dancing horses

dancing horses

Saturday, December 31, 2022

Lessons Learned: A Recap of 2022

 I can't believe that 2022 is over. It has been quite the year and I always find it helpful to review some special moments in a single post. 

January was a bit of mess, with Irish falling on ice and coming to the realization that he couldn't handle winters anymore. It is when the back of my brain began to think about what would be next. Other than that (and having to get an emergency repair to the well) the rest of winter was pretty typical. Spring was a little early and I was back in the saddle and resuming lessons pretty regularly in March. 

I was able to have regular lessons all year and they have made all the difference. It's hard to believe but Carmen and I just started with Jane last August. I believe that we have both transformed. Having a regular lesson program where I'm being pushed has been so helpful. Having a Pivo has also helped. As they say 'seeing is believing' and I've learned a lot by watching us (even when I have cringed). 

August 2021

In May I won a small bursary to put towards riding lessons. It was a small amount but felt like a nice boost. I definitely made use of it. Looking at my calendar I had approximately 14 lessons. It felt like I had more than that but it's probably pretty accurate. I will do a separate post about my goals and how we did, but what I did like was how steady our progress was. Jane said to me "I remember when you said to me that you were waiting to hit the plateau and I told you that wouldn't happen. Was I right?" Yes, Jane, you were right. I learned so much this year- mostly about myself and Carmen. Basically forward but with rhythm is the key. 

In June Carmen and I did our one and only show of the year. Overall it was a very positive experience until the we encountered the Pigeon of Doom. The learning from this was Carmen still has a pretty solid nope in her and I was not able to get her through it. This lead to a whole new plan with Jane showing me how it all starts in her neck and that is what I need to target first. I did enjoy that whole experience and it was wonderful to connect with horse show friends. 

Also in June I bought a horse off the internet- a 2 year old 3/4 Lusitano/ 1/4 QH from Alberta named Quaid TNT. 

my gosh he looks so little here

I realised that I wasn't done with horses and, to be honest, I have zero regrets about this purchase. He's just such a great horse. This opinion was solidified when I took him to an Obstacle clinic in August and he totally rocked it. 

In late August/early September Ed and I went on our trip to Scotland and Ireland. This trip had been planned for 2020 but, well, you know what happened to plans that year. It was an amazing trip and highlights included riding in both countries. 

I like horseback riding because you can see places you might not see doing the regular tourist things. But I do struggle riding horses that feel less responsive than mine. I do enjoy the smoothness of Carmen. I also learned that I love Scottish Whiskey cream. Like Baileys, only better. I also bought some gorgeous Dubarry boots. #noregrets

In mid-September I gave my notice of retirement for March 2023. It was a big decision but I am looking forward to seeing what this next phase holds. Hopefully lots of pony time. 

Then in October I said good bye to the best, red headed gelding. It was hard but the right thing to do. I find myself completely at peace with it, even while missing him terribly. It is pretty self-evident that a planned, gentle euthanasia is less horrifying than a traumatic event but I didn't realise how different it could be until I experienced it. 

Such a great guy

If anyone is struggling to make this decision, I will share that it is far better to do it when you can make sure it's kind and gentle. 

November and December were quiet (at least on the horse front, not the work front). That was okay. I tried to enjoy the time I got to spend with the best mare and baby genius. Right now the weather is warm and the sun is shining. It was great to have a little reprieve to ride and be outside. 

post ride graze. In December!!

OMG, this face. Can you stand the cuteness?

I don't know what 2023 holds but I'm looking forward to it. 

Screw that- I plan to be rambunctious

Friday, December 23, 2022

The Gradual Return of the Light

 December 21 marked the Winter Solstice. Even though it's now officially winter, it also means that each day there will be an increase in daylight (approximately 2 minutes per day). Our weather has been pretty rainy rather than snow in the past few weeks. However, on the 21st the sun actually came out, the wind was light and it was a balmy 5 degrees celcius. 

I love this photo so much- just two horses feeling relaxed
and chilling. I rarely see Carmen lounging outside.

I took Quaid to do some work in the ring. The day before a riding halter I had purchased from Counter Canter designs arrived. I love the quality of the work. If you are looking for something she has a variety of colours to choose from. I decided that burgundy and navy would look great on himself. Tell me if I am right:

Quaid: How do I look? 

He had a lot of energy but I like how he doesn't get super foolish with it. I try to balance letting him go without making it like it's okay to run wild on a lunge line. What I like about Quaid is that he really tries hard to figure things out. He's sensitive but curious and likes to figure things out. 

Here's a video from last week of Julia playing with him at the mounting block. I took the video from Carmen's back so forgive the quality. 

I like to mix up the mental and physical work along with the new and familiar. At the end of our work I took off the line and asked him to play with me a bit at liberty. I've done a bit in the field, just games of 'come to me'. I did a wee bit a month or so ago in the ring and it went 'okay'. This time when I set him free he trotted up to the ring by Carmen and was really keen on finding grass or being close to her. All I did was add a bit of pressure with the whip and stop the pressure when he looked to me. It didn't take long for him to figure out to be with me. It took literally 3 minutes. I took out my phone and did a little video while working with him:

At the risk of sounding like 'that person' isn't he the best baby genius?! Don't get me wrong, he does highly irritating things too. But they are not deal breakers and I am careful to not spoil him. But it was a good way to celebrate the solstice. 

Monday, November 28, 2022

Weekend Warrior


It is no secret that I hate the time change. If I had the power we'd stay on the 'summer hours' clock but, alas, I don't have that kind of power. Riding and other horse related activities has to fit in with work, weather and daylight.  This means that I'm not getting a lot of time in the saddle. 

Quaid's first time in his mainsheet. I was pleasantly
surprised that he didn't chew it to bits

This would, in the past, cause me a lot of aggravation. This year, I'm a little more philosophical about it, for a couple of reasons. One is that I have *almost* silenced that voice in my head that chastises me about not riding and training. It's not completely silent and I do sometimes let it creep in. 

The other is that I have given notice that I will be retiring the end of March. So knowing that I won't have this issue next year helps a lot. 

my vision for April (perhaps don't tell Carmen 'kay?)

The temperatures have been fairly mild so I am trying to get some time in the saddle, even if it's brief. But I am still largely limited to the weekend. If the weather cooperates. Last Saturday was horrible- cold and gusty but Sunday was lovely. I managed to get both horses worked and a crapload of farm chores done. That night I slept like the dead. 
Carmen is embracing her inner mud Queen
Or she's trying to see if she can discourage me from getting ideas

I took Quaid for a 'hack' in the woods. He was totally chill
even with Carmen yelling in the field

We'll see if I can hang on to my zen outlook. It is typically the time of year when I dream of winning the lottery so I can build a small indoor. Of course my failure to even buy a ticket is the fatal flaw in that plan (well one of the flaws). 

This warm weather results in more sweat

How do you manage the winter? Does the time change affect you? 

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

If I Only Had the Brain

 There have been a few lessons that I have not blogged about but, rather than play catch up, I'm going to use my last lesson as an update on where we are. 

Back in mid-october, Jane began to work on us unlocking Carmen's neck. To be honest, the only thing that has been harder was getting Carmen to not spook and bolt 5-10 times a ride. In fairness to Carmen she has been able to do this for the past 7 years with me so one could argue that changing the rules was unfair. 

Carmen: yeah! I'd like to make that argument. It is totally unfair. 

It has been so difficult that I was beginning to think that she had a physical issue. Then one day I had Julia here and we practiced ponying Quaid. I know that Quaid had done it before but I am pretty sure that Carmen had not. We started with Julia walking Quaid beside us on a circle then I took the lead. It went well: 

But what I noticed was that Carmen was flexing to the inside when Julia was beside us and even though I had both reins in one hand and wasn't even asking. So it clearly had more to do with where her brain/attention was than anything else. 

To misquote Robert Frost: "The brain is a wonderful organ; it starts working the moment you get up in the morning and does not stop until you get into the saddle". 

Armed with this new insight I've been working on getting the flexion, forward, rhythm and relaxation. And to be honest it's coming.  Sometimes in bits and pieces but it's coming. 

It's kind of fascinating - when Carmen is still and unbending her ears are straight up. When I get her to soften and bend, her ears immediately begin to flop. It's actually really good feedback. 

lots of nice things here but the ears are up and 
there is tension in the neck. 

compare to this where the ears and everything are relaxed

Our lesson started as always- with me giving Jane an update on how I think things are going. Then we begin to put the pieces together. Jane immediately honed in on my hand holding the whip. I tend to carry the whip down but it needs to be across my thigh if my hands are in the correct position. Then I couldn't drop it so that I could keep focused on having my hands correct.  It seems that my hands like to cheat a lot. 

As we get Carmen flexed to the inside she's able to come into alignment. When she's focused out of the ring, her head is tilted out, her shoulder is falling in and her haunches are trailing. Add in the stiffening of the base of her neck and she is free to do whatever she chooses in terms of spooking, etc. 

Carmen did spook a couple times. Each time we just regrouped and went back. There was one moment where Jane was standing close to the rail and Carmen spooked in and I thought she was going to run over Jane. '

WATCH OUT! I yelled. Jane took a step away and we regrouped. 

do you need a break  Jane asked, like she hadn't almost been trampled. 

no, I said,  I can't let her have a break after that. 

Near miss

So we went back to work. my tendency to ride Carmen below threshold reared it's head and Jane kept telling me to 'ride her forward' and to stop pulling on the reins. Finally I decided 'fuck it, let's go die' and began to ride her forward. Spoiler alert- we did not die. 

Also, second spoiler- the work got a lot better. Jane keeps telling me that if you can activate the hind leg the brain will follow. And I believe her on an intellectual level. It's just my body and the lizard part of my brain disagrees.  Jane used the phrase "ask for more but sit slower'. I figured that she meant for me to get larger steps behind not faster.  Jane also got after me for pulling back. 'it's subtle but it's impacting her stretching out her neck'. I had to rewind the video a couple times to see it and then I was all 'sonofabitch'. So that's something to keep awareness of. I know that when Carmen shortens her neck my instinct is to pull back when I need to ride her forward into contact. 

I love this screenshot so much

Carmen is quite happy to lean on my hands and pull me around. So Jane was asking me to ask, soften, and even give it fully to see if Carmen would carry herself. Then to slowly take it back and repeat. At first Carmen would dive but she began to soften and carry herself more which was great. I am sure that if my timing was better it would advance faster but, well, there you have it. 

our shoulder in is getting better. ignore the rogue
left hand (and leg)

A couple weeks ago I was watching Jane teach and she said something that blew my mind: half-pass is a traverse (haunches in) on the diagonal line. when there was a break I asked about that and it led to me fake riding one in the ring. I then played with it with Carmen a couple times and it seemed so much easier than 'half-pass' where i think I have to shove her sideways.  It's  a bit of a mental game but one that makes sense to me. Jane had us play with that a little and it was a ton of fun. Carmen likes this work too.  here's a brief clip of our work. I do love how she looks when she's warmed up and on the muscle. 

The canter was a 'mistake' but a good one in that she offered it as a way to go forward and it was a nice transition. 
Puddles continue to be easy

All in all it was a really good lesson. I felt like I rode to my full capabilities and we're making progress. 

Carmen: Is it time for cookies? I think it's time for cookies

Thursday, November 3, 2022

Baby Genius Update

 First of all, thank you everyone for your kindness about our loss of Irish. We are all doing well. It helps that his passing was quiet and kind. I spent Saturday re-organizing Irish's stall to move Quaid into it. That seems to have helped them adjust as well. We spent Saturday together just being in each other's company. It was helpful, I believe, for all of us. 

we have had a couple frosty mornings but the
weather has been beautiful. 

But this post is to update on Quaid (side note- I have some lessons with Carmen to write about as well but we'll save that). 

About me? Hello my internet friends
(PC B Schuler)

Quaid is doing well. In many ways he's the typical 2 year old gelding- he's growing so his body parts don't always align and he's always hungry. As well, he wants to put his mouth on everything. He's not a biter but I suspect that at some point I will be the victim of teeth (even by accident). I am not getting super aggressive about it- I know he's just trying to engage. When he starts to nibble on me I rub his muzzle and move him away. When it feels more intrusive I send him off. 

I've started re-watching Stacy Westfall's 'Jac' series. 
Raven is fascinated by horse training. 

I've introduced Quaid to a bit. I started with a happy mouth mullen mouth but after a few trials I dont' think he liked it (anyone want to buy a 5" mullen mouth?). So I switched to my stubben golden wing and he seems to like it a lot better. Teaching him to accept a bridle has been incredibly easy. The biggest thing is getting it onto his head without him eating it. 

Quaid: ooh, this is interesting let me chew it

Me:  wait, no, stop, here let me get that out. 

Quaid: but it's fun to chew!

Me: here chew on this *slips bit into mouth*

Quaid: *gnaw, spit, gnaw, gapes mouth* , I can't spit this out, 

I started with brief sessions with the bit in the barn, then while we were working and now it's part of our getting ready routine. 

my half-bridle + halter,
maybe not attractivebut it works well

I do love his brain (have I said that before? It feels like I've said that before). I find doing something, getting a little success and leaving it, pays off big time. 

We've been practicing lining up at the mounting block. The first time I brought it out into the ring he looked at it and got ready to climb it. Fair enough, last time I presented him with a wooden obstacle that was the plan. 

The thursday before we put Irish down we had all three horses in the ring. Caelen rode Irish, Julia rode Carmen and I played with Quaid while telling them things from the ground. Quaid was happy to folllow me and hang out and then go to work. I lined him up at the mounting block and leaned over him moving my hands and waving about and then jumping off the block. He was fine. I've been leaning some weight on him and so did this time too. He was fine. The third time we went back I put my entire weight on him - hanging over his back like a sack of potatoes. He looked at me, got a little unbalanced so walked forward a few steps. I slid off and he stopped and looked at me 'well that was weird'. He wasn't spooked or upset. So I guess, technically, I rode my horse for the first time.  

I want to start ground driving him this year and have ordered a bitless bridle so that I'm not putting any harshness on his mouth. My plan is to have the bit there and, as he understands, start using rein and bit pressure. 

Other things he does well: cross tie, single tie (ground tie is coming, it's better in the ring then in the barn), pick up all four feet for me and the farrier, move away when I'm feeding, lead, and lunge. He understands how to canter on the lunge. He will willingly walk through puddles but is less certain about trotting or cantering through them. 

Here's an example: he stepped on his lead and couldn't move. After trying he looked to me to sort it out. 

why are you taking photos when I'm trapped.?

He's also doing well being taken away from Carmen or having her leave him. I plan to make that even better by having them separated without being able to see each other. I suspect that Carmen will struggle more with that. 

He's really just all that I'd like in a 2 year old- curious, willing and basically a sponge. He'd be easy to push and I'm trying to make sure that I don't do that and create holes. Just because he does something correctly the first time doesn't mean that he understands it. In fact I assume that he doesn't and it's simply luck (like hitting a bullseye with a dart the first time you play).  I like it better when he tests a bit so that I can show him what I'm looking for. 

H'e just so much fun. 

he looks like such a baby here

Friday, October 28, 2022

The Last Gift

(*Disclaimer- most of this post was written earlier, I knew I couldn't do it all today) 

Today we said good bye to the best red head I've had the privilege of knowing. 

he had the most handsome head

 I've had Irish since 2003. In all the ways that matter I have been the only person for his entire life. When we moved to our farm I promised him that that would be his last move. 

Irish was always the sweetest horse. When he was young he loved to buck. He still is the horse that threw me off the most. And no one was more upset when I came off than he was. 

he always looked so innocent

When he was older he was the safest horse I've ever known. I could put anyone on him and he would do his best to keep them safe and happy. If he didn't think that they could trot yet he wouldn't. It was hilarious to watch. 

he adored children

and being on the trail

When he was diagnosed with his neurological issue back in 2012 I was sure that our time would be limited. I am so happy that we had another 10 years together.  I've been fortunate to have other who have ridden him. He loved to be ridden and felt proud any time he was in a lesson. 

Last winter it became apparent to me that Irish's condition was worsening and that he simply could not handle our winters anymore.  It sounds like it was an easy decision, and in some ways it was. In others it was incredibly difficult. I didn't share it broadly that this was my plan. Mostly because I wasn't looking for anyone to weigh in on my decision. I have seen others in my situation experience people trying to give them advice. I am comfortable that I have exhausted all medical options for Irish. This summer he improved but not to his previous condition. His hind legs were less secure even on grass. 

back when he could  fly across the snow

Is it possible that he would make it through the winter? Yes. But it was even more possible that he'd fall and seriously injure himself. My rule was that he had to be happy. Last winter he was not happy- he was frightened and worried. It was important to me that Irish had a death that was as painless and easy and I could manage. He deserved it. I firmly believe that it's better to be a week early than a day late. I owed Irish a kind death. 

This spring/summer/fall we gave him the best time we could. 

HIs last week was spent getting groomed and being fed treats. He was lavished with love. I had told some people who he touched ahead of time. They came to say goodbye. My niece came for the week. 

the most boopable snoot

October 28 the vet came and we  let him go. The weather was sunny and cool. A perfect fall day. 

he always looked so handsome in the fall

It was hard. We were all in bits- including the vet. She was amazing, talking me through the process. Irish, as always, was a complete gentleman and went quietly and easily. He was surrounded by myself, Ed, Julia and Caelen. We all cried and told him how much we loved him. The vet gave him a kiss. She said 'you did such a good job of keeping him going as long as you did'

As he passed I had a vision of him running and jumping like he used to. 

He was laid to rest beside Steele. 

these three are gone but still hold a piece of my heart

During his passing, the horses were quiet but as he left Carmen began to call and call and call. Julia, Caelen and I brought Quaid and Carmen down to see him. As soon as Carmen came out of the barn she knew.  She would walk a little, settle, walk a little closer. Both of them touched his muzzle. 

When they seemed settled I put them in the barn until Ed put Irish's body in the grave. We then led them out to the field and let them go. At first it was quiet and then Quaid came down to the corner close by the grave and began to call. Carmen watched but stayed away. I walked down to him and she followed. We all stood there looking at the grave. 

don't tell me horses don't grieve

The three of us sat on the ground keeping watch and that reassured Carmen and Quaid because the left and grazed nearby. 

They settled and then Carmen began to run and call and run and call. I walked up to her and she ran a little more but called. I know she's grieving. I just told her that it was hard and that was okay. I stood and breathed and we all stayed quiet and she calmed down. 

The next little while will be a big adjustment. It's okay to grieve- he was a grand horse and deserved it. He passed without pain or trauma,  surrounded by so much love. We all should be so fortunate.  

Irish Gold - May 2000-October 2022

God Speed my love, until I see you again

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

The Stories We Tell

 Humans are hardwired to build narratives. I believe that we do this because it helps us to understand and put meaning to things that are happening around us. Many cultures have oral traditions that pass down learning and beliefs to new generations. 

I myself love stories. I literally cannot fall asleep if I don't read at least 5 minutes. And what is a blog except a series of stories? Stories can be very helpful. They help us to understand and put things in context. 

side note: it's hard to find photos of story time that 
isn't just with white people. What narrative is that building? 


And this is a big one- stories can also do a lot of harm. It is easy to take a small snippet of something and build a story around it. For example, I walk by you and don't' say hi. It is possible that you will determine that I am angry and from there build a whole story around it. When it's more likely I was lost in thought and didn't see you (like seriously- I am often lost in thought and my thinking face is very much like Carmen's mare face).  Funny story- my sister in law was told by a friend that Ed and I were divorcing. She told her friend that that was not true. Her friend said 'no, I know it's true, I heard it from so-and-so'. Turns out that this friend hadn't seen me at church with Ed so assumed we were divorcing.  When we learned this we laughed and said to each other should one of us move out?

The problem with stories is that we like to have a villain, a victim and a hero. Spoiler alert- we rarely/never cast ourselves as the villain. We are usually the hero or the victim. 

This poses a real risk in the horse world. I see it often- a moment in time is captured and then an entire story is created around it. Reputations can be ruined. People can find themselves and their horse becoming the focus of gossip. People talk like the 'know' things when they weren't even there. Two people can see the same thing and reach different conclusions. Heaven knows that training is not always pretty. Which doesn't mean that it should be harsh. 

let me break up this post with a photo of baby Quaid 
I stole off his breeder's FB page. Isn't he the cutest? (PC Tanya Jangula) 

I am very guilty of building stories around Carmen. It has helped me to put some of her behaviour in context but it also resulted in me not tackling something or tackling it the wrong way. It makes us look for things that reinforce our story and ignore the things that don't. 

Now there's no way that I am going to be able to stop building stories. It's in my DNA. What I'm trying to do is recognize when I'm doing it and ask myself what the evidence is and whether it's helpful. I am trying to describe what I see/experience and not embellish it. 

Have you had similar experiences? Or am I just getting too far out? 

here's the sweetest face to make you smile

(disclaimer: the stories where my animals are talking are 100% true). 

Thursday, October 20, 2022


 We got the photos from the photo shoot. I was super impressed with them.  I think she captured my horses in body and spirit. 

Here are some of my favourites (photo credit to Beatrice Schuler, Vitaminbea):

sorry Julia but I love this and had to put it here

There are more that will find their way on to the blog at some point. 

Thank you Julia for arranging it.