dancing horses

dancing horses

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!