dancing horses

dancing horses

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

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Not Trying

 Well it's been a bit busy here on the farm. 

First of all- the baby swallows survived and left the nest.  I really enjoyed watching the parents teaching them to catch bugs in the air. It was hilarious and adorable all the same time. Now it looks like the parents are working on batch #2. 

In other  news we now have our year's supply of hay in the barn. As always, it was a hard grind and I have hay stashed everywhere. But it also feels so good once it's all in there. And the barn smells heavenly. Our second batch was delayed because of weather so it's a bit more dried out then I like but I figure feeding that over the summer will be fine. The chickens are having a grand time climbing the hay. Ed called me at work one day to tell me that he was in the barn stacking when he heard a loud protest. He took down some hay to find that one of them had climbed into a crevice and was blocked in. After that she kept yelling at him. Thank heavens she protested otherwise we'd have never known she was there until we found her carcass half-way through winter! I have Ed convinced to demolish our little shed (that's dilapidated anyway) and build a new, bigger shed to store more hay. 

One supervisor and one quality control officer

Dealing with weather and hay meant that I was not able to ride as much as I wanted. Despite that Carmen has been pretty good overall. Definitely more energy. Interestingly enough that she will threaten to spin/bolt etc but has not followed through. I suspect it's because I'm not backing off but riding forward. 

The other day I was riding her by myself and caught myself thinking 'I wish that I could hack her alone'.  I then realized that hope is not a strategy and I started thinking more about it. I realized that Carmen was never going to send me a memo: 

Dear Servant, 

I wanted to let you know that I am ready to be ridden by myself in the wild. Please let me know your response at your earliest convenience.  

        Yours Truly, Carmen

I realized that I had done a number of things to help her learn about this: hacking out leading and following, learning to deal with spooky things etc. So after a good ride, I put her rope halter on over the bridle and led her down the path. Halfway through I tied the lead so it wouldn't dangle and asked her to line up. We walked around and then headed back. I hopped off before the end and led her home. I plan to do more of this- taking my cue from her behaviour in the ring. I want to have her look at the hack and the relaxing end to a schooling. 


Might we actually be getting somewhere? 

Monday, July 5, 2021

Hot and Cold

 Last week we were hit with the heat wave that has been burning up most of North America. It was brutal- with the humidex temps were in the low 40's. For a province that tends to be cool in summer and temperate in the winter it was hard. 

smart cat found the coolest place to sleep 

I managed to get up early and ride before the heat become unbearable. I was hoping that Carmen would be a bit quiet, it being so hot and all. Instead she was all 'I am a horse of the desert!'  And then had regrets when I was all 'Okay then, let's go'. But we had some really good work and she definitely enjoyed the hosing off after. 

why yes it's humid, why do you ask? 

We had a bit of an adventure with the barn swallows as well. I came in one afternoon and found the three babies on the floor of the barn, prostrate with the heat. I was so upset (I get very attached to the creatures who live on my farm- in case that wasn't obvious). I called the local animal rescue 'Hope for Wildlife' and asked what to do. While I was doing that I was trying to keep the chickens away from the babies. 

actual footage of me and the chickens 

The woman asked me to try to get them up off the floor in the new nest (since I couldn't reach the one that they fell out of) and give the parents a chance to look after them. If the parents abandoned them we could arrange a pick up. Ed and I got them up and I set up the barn so that the chickens couldn't get in but the parents could. I was really worried- they looked so weak and helpless. However, they rallied and the parents started looking after them. It was fun to watch them up close (but not too close). 

Every day they were a little stronger. Mom and dad worked hard at trying to get them to fly. I heard one in a bit of distress and saw that she/he was clinging to a hay stalk trying to get up on top of the hay but unable to manage it. I gently put my hand underneath and lifter her up to the hay. She looked at me for a second and then flew off. 

Yesterday they were on their perch in the morning and, before I was done my chores, flew off. I'm sure I'll see them around but I was happy that they survived. 

Honestly, I feel like their aunt at this point. 

Then, just like that the weather broke and it became cold and rainy. Like 13 degrees cold. But it's hard to complain because we needed the three days of rain that followed that scorching. I didn't ride in the rain and this week we're getting our hay so I doubt I'll get much riding done. It will be a relief to have the hay though.