely. I loved this walk-canter transition. 

I am better able to sit and relax into the canter and then am more effective in giving aids. Her right lead has always been trickier but look at this hind leg reaching under. 
After the right lead canter we called it a day. Carmen was getting tired and it didn't feel right to push her.
Especially since we're going to do this all again tomorrow. I'm curious to see how things go in my 'regular' saddle.  

from my equilab app- proof that I don't just ride the rail
Although that left loop into the brush is an error in the app-
we really didn't jump up the band and climb the trees.  

Sunday, May 16, 2021

Doing More with Less

 Since my last post I've really been reflecting on how to keep things short and focussed. 

One thing I've noticed with the use of my 'bubble' is that I'm better able to reflect in the moment. I signed up for a free 6 video class from Noelle Floyd on fear. Not that I think I'm a generally fearful rider but I do recognize how my tension feeds in to the dynamic. The videos I watched were by Jenny Sussman (as an aside, she was here a few years ago to do a clinic and I really regret not taking it). In one video she said that (paraphrasing here) when we are engaged in a fear/defensive response we lose cognitive ability. She had a breathing exercise that I've been practicing. 

Putting this together with my bubble I realized that because I was emotionally stable I was better able to problem solve in the moment rather than fall back into old habits. It's interesting how stable and consistent our rides are. I find I'm riding a lot in my new saddle and loving how balanced we both feel. 

Each ride I try to figure out what is the 'big thing' and then tackle it.


Now that spring is really here so are the blackflies. Tuesday was my  birthday  and I managed to squeeze in a short ride after work. Short because the black flies were awful. Poor Carmen was barely holding it together. When she's uncomfortable, Carmen will get tight and off balance. Being off balance makes feel worse and she's far more likely to explode (big spook and/or bolt). My goal is to keep her between the aids and straight. But the flies were insane,  so we rode a short time and I called it. Since then I've been planning rides around the black flies. Early in the day or, if it's warm, at noon is the best time. 

Total time: 27 minutes

Focus: attention to me and balance. 

I took a couple hours off in the morning. Julia joined me and we started in the woods with a hack followed by schooling in the ring. She was pretty keen and with me. We worked on lateral work and adjusting her stride. It was a ton of fun to play with her transitioning forward and back with my seat. 

Total time: 56 minutes
Focus: lateral work and suppleness

I took the afternoon off to enjoy some perfect spring weather. This was the first ride Carmen and I had without company in the ring in a while. I wanted to make sure she stayed with me and that I didn't get tight. I really had to call on my bubble but it worked. Her transitions were really sticky- especially the down ones. She was blowing through the aids and falling down into them rather than carrying herself. While I understood the increase in tension because of being 'alone' (even with Irish watching from the field); it didn't mean that she couldn't try. Lots of half-halts and praise for trying. In the end she was able to give some lovely transitions off the seat and without being angry. 

Total time: 56 minutes (including 20 minutes of groundwork) 
Focus: transitions
In the news I have help in the barn now. 
She's kind of slow but she's very thorough. 


We rode early, but not early enough because half-way through the flies found us. She was definitely engaged but too forward. When she gets like this she pounds her legs down and stomps around the ring. This is not only not comfortable but also hard on her joints. The answer is to shift her weight back on her haunches and carry herself. I played with my seat to figure out how to help her. I found if I could lift the front of my pelvis a little she was able to come up in her withers. Then her HI/SI were so light and fluffy. As well as her transitions. 

We celebrated by having the first bath of the year. 

Ride time: 40 minutes
Focus: lightness and self-carriage
I love the first bath. I promise, she's not as chunky as she looks here. 

Rode early again. It was a beauty of a day. Up in the ring we settled into work pretty quickly. She felt a little tight so we worked on bending and multiple changes of directions: serpentines, circles, transitions. 

Total time: 42 minutes
Focus: Bending

I opted for a late morning ride (10:30). A little groundwork and I hopped on. Everything was right there. In fact our canter-trot-canter transitions on the right were the best we ever had. After a couple I stopped and hopped off. I realized that this was my 6th day in a row riding. 

Total Time: 25 minutes
Focus: check to see if all things were there

Later, Julia messaged me and we decided to hack out in the afternoon. Carmen was not so impressed but I reassured her that it was not the same old thing. We spent about 25 minutes in the woods with her leading the hole time on a loose rein. Then we could hear thunder in the distance and decided to end it. 

Poor Carmen she had a ton of rides this week but she seems to be thriving on it. I turned the horses out in the riding ring to eat the grass around the ring. I joined them later and sat in the corner on the mounting block. Carmen moseyed over and hung out with me. When Irish came over she got between me and him. I won't lie, it warmed my heart. 

Irish is really enjoying the warmer weather

Sunday, May 9, 2021


 It was a good thing that I had those two lessons because now everything is closed again and we are to stay in our communities. It must be hard for an itinerant coach like Shanea but hopefully the numbers will start to trend the other way. 

We are allowed to bubble with one other person if we live in a household of 1-2 people. That person for me is Julia. I am not worried- we are both health professionals and we are only together outside and not within 6 feet. We've been riding, with the focus on 'fun first/school second'. We're hacking lots. 

I have to admit, it's a great place to isolate

I've been riding a lot in my spanish saddle.  I was also successful in getting a matching bridle and girth. I got them from Dark Horse saddlery in Alberta. I definitely would recommend using them. The owner was very patient as I tried to figure out what to order and if it would match. I did end up getting a bridle that was a little lighter but I couldn't justify the cost of the others. I think that the bridle will darken with time/use. The leather on the girth is amazing. The bridle is less so but that was expected with the price point. 

Anyway she looks pretty good in it. 

Carmen: I will tolerate this

I bought the saddle thinking that I would ride in it occasionally. But I find it very comfortable and find myself riding in it more and more. Carmen seems to move really well in it too. 

Carmen: I look good in everything. Also,
why are you backing up? I shall come closer. 

This spring things are different. Except for that ride where she flat out bolted on me, she's been very open to working with me. It struck me the other day how relaxed she is over all- in the field and stall. Not that she can't tense up but that's not her norm. I also realized today that I have no idea when she came into heat this spring. Usually I know because of her behaviour. I had suspicions but nothing too firm. Which is a good thing. 

Our canter work is really coming along. Today I was playing with simple changes on a figure 8. I can feel flying changes being right there. We had a couple of canter-walk 1 stride- canter. A few tries and then we ended it.  

Right now I'm watching my plans for the summer come into jeopardy. And that sucks. But at least I have Carmen home and we can keep playing. 

Carmen: you know what's fun? Snacks. 
Snacks are fun.