dancing horses

dancing horses

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Focus on the Positive

 Sometime, between spring and now, Carmen has gotten pretty fit. Which is, of course, a good thing. 

Most of the time. 

However, I find a fit Carmen who's also in a snit quite difficult as she's very will to canter all day and bounce around like a fool. Not that she's doing that a lot but I can definitely feel the muscle there. 

On the other hand, when the work is good, it's amazing. As long as I can keep my core engaged and my seat following we do well. But it's tiring. 

Sometimes I feel like all I need is a lance

Last week Julia and I had a shared lesson again. I do enjoy this format- it gives me time to think through things and try them on my own. Plus I get to see Irish go and that's always fun. In the end we had been riding for about 90 minutes. Before you mount a rescue mission- the first 20 minutes were spent hacking in the woods and then 10 warming up in the ring before Shanea arrived. 

warm up trot

I'm trying to make sure that I identify the things that are going well. It helps to create the positive, forward flow rather than being stuck in the 'I suck swamp'. In riding it's easy to focus on what is not going well. Especially if you received lessons from those who believe that teaching was all about the yelling. Shanea is good at helping me see progress. 


Funny thing is that research shows that optimism has positive impacts health and performance wise. Here's a link if you want to read more. 

So as we go into summer here are the things that are going well: 

1. Carmen's canter is much improved. On the left it's light and fluffy and very malleable. On the right it's straighter, and when it's not, she responds to me straightening her. 

2. I am riding in my bubble and, 95% of the time, it's successful. I do not fall into the emotional whirlpools that were so easy in the past. 

I love her current weight right now

3. Battles are short(er). It's not that Carmen does not argue or have opinions. To be honest, if that happened I would think that she was dying, or I was. But I'm so much better at dealing and dropping it. For example, the other day we were hacking out and I asked her to lead. She balked a bit and then tried to spin back to go home. I just turned her in a circle and released the pressure when she was facing the way I wanted. I didn't then put Irish in front. I just sat up and rode forward. 

Irish: they'd be lost without me

4. I'm more consistent: in my riding, my direction and in my expectations. I have dropped 'hope' as a strategy (as in 'I hope she doesn't spook by that bush') and am more like: 'we're going forward and by that bush and then leg yielding to X and then halt'. 

5. I'm riding better- my shoulders and hands are more following and I'm vertical much of the time. In fact, at Karen's she noted that I was leaning back too much. 

6. I'm learning to feel when she's on her hind end and when she begins to tip forward. 

What's going well with you? 

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Carmen and the Pit of Certain Doom (aka the Wash Stall)

I could have discussed this in my previous post but it felt like it needed it's own post. I have no photos of this so I will include random photos to break up the wall of text. Also, you will have to believe me. 

I don't know if you can see the streaks of red on her but it's not blood. 
She's been rolling in the wild strawberries- so now we call her
'Strawberry Shortcake.' Stacie called her my 'scratch and sniff horse'

At Stacie's barn they have a lovely wash stall. Not that I have photos of it- you will just have to believe me. It's large, has a rubber mat over the drain and and has hot & cold running water.  Of course that it is lovely is just my perspective. 

Carmen views it as an abattoir.  I know she's not alone in that. It's interesting to me that horses who are stalled and cross tie in aisles view the wash stall as the place of certain death. 

In our past visits getting her used to the wash stall has not been a priority for me. But it's summer and hot and this seemed like a good time to work on it. My learning over the years has really changed how I target this sort of thing. In the past (many years ago) my approach would have been to solve it in a single session and lots of pressure. But when you know better you do better. I have learned that stopping at a small success leads to gains much faster and fewer holes that need to be fixed. 


After our ride I untacked Carmen and then went over to the wash stall. Her initial response was (not surprisingly) nope, nope, hell no. 

I just stood there, if she pulled back I kept up pressure on the rope halter and released as soon as she gave even a hint of forward. The key is to time the release at the 'forward' and not the back. During the release I'd let her relax and then gently ask for a bit forward. Clearly it wasn't simple or straightforward. She would come forward, relax, go back, try to go sideways, try to drag me. Through it all I was super calm and not worried or rushed. 

Finally, when we had one hoof in the stall I took her away and we went outside so I could sponge her down. 


After our ride we tried again. Paula recommended using carrots. Which is not a bad idea, although I want her in because it's okay not because of the carrot because it might leave a hole. But it did help consolidate the idea of a positive experience. 

There was much less flailing and she came in half-way and totally relaxed. So I left it at that. 

Ripley: what do you mean this is a horse trough? 
I thought it was my swimming pool

After our ride I almost decided to leave it because I was so pleased with everything. But then I remembered that I had decided this year to not treat Carmen as a baby but as a grown horse that is fully capable of understanding asks. 

This time when I brought her close she hesitated and put one step in. Then another. Then all of her was in and she looked around. 
Carmen: huh, this is not so bad. Why did you make such a fuss about it? 

I asked Karen to hold her and I used a bucket and sponge to wash her down. I didn't think that she was quite ready for the hose. She stood there perfectly relaxed and enjoyed talking to Karen while I gave her a wash. 

I was thrilled at how well we worked through this ask. It really is not different than the other work I've been doing with the obstacles and other things. Stopping after a short session with a small success has been working well for us. And I don't think that we're unique. Sometimes I don't stop right away but go away from that ask and do something else, returning to this later. For a horse like Carmen who hates drill work with a passion she responds well to this. 

Sometimes I feel like I'm making it up.  

But that is okay, because I'm pretty good at being able to evaluate the data and change as needed. And Carmen is really good at giving me feedback as to my performance. 

Incorrect. Try again. 

Monday, June 21, 2021


 Last weekend Carmen and I hit the road and travelled to Stacie and Karen's for a weekend of horses and fun. 

It did not disappoint. Friday was a slow morning and I took my time getting ready. I then brought the horses in to chill for a bit before loading Carmen and leaving. They definitely knew something was up and when I opened her stall door, Carmen was at the back and looking at me like 'nope, uh oh, I don't want to go anywhere'. I didn't go and get her, instead I relaxed at the door and sent her a visual of where we were going. She relaxed and put her head in the halter. 

All ready, the chickens were curious but I made sure there were no stowaways

Once we arrived she was fine. I let her be outside for a bit and then brought her in for dinner. She was able to have a double stall and when I put her in she looked around and then back at me in surprise. 
you got an upgrade I told her. 

I rode her that night and she was really good. Looky at all the usual suspects but open to listening to my perspective. There was this one funny moment when an orange cat came by the door and both froze looking at each other. It was a good ride and we were able to work on our usual things. 
This view is stunning. And possibly full of tigers

After a wonderful breakfast we headed to the stable. there was a bit of traffic jam with a snapper stopped in the middle of the road. I got out to herd her across and she was not happy. 
git along little dinosaur

We let the horses out while we cleaned stalls and then I had a lesson with Karen and it was really good. Karen noted that my seat was much better in the new saddle. We worked on me finding my seat bones. Which sounds silly but it turns out that they are not as far back as I thought. An exercise she does (a centred riding exercise I think) is to put two balls under your seat bones and ride for a bit. It feels weird (understatement) but when they were removed I could really feel my seat bones. Carmen definitely noticed. It worked really well on my sitting trot but messed up our canter transitions a bit. I think that Carmen was used to me popping out of the saddle during the transition, now I was sitting and asking her to use her hind legs. She had some feelings about that. 
so many feelings. Also note me NOT pulling

We had a some really nice canter though as well. One of them happened when we were cantering up the far side and we approached the long side a black cat leapt up from behind the kickboards. Carmen did a double take at the black cat with the yellow glowing eyes and almost lost the plot. We did a circle while I reassured her that she was a brave mare and we cantered on by. 

Carmen: WTF is that 

cantering on by soft and easy

Guys, this is huge. In the past that would have been it- Carmen would have melted down and refused to go anywhere near that corner.  Instead we just carried on with the lesson. 
I have no idea what is going on here but two of
the three of us are pretty enthused while one is resigned

We also go to play with Karen's 3 year old filly and watch Kalimo be his stunning self. Paula and Karen (another Karen) joined us for the morning and then we all went for lunch.  

The next morning we rode early before it got too hot and so that we could head home before lunch. Carmen was lovely that morning. She had a ton of energy. This place was so good for her- there was lots going on- cats popping out of all sorts of places, scolding starlings (one even tried to attack Kalimo, Carmen watched that and then said 'told you birds were dangerous'), horses being  led out to the field etc. And she dealt with all of it. 

still not pulling

These weekends are becoming so important to my well being. They are relaxed and yet feel like I accomplish a lot with my horse. It's fun to share and laugh and eat (so much delicious food). 

Monday, June 14, 2021

The Promise of Summer

racing to summer

Well that vacation passed in a hurry! It was a good break and I enjoyed the quiet time.  I managed to get the inside of the riding fence painted. Now I just need to do the outside. June can be such a lovely month and also weird for weather. Last week we had days that were near 40 with the humidex and then 12. But it still holds so much promise for good weather to come that it's hard to not be optimistic. 

On Thursday I had a lesson booked with Shanea and Julia had one booked right after. But we both wanted to hack first so we asked Shanea if we could a longer lesson together (but still pay her full fee). She agreed (I love how flexible she is). Carmen was a bit on edge- it was a windy day, so we had Irish lead. They take turns leading and it all works out. Carmen is happy to go first or second. Unless she thinks that Irish is going the wrong way and then she wants to take over. 

her inside leg reach for her right canter is improving 

We got back to the ring just as Shanea was coming up the path. It was hilarious: both horses saw her coming but had very different reactions:

Carmen: oh crap. It's a lesson. I suspected this was a trap! 

Irish: a lesson?! Yay! I love lessons. Let me show you how much I have taught Julia and where you need to fix her. 

he's so pleased with himself 

To be honest, this format really worked great. Shanea would focus on one of us for a bit, then we'd go practice on our own while she worked with the other. All in all we rode for about 90 minutes (don't let Carmen fool you, there were many breaks). 

First of all, Shanea was pleased with our straightness. I love when my homework shows up. She was a bit worried about parts of the ring but was doing her best to be attentive.

 It's really really hard for me to not hang on the inside rein. I suspect that's because it's always been hard but also, in the past, when Carmen looked to the outside she'd pop her inside shoulder in and the do her spook, spin, bolt maneuver. Keeping her flexed to the inside helped with that but now it was a hindrance. Carmen also learned to lean on the inside rein rather than soften to it. 

here you can see how she's dumping on the rein and I'm holding on to it


so we did a lot of work on inside leg to outside rein and not let her get her body all crooked or let her disconnect her front and back. Carmen tightens and then her hind legs trail out behind and it's hard to keep her supple. The answer, apparently, is not to haul on the front end until it meets the back end but to encourage her to step from behind into contact. I mean, who knew? *shrug* 

Irish: I knew! You should've asked me!

Despite my flaws, I can see the progress I am making in my seat and hands. And getting her to reach for the rein. She was definitely less chompy in this lesson (although it was there on occasion) and there was no getting the tongue over the bit. 

a rare sighting of me not hanging on the inside rein

In our canter work Shanea had me canter up the quarter line and leg yield to the rail. It was hard and at first both Carmen and I were convinced that this was an impossible ask (she also thought it was ridiculous and potentially dangerous). 

Carmen: it was dangerous. Did you not see the monsters in the trees? 

Me:  you mean the goldfinches? *rolls eyes*

Carmen: well you don't know, they could be armed. 

I did feel though how it opened up her stride but it was stiff and she was hard on the rein. Then Shanea had me walk to a canter (with  a little circle if became too strong and unbalanced), then go forward then soften my body when I asked her to go over and it was *boom* right there and easy. 

Which is where we ended it. 

The next day Julia and I rode early. Carmen felt a bit on edge but she still lead the whole way, mostly on a loose rein. In the ring we played a bit with the transitions and straightness. We had some of the best right lead canter departs ever. After two nice transitions that were uphill and soft we stopped. 

The next day I rode alone (we didn't hack) and as we went along she became more fractious and spooky. I know she was missing Irish in the ring (although he was right there in the next paddock having a snooze). I just kept riding. Once she did a little jump and tried to run off. I just sat up and breathed while going with her. We cantered a few circles and I laughed and said well yesterday we did more right lead canter so you're right, we should work on the left. It was a good ride in that I realized that my seat was solid and my confidence strong. So I could work through it without getting upset. 

I rode again the next day and she was so much better. Still a little worried but this time ready to listen rather than ignore me while she saved herself from the dang goldfinches (Carmen: I am telling you that they are not to be trusted. Don't even get me started on rabbits). when she's like this I make it very clear when things are good by giving her a full break (stop, loose rein) and keep her working when she's spooking because I've done enough reinforcing of that behaviour in the past. 

All in all it was a good week of riding. She did get two days off so, don't listen to her sad stories! 

Carmen: send help she's killing me

Tuesday, June 8, 2021


 I am on vacation this week. And the timing with weather has been excellent. We have gone from sweatshirt weather to a heat warning (honestly, June, are you drunk?).  I always enjoy it when the weather turns warm because it allows me to be outside for the majority of the day. 

I do enjoy this view

Normally I take this vacation to prepare for the first dressage show of the season. However, there are still no shows so it's more of staycation. But it will still include lots of riding. I'm really enjoying my rides these days. Every ride I can feel at least a small improvement. I'm also noticing a better awareness on my part when tension starts to creep into my seat. 

Guinness always enjoys my time off. Now that it's really hot he's getting time at the lake. It's fun to watch him having so much fun. 

Guinness: I never want to leave! 

Otherwise he makes sure to supervise me. I really want to get the riding ring fence stained so it doesn't look horrid. It's hard with the heat so I do it in the morning. It will get done. Eventually. 

Guinness: It's getting hot. Let's go to the lake!

It really doesn't matter to me what I do so much as it is to be able to relax and not worry about work stuff. Ed is away and so I feel a bit like a teenager left alone with the house. Except that there won't be a party, lol. 

With the heat I have stopped throwing the ball for Guinness as much as he would like. It's hard because he will get heatstroke and I have to be careful. So the other day he took matters into his own hands. Note how he makes sure that I realize how sad he really is and how bad I should feel for my meanness. 

I even have a lesson booked for later in the week that will be fun. I may or may not have done some on-line shopping.... How do you enjoy your vacation at home? 
Carmen: you and I have different definitions of 'vacation'

Friday, June 4, 2021

On the Straight and Narrow

 My rides on Carmen since our lessons last week have been really good. I've been pleased with how we're both behaving. I was looking forward to a lesson I had booked for Wednesday.  Julia also was available to ride so we started early and warmed up by hacking in the woods. 

Carmen was really on the aids marching forward. Shanea said that our lesson was going to focus on straightness.  It seems a bit ridiculous that this is still a struggle for us but honestly, it has more to do with Carmen's mental focus than anything. She really wants to look out of the ring and put her weight on her inside shoulder. I try to compensate by getting her bent to the inside which gets me hanging on the inside rein and, funnily enough, that makes her more crooked. Go figure. 

It's worse on the right rein so Shanea had me think about counter-bending and keeping her haunches to the rail. 

When Shanea rode Carmen last week she said that she had noticed a big change in her willingness to listen to the rider. Instead of defaulting to 'no' she tries to find the answer.  When Carmen is more straight and balanced she's also more confident and forward. 

Our warm up trot was slow but steady.  I don't worry about her neck stretching to contact but I do try to give her the room to do it. 

her neck is short here but I like how she's carrying herself

As we moved into trot I realized that I had worn the wrong breeches. These are full seat denim Horze breeches and I love them. But in this saddle the silicone was too sticky and it kept pulling on my leg. I had to stop and readjust a few times.  Carmen took that all very well. 

We played with shoulder in on the inside track and centre line. It's hard for me to not worry about her having her head up. Not because I want her in a frame but when her head is it's because she is looking for danger and likely to bolt. So me having a loopy rein here is a big step for me. 

We finished up with canter work and it was amazing. She was so straight and forward. I could feel her whithers lifting her pushing from behind.  Even Shanea said 'wow, where has that canter been hiding?'
I knew it existed but it was fun to ride. 

Carmen has a busy mouth and now that I have the flash off she is more active. However, with a flash she pushes on it which is more tension. So I have the flash off and have faith that we will work through it. I contribute to it as well with my hands that insist on being busy but we're getting there. However, at times she will put her tongue over the bit and then get really upset. I usually stop and let her sort her tongue and then carry on. When we were cantering to the left she got her tongue over the bit but I didn't stop. Instead I pushed my hands forward and let her sort herself. What was nice was that she didn't even change her stride. She fixed it and we carried on. 

hands forward while I tell her to sort it out

All in all it was a good lesson. I have homework and I hope that I can show improvement in the straightness. Also, can we take a moment to appreciate how gorgeous this colour combination is on her?

so much to love about this.

I don't know, maybe I'll learn to ride some day. 
Such a good girl