dancing horses

dancing horses

Sunday, October 31, 2021

Leaving Almostland

Last Saturday Carmen and I had a lesson. Once again I could feel us moving forward. We did most of it on a 20 metre circle and I was to get Carmen forward and bending. Turns out that when she pushes back against my leg I give up and don't carry through with the bend. To paraphrase Jane "you are living in 'almsotland' and I need you to leave it". 

So I sucked it up and worked my tail off to insist on bend. I could definitely feel that it helped and where on the circle Carmen is happy to bend and where she is not (no one will be surprised when I tell you that it's where she can look over the neighbouring field towards the trees).  At one point she gave a little scoot away and Jane said' you've lost the rhythm. Get it back'. I had to laugh (which was probably her intent). 

Not from this lesson but a nice sure halt 
and listening ears

Jane also identified that I tend to grip with my knees which takes my calves off of her sides. To compensate I twist my ankle in weird ways that, funnily enough, does not help things.  And we also worked on my relaxing my *ahem* groin area so it wasn't so tense and popping me out of the saddle. So, as per usual it was a great lesson, I learned a lot and was exhausted and happy at the end. So was Carmen. As soon as I dropped the rein she marched up to Jane to receive her accolades. It's kinda hilarious. 

I don't know if you can see it here but she's got
her haunches a little to the inside and is not
bending around my leg. 

Then we went on our fun hack. On Monday the fine fall weather had turned into angry autumn weather. All week it rained and blew and was generally miserable. I was okay with that because it also coincided with a very busy work week and it allowed me to rest rather than push myself to ride or feel bad that I couldn't. 

Then I booked a lesson for this Saturday. I wouldn't normally book one so close together but I'm finding that Carmen and I are gaining ground after every lesson that I am hungry for more. I also have her surgery date looming and I want to get as much training in as I can before we have to break. It's hard to predict what the weather will be late November for riding so I'm squeezing in as much as possible. 

I rode Carmen on Friday. She was cranky in the barn but pretty mellow for the ground work. When I mounted she immediately began throwing her shoulders around pretty aggressively and building up to picking a major fight. I could feel her getting ready to launch and she wouldn't even stop by the gate so I could put my crop down.  In the past I would have dismounted and I seriously considered it. But I recalled that none of these things bothered her during the groundwork and it felt like her behaviour to get out of work.****


 I don't believe that Carmen plans this nor do I think she has evil intent. What I do think is that over the years she has learned that certain behaviours result in less work. I've been actively tackling that for a year and it's so much better. But training is never a straight line and I am not surprised that this surfaces every now and then. 

An oldie but a goodie

Anyway... instead of dismounting I thought through what Jane would have me do. And I figured it was three main things: 
1. outside rein
2. rhythm (see comment above)
3. bend

So I put her on the 20 metre circle and we focussed on those 3 things. We did figure 8s and small circles in the big circle and I made sure I had her on the outside and bend. When we lost rhythm I corrected. In about 30 minutes she was like butter and we were able to go out and around the ring. I even played with the canter. When I first asked, I slid my outside leg back a bit and she immediately threw her haunches in. I fixed and asked again and same thing. then I remembered how Jane wanted me to ask for canter: have Carmen under me, sit and tighten my upper core. She lifted right into a lovely canter. 

Our lesson was the next morning. IN the barn Carmen was really cranky and I had to correct her a few times and re-establish some boundaries. In my ground work I made sure that I was clear and had clear expectations that she was going to focus and not tune me out. Then I mounted and as we started to walk Jane arrived. 

I filled her in on our 2 rides since our last lesson. And then we went to work. Partway through Julia arrived and took some video for me. We worked on bend and me being softer with my aids but strong as I need them to be. Jane has been having me soften the inside rein to invite her to stretch but not throw it away. We worked a lot on building her trot.  

As always, Jane was very patient with the multiple reputations of outside rein and insisting that Carmen respond to it. Then soften and stop fiddling with your hands.   I can feel how this work is changing us. Even on the ground Carmen is carrying herself differently. 

She's not driving into her forehand but lifting up more and more. When she gets tired and as we warm up she do what Jane calls 'rolling over her shoulders and falling. Jane wants us to be able to set back and then , when the hand softens, carry rather than fall forward. 

Our canter work is miles away from where it was. I tighten my upper core and we canter away. I have to be careful to keep asking for bend so her inside hind is under and lifting. It's hard. (Carmen: you're telling me!). Our canter to trot is a lot better. It doesn't take me 3/4 of a circle to get her rhythm back. 

Because she's pushing more she can reach more with her front end and not lose her balance. Near the end Jane asked me to do a half walk pirouette and it was pretty good: 

Then I got over excited and in my head and literally got lost in the next few ones. It doesn't help that Carmen is like 'oh turn around, sure, here, hold my beer' and takes exception to me saying that it's not correct. Especially when I'm screwing up my aids. But we did get one more and ended on that. Carmen was much more happy at the end. I wonder if she missed me last week? 

I am loving this work. It's hard and tiring but I can feel it coming together. I love the hard work because it makes sense and is making us better. I realized that I've stopped hoping she'll be 'good' for the lesson but instead just being excited about it. I think we're almost out of almost land. 

Monday, October 25, 2021

Autumn Trails

"And into the forest I go to lose my mind and find my soul" John Muir

 This weekend I decided that Carmen and I were going to head out and have some fun. I've been wanting to get back to Coveside for a trail ride for a while. I realized that I needed to stop saying I wanted this to happen and actually make it happen.  I begged talked my friend Tanya into coming with me and we arranged to meet up with Nancy and have some much needed forest therapy. 

It has been about 2 years since I went to Coveside so I was quite excited. I had the trailer hooked up and packed the day before. During the night, though, the wind picked up. When I headed out to feed the horses in the morning I was almost blown back in the house. Ed said 'you're not going to haul in that are you?' 

"Probably not' I muttered. But after I fed and turned out the horses the wind began to settle to a stiff breeze. I hummed and hawed a bit but decided to go. I'm pretty sure that Tanya had doubts too but we both decided to not ask each other and make it okay to back out. When I went to load Carmen she began to freak out on the way to the trailer. I looked and saw a big ball of plastic that Ed had left on the lawn and it was blowing around. I called him to gather it up and decided to not kill him (I get points for that, right?). At the trailer Carmen loaded right now. The drive was okay but at times I could feel the wind gusting against the sides. 

We arrived at Coveside at the same time with Tanya and put the horses in a stall while we parked and then tacked up. Tanya's horse, Suzi was quite excited and started off going a bit sideways. Carmen looked at her. 

Tanya leading, Nancy in the middle and
us bringing up the rear 

Carmen: she seems worried. 

Me: she's just excited she'll settle. 

Carmen: maybe she knows something we don't and I should be worried. 

 Me: nope, she'll settle don't worry. 

Carmen:  as long as I can outrun her I guess it'll be okay. Let's let the other two go first, just in case. 

And that was that. Carmen was quite happy to bring up the rear and we did the ride almost completely on the buckle. I did pick up contact when we went by a field that had horses and deer. She picked up her head and tensed. I just focussed on keeping a soft contact with my hands and seat and she settled right back. 

Suzi settled pretty quickly

The trails are so beautiful and well groomed. I could have stayed there forever. 

Perfect trails and perfect ponies

Carmen became more and more relaxed as we went along. I watched her ears get more and more floppy. I even was able to drop the reins and take a short video. 

At times the wind would penetrate the woods but for the most part it was cool but not that bad. There were  a few hills that really worked the horses butts. The ride was about an hour. We only walked which was perfect for our first trip out. I remembered to start my equilab app so I could see the map. That's my favourite part of the app. 

I just want to be adopted by the owners
but they are younger than me so that would be weird

It was a great day and I'm so glad I went. Carmen was happy to just follow along and enjoy the woods. I swear that she likes to look around and breathe in the air in the woods. Some days you just need to get in touch with your inner 12 year old and have fun with pony friends. 

Friday, October 22, 2021

Freedom of Choice

 Carmen and I continue to play with liberty work. To be honest I feel a bit like a fraud when I say 'liberty' because I really don't know what I'm doing. I basically remove the halter and then read Carmen's body language and see how we can intersect. It's fun and it really lets me know where she is mentally. I can get her to do almost everything with the halter and lead line. It's when I take that off that it's clear as to whether she's with me through choice. 

I stand on the tarp and it makes her happy

I've been doing a lot of riding lately so today felt like a good day to play. I set up my camera on a gorilla pod and put it on a jump standard. You can definitely see that I'm not a professional. 

The biggest thing I have found is to not get flustered when she chooses to leave or doesn't do what I think I want. I just breathe and treat it as a misunderstanding. I do get her to go and work but not in a punishing way at all. 

Today I started with doing it with a halter on and helping her to understand what I want (also trying that under saddle). The 'following exercise' is one I learned from Tristan Tucker. The idea is that the horse follows in a relaxed way without crowding or leaving. In this one the task is to slalom through some cones and then stop between the two. 

Based on this I would say that she clearly understands and is relaxed. When I took the halter off she had a couple errors (going to the left of the cone instead of following me on the right). Which tells me that she doesn't quite get the exercise without the lead. A couple soft corrections and she was right there. 

She gets a little closer, which is likely a comfort thing and one that I don't worry about so much. I can build on that. You can see she gets really relaxed with it.

Another activity I've been playing with is getting Carmen to seek the tarp as a place to rest. The idea is that she looks for the place to rest and it's a thing that would be considered as problematic. It's fun to see how working on this a tiny amount led to her figuring it out. First with the halter:

Can we appreciate how good her ground tie is? The cue is an easing of all pressure as she approaches the tarp. If she stops we rest. If she carries on I just ask her to go and repeat. It's fun to watch her try to figure out whether near counts or how many feet on the tarp are required. 

Then with her freedom. The cool thing about this is how she can definitely leave. And actually did once but came right back around. The truth is Carmen enjoys puzzles like this. Another funny thing happens at almost the end (around 1 minute). Carmen in the video is approaching the phone:
Me: Don't knock that over
Carmen: I'm just checking, I think you have the angle wrong. 
Me: ***
Carmen:  *nudge* hee hee hee

I swear she looks so smug here. I'm also grateful for her not stepping on the phone. 

(sorry for the angle being off but you can see what we're doing): 

I'm going to play with riding on the tarp one of these days. 

I also played with some of the TRT tools: plastic bag on a stick and the flag. Carmen let me approach and rub her with it while standing still and being totally free. I love the information that that gives me about how we're doing. There's a ton of confidence that we both gain from it. I'm hoping at some point this will transition to bridleless riding. 

I also want to thank everyone for your kind words about Carmen's tumour. I so appreciated every single message. Leah- thank you for sharing your story with me. It helped me to feel so much better. 

Carmen: can you believe she's making me work
even though I have a tumour?

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

The Good, the Bad and the Mystical

 About 10 days ago I had a vet appointment. The main goal was to get Carmen's teeth done. She has a bit of weird bite so needs it adjusted every 6 months or so. I also get both horses a booster. And I had one other thing I wanted advice on, but more on that later. 

First of all 'The Good': 

The vet was very impressed with Carmen's body condition. She liked her weight and muscle. She said that Carmen's back was the best she's ever seen. Carmen's teeth needed a little work but is wasn't dire. 

Her weight is good even with all the green grass

Now for 'The Bad':

Back in early summer I noticed a lump on Carmen's ear. She was mildly reactive to it and I assumed that it was a fly bite/sting or spider bite. But it never went away and I began to be curious. I took a photo of it to monitor it but it didn't really change. I decided to wait for the vet to come and ask her about it. In the meantime I also noticed another lump down by her muzzle. 

Both of us thought the same thing and I'm sure many of you are as well- that it was melanomas. As a gray horse it would not be surprising at all.  Both my vet and I like to have clear data so she decided to do a needle aspiration and send it off for analysis. 

The offending lump

The Mystical

Now Carmen is drugged for her teeth floating. She is not a cheap drunk at all- she requires a larger than expected dose of tranquilizers and she metabolizes it quickly. My vet says that she's seen that a lot in Andalusians (I joke that the Spanish can really hold their liquor).  

Carmen was not a fan of having a needle stuck in her ear lump and both the vet tech and I helped. My job was to scratch her favourite itchy spot to distract her. It didn't really work but the vet got some. She placed that on a slide and went back for another sample. Now the drugs are really wearing off and Carmen's decided that she's been very tolerant up to now but our quarter is up.  The vet tech takes her head and the vet gets in position. This time I didn't rub her wither. I made myself really still and put my hands on her shoulder. I breathed really quietly while I thought 'I am here with you'.  And with that, Carmen became totally still and didn't move while the vet took her sample. I don't know what made me do that but I swear she and I connected at that moment. 

Back to the Bad

I wanted to wait for the vet to call back before I wrote this post. I got that call today. 

It turns out that it's not a melanoma at all. It's a mast cell tumour. Which are really rare for horses- estimates about 2-7%. Largely benign, they can be invasive. 

We decided to remove them both and a date has been set for later in November (so the flies are gone). Unless it's starts to change and then it comes off sooner. 

Panicking? Who me? I'm not panicking, you're panicking. 

I am, of course, diving down the rabbit hole of research- sticking with science articles and not dr. google. I did request a research summary article from research gate. It asked me for my organization's name and I put in 'panicking owner of horse with mast cell tumour'. I'm sure that'll work. Right?  

I am also, of course, imagining the worse case scenario. Because it's on her ear the vet can't really take good margins. If it comes back then we'd need to go the vet college. 

possibly enough to get me through

If anyone has experience with a mast cell tumour in horses I'd appreciate some information. Unless it's bad, Just kidding. Sort of. 

The soul eating part of my brain is telling me that of course this happens now that things are going so well. I know that life doesn't work like that. But still.

just breathe

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Learning to Fly

The old maple has her fall finery on

Now that I seem to have some new/refined tools in my toolbox, I'm trying to figure out how to use them. I'm also back in my dressage saddle. If you recall, I was riding myself much more secure in the Spanish saddle and was riding in that exclusively. At first I thought that the dressage saddle was maybe not fitting Carmen. But Shanea helped me to see that it fits her fine. 

So then I thought it wasn't fitting me. The only way to figure that out was to bring it out, dust it off and, you know, try it.  So I started about 10 days ago.  The first thing I noticed was that the stirrups felt far too short. Like 'jumper' short (I know they weren't jumper length!). When I let them down a hole it felt perfect. The second thing is that I feel as balanced in this as I do in the Spanish saddle. I recalled Karen's advice: 'just ride in the spanish saddle to help you find your balance and then ride in the dressage saddle.  Turns out she was right. 

I'm enjoying the schooling. I'm learning about myself quite a bit. For example I am noticing times when Carmen is really resistant and I want to give up and throw the contact away. I think that I used to give up and it's a bit of a mental battle to break through that. I don't know that I always get it right but I do know that I'm staying persistent. Which probably led to a real challenging ride last week. I'm sure the fall weather played a role too. Partway through I dismounted and did a bunch of groundwork. Partly to use energy but mostly to establish a pathway to her listening to me and not arguing. I then remounted and we carried on working. Through it all I felt balanced, so that was a win. 

The timing was good, though, because I had a lesson the next day. I explained my rides and then we went to work. 

Such a nice soft trot these days

And, once again, it was a great lesson. We start with getting Carmen to lengthen and shorten her walk stride to move her balance back. It gets her to really swing through her walk. In our work I need to help her to bend to the inside but not pull. It's hard. Having a voice in my ear talking me through it really helps when Carmen gets all wiggly. The biggest thing is for me to soften the rein to let her drop her neck. I'm getting more consistent with my hands but still a work in progress. 

I see this arch in my back and perhaps it's the posting, 
but Carmen looks good. 

Jane has us working hard. We flirt with the edge of what we can do but don't cross it. We were on a circle and Jane was getting us to keep a consistent bend and be forward. We went by Jane and Carmen pinned her ears at her. 

Carmen: I know you are the cause of all this hassle and I hate you. 

Jane:  *laugh* get on you auld bitch. 

I laughed so hard at that. 

The biggest transformation over the past few weeks is our canter.  It is so much more balanced. I can feel Carmen's confidence growing as well. The strike off is much easier as well. I can feel her lifting up through her withers and carrying 

Uphill and reaching 

Next is to open my seat more so I can sit better. It's fun and hard and exhilarating all at the same time. At the end of every lesson I feel like I did an intense workout. 

I am loving how floaty her gaits are getting. It's making me hungry for more. 

Keep your red bull, I have my own wings

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

New Learnings: Lesson Recap (with actual media)

 I've been really enjoying my rides on Carmen these days. I'm feeling excited about riding and that feeling stays after and in between my rides. I've noticed a big upswing in my confidence as well. 

Carmen is progressing as well. Don't get me wrong, she's still, well, Carmen. But I think that I'm being more clear and persistent and she's responding to that. I find that now that I'm really focussing on the outside rein and keeping it there while letting it follow that she comes back to it sooner. I've started to notice that, at a certain point, I want to give up and let go. And that's when she has the freedom to skedaddle. Because I'm not giving up she's figuring that out and comes back to me more quickly. Often with just a little pulse. 

I've also started to notice that Carmen has a 'tell' before things start to fall apart. When she's starting to think that she might want to exit stage left (or right depending on what rein we're on) she gets marginally heavier on the inside rein. That heaviness increases as her tension mounts and my instinct is to take more of the inside rein and loosen the outside. Now I over ride that impulse and take more outside and then ask her to soften to the inside using inside leg and pulsing the inside or opening the inside rein. I have to make sure that, whatever else happens, I make sure that the outside always has a little more pressure. And, miraculously, she softens, drops her head and breathes out and we carry on. Nine times out of ten. Which I'll take. 

But wait, I hear you ask, I thought you said this was a lesson recap? 

You are right, my patient reader, it is. I just wanted to share a little as a precursor. This time for my lesson Julia was watching and took a ton of video and photos. 

Our lesson starts pretty much the same- I recap what's bene happening and what I'm struggling with. Mostly it's about keeping her straight or shoulder fore. Although it's improving. The biggest issue is that when Carmen wants to look outside she actively resists. I can't let her not give to the inside but I have to soften even before she does so there's something to relax to. 

Jane has been helping me feel when Carmen gets fast in front and dragging her front end along (like a slinky toy). She gets me to slow her down and the let her out. It takes a lot of concentration. But as we go along her ears get floppy and she follows the rein to drop her neck. According to Jane I'm getting better at being elastic with my rein so that I'm not holding and then dropping the contact. 

What is also much better is our transitions and gaits.

 It takes a lot of work. Like a lot. But it's working and I really love it. 

There's a lot to love about this photo, even if she's curling behind the vertical. Right after I was told to soften to let her out a bit. 

Jane makes us work hard while making me feel like we can definitely do it. Even when we fail: 

You may notice that I'm back in my dressage saddle. I'm finding that I feel very solid in it. The spanish saddle is still there for me and it's clearly helped me with my position. 

The weather was hot (for October) and poor Carmen was sweaty. But also working. 

At one point she bumped my leg against the rail. It happened to be the board that's split and held up by a fingernail. Of course that became a real threat to Miss Carmen. But no matter- we were to keep riding by it in shoulder in. 
Carmen convinced that we are clearly going to die. 
Spoiler alert: we didn't 

This is giving me tools that I know will work at other situations (like shows). So I love it, even if part of me is inside yelling 'danger danger, red alert. 

It's clearly working

Carmen's go to when she stressed is to throw her haunches in. It's improving but still there. But here is some canter- trot work and I love the lack of flail. It used to be that the right lead canter would throw me to the outside but now that feeling is gone. In the video you can see her haunches wanting to come in but responding to my ask for her to come back. You will also see how quickly she settles into the trot instead of falling endlessly on her forehand. 

We finished with a wee bit of half-pass. It felt really good.

At the end we were both sweaty and tired. But I was so happy. I feel like I want to eat up all the learning and demand more. 

Carmen: I'm pretty happy in the shade.....

Friday, October 8, 2021

What Foul Contraption is This?

 Hello dear friends, Carmen here. I have to share with you my servant's latest torture. 

Let me back track a bit. A few weeks ago she began to tell me that she had ordered a present for me. Would she tell me what it was? 

No. It was supposed to be a surprise.  

I don't take these comments too seriously. Usually it's just a new saddle pad or bonnet. 

literally dying of excitement here

But I will confess that watching her get excited when it was close to delivery I was intrigued. That morning, as I tried to get some bare sustenance from the net she hides my hay in she said don't worry honey. Soon you won't have to deal with that net anymore. 

Finally, I thought, we're getting somewhere. 

Now, let me be honest. I HATE that hay net. It's annoying having to work for my food. What could it be? maybe an feeder that drops hay whenever I'm hungry? That would be cool. 

It arrived one afternoon and I watched her in the barn assembling this thing:

It's called a helix feeder! My servant explained. It's supposed to slow down your hay consumption like the net does but more comfortable because it's on the ground. 

And she added, I can adjust the holes to make them smaller. 

I was shocked. Smaller? Why would I want the holes to be SMALLER?!

Not impressed

Clearly you can see why I'd be upset. Is is fair? Especially when I give her work like this?

I wonder if I can return it and buy a bag of apples?

Friday, October 1, 2021

Back to Schooling

Autumn is my favourite time of year to ride. The air is cool and the bugs are starting to go. So far this season has not disappointed. I'm also feeling good about the rides I've been having on Carmen. It's not that she's transformed into some magical unicorn (although I will always think of her as my magical unicorn). It's that I seem to be adding more tools to my tool box and they are the ones that I was missing. 

love September nights

It's no secret that I've been working hard to up skill over the past few years. Carmen has been very good at teaching me about what I'm lacking. I believe that I've made more progress in my groundwork. Partly because I don't feel at risk which definitely helps with being able to pay attention. In my lessons Jane has been pointing out all the times that I'm not giving Carmen time to respond or recognize her 'tries'. And it's been so helpful. 

Poor Jane- she's been very patient with me and she helps me to get Carmen straight and on the outside rein. I realize that we've been crooked for a long time but it has felt 'normal' to me and now I need to rebuild my feeling. This is definitely helping with the spooking. As soon as I find her tense I correct the straightness and, most of the time, she settles and carries on. 

Yesterday in a lesson Carmen and I were heading down the long side and she was feeling tight. Jane was telling me to use the outside rein. It felt really solid and then Carmen, in a split second, ducked behind the contact and spun left. little bugger I muttered as I brought her around in a small circle and back to the rail. 

well done Jane called. After we schooled through that I told her that I had contact but she ducked and then tried to bolt. Jane agreed and then said something along the lines that while I had contact it wasn't elastic and so she could duck out of it and leave. 

It really crystallized with me about how that could work so the next time down that side when she was tightening I was focusing on keeping the outside rein but elastic so when she went to duck behind it I was with her. I felt her immediately soften and carry on. It was like she said 'oh okay then' 

I find I am taking these new tools in our rides and they are working.  In my lessons I'm beginning to feel the start of a medium trot. She lifting up through her withers and carrying herself. It takes a while and I need to be better but it's there. 

Carmen is so much happier and forward. Which is fun. Today I played with a canter serpentine with simple changes across the centre line. We've played with it before and it's typically been a bit of shit show. But this time she was all 'I know this one!'  and then did it easily and without fuss or flail. We've been playing with counter canter and she's balanced with it. 

Beth trying to drive the tractor. Unfortunately, 
the pedals were too far away for her little legs. 

I've been trying to figure out what is feeling so good these days. And I think it' because I feel like I have tools to get us through any of the shenanigans. I'm feeling the same excitement I get from the groundwork clinics- that I'm learning things that can apply in many situations. I know I'm working on things like shoulder in and leg yields etc but it feels like it's more than just the movements- like a way of going.  My frustration is so much less- when things go crappy (and they often still do) I can think about what is missing here. I did ask Jane because when things go really bad it's hard to know what to correct first. Her answer? Rhythm. So that's what I start with, and straightness. And, oh yes, is my outside rein there and elastic? 

 I clearly need to get some media to see if the difference I'm feeling is there. But in the meantime I'm going to keep working away and seeing how much progress we can achieve before snow shuts us down.