dancing horses

dancing horses

Thursday, March 24, 2022

In the Zone: Lesson Recap

 Since Carmen had recovered from her surgery back in November, I've been trying to book a lesson. Unfortunately, either timing or weather interfered and it never happened. Then winter hit and I gave it up. 

But now it's March and things have thawed and I've been itching to get a lesson. I wanted to wait until we had a few rides under our belt but not too long to let bad habits get solidified. Finally the stars aligned: I had a vacation day this week,  the weather was supposed to be nice and Jane was available. 

Phew- that's a lot of logistics to fall into place. So I was worried when, in the morning, it was cloudy and windy. Prime conditions to create a fire breathing dragon. I was tempted to cancel but decided that I should go ahead and deal with whatever happened. 

A windy March day

By the time the lesson was due to start it was still breezy but the sun had come out. The thing about March is that how warm it feels depends on whether the sun is out. I got dressed and then got Carmen. She was actually pretty calm during our ground work. I set up my Pivo to record the lesson. Let me say I'm really loving it so far. 

I was a little more thorough in my ground work this time making sure I did liberty work as well. Then when things looked really good I mounted. We were walking around when Jane pulled in. Carmen's ears went up and we watched her get out of the car. 

Carmen: oh, I know what's happening now. 

I told Jane about how great Carmen's been but I was struggling with the forward. 

We went to work on the circle. Jane was having me do an exercise of putting Carmen's haunches out on the circle as we went around. Think of it like doing a turn on the forehand while you're walking

I'm not gonna lie, it was hard to wrap our heads around that one. Jane was very patient. I know the idea is to get her using her hind legs active and stepping under. 

Carmen: do I look like a pretzel? This exercise is ridiculous

As always my left hand is dominant and does.not.want.to.let.go. The problem with that is that Carmen also depends on that and will look for it when I try to relax it. Which is fine when it's the outside hand but not when it's inside. I can see looking at the video why Jane kept telling me to let go of the inside and let her stretch. I really worked at it and I could feel her responding. I'm going to try to pay particular attention to that over the next few weeks (Or months. Or years. Whatever, riding is hard). 

After practicing the exercise at a walk Jane asked us to trot. And it was pretty much as I expected: shuffle, shuffle, shuffle.  After watching us for a few seconds Jane told me to get her to lengthen (fortunately she didn't just hop in her car and leave). I'm pretty sure she was NOT expecting a lengthen but was just trying to get Carmen's motor going. It was a lot of leg but no kicking. 

Photo of not impressed Carmen

Carmen had feelings about this, mostly expressed by ear pinning and shooting me glares over her shoulder.  But I kept at it. Then she picked up a canter. 
Sure, that's fine said Jane, just canter on.  
So we did and I did the same thing of pushing her towards my hand and not holding the reins tight. 
Go for a gallop!  said Jane with way more enthusiasm than either Carmen or I were feeling. 

Carmen: do I look like Secretariat?

But things got better and then we did a transition back to trot. Carmen was much more free after that canter and we were able to get a good working trot. 

With forward installed we went back to that exercise of putting the haunches out on the circle. I'm not gonna lie- this exercise was hard and we kept working on it. I could feel how it helped but, even when I got it, it definitely felt precarious- not too hard but definitely challenging us and one lesson was not going to get it solidified for us. 

ignore the gaping mouth and see how she's stepping under beautifully

We might actually be figuring out this dressage thing. Here's a short video clip:

At one point Carmen did a fake spook at the gate of all places. It was because she was getting tired. But we let the canter go on and I could feel her thinking 'that didn't work out like I planned'. After trot work we had a break. Carmen immediately wanted to head into the middle to get her praise from Jane. She clearly believes that all this progress is because of her and I am merely the passenger. 

Then we did some canter work. And the same exercise with her haunches. Which is even harder because she likes to throw her haunches in at the canter and so getting them out is really hard. But neither of us had a melt down and we worked at it. 

After another break we went back to the right rein and did some trot. By then Carmen and I were a little over it. Not that I was wanting to stop because I was loving the work we were getting and I felt totally in the zone. But my body was telling me that I was tired.  After some really good trot work Jane said 'half halt and then canter'  

Carmen:  is she serious?

me: I think she is!

Carmen: we could say no you know

me: c'mon darling, we can do it

Carmen: *sigh* fine

And we cantered. 

When it was time to stop both Carmen and I said 'oh thank god'

As a first lesson of the year I was thrilled. Carmen's mind was right with me. And even when she had feelings there was no fighting. Jane told me that she was pleased where we were starting off. 

I got some good exercises and it will help to guide my schooling rides before our next lesson. 

After we dismounted I stood with Jane and debriefed the ride. I then realised how cold the wind had become. I said let's go down to the barn and out of the wind. I then realised something. 

was the wind like that for the whole ride? 

Jane:  yes

Me: wow. I never even noticed. 

Sunday, March 20, 2022



Today is the spring equinox. The days are getting longer and I am starting to see the earth shrug off winter and begin to wake up. This time of year is about fertility and seeing the seeds sown over the winter take root. I am not pagan but this time really speaks to me. 

For the first time this year the temperatures did not go below freezing at night. The footing in my ring is really good and I spent a lot of time playing with Carmen this weekend. I even dug out my Pivo and set it up for one of my rides. It worked pretty good- just losing me once when we got too close and then following Guinness for a bit. 

I had to share this short clip of us getting started. Look how patient she is and her expression looking at the camera is hilarious. 

So far this spring Carmen has been incredibly mellow. I love it and am frustrated by it at the same time. I love how relaxed she is. But it's telling me that a lot of her 'forward' came from tension. So I'm trying to figure out how to get the forward but not have the negative tension in the past. 

Carmen: no I'm not really interested in going forward, thank you very much

I've been experimenting with various things that do not include a quick tap with the crop (although that is an option). 

Mostly I'm doing lots of transitions and giving lots of praise for going forward. 

Getting there

What I realised today was that I was using so much leg that my thighs were tight as well. So I paid particular attention to not clenching my thighs, just using my calfs and things got much better. I could feel Carmen say 'thank you! finally!'

When I look at the video we didn't look as painfully slow as it felt. But I'll see what Jane says. I'm starting to add in canter to our work. At first she was a bit cranky about it but that's fading. She's 12 this year and I am trying to be kind to let her warm up her joints. 

Canter- are you sure?

What is cool is that we're going everywhere in the ring with minimal fuss right away. 

I'm finding that we're pretty connected and both of us are enjoying ourselves. 

there we go

I'm getting much better at giving the inside rein and asking her to stretch to the bit. I'm even playing with the stretchy trot. Something I typically wouldn't trust her to do this early in our back to work. 

I'm sure that as she gains fitness and hormones start flowing we'll have our moments. But things feel good now and full of promise. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

What You Need

 Sorry about the radio silence for the past few weeks. I confess to being completely unmotivated with the weather and winter dreariness. I have been reading blogs but I just couldn't bring myself to write a 'I'm not riding because of weather but that's okay' post.  

I have been squeezing a ride here and there but I was getting frustrated because there could be no consistency. I would ride, be excited and then the weather would escalate (yet again) and I'd be shut back down again. I'm not good with being in a holding pattern. Let's face it, no one is going to be at my funeral extolling my excessive patience. 

Impatient chicken is tired of this crap

When I do ride I've been finding that I'm doing pretty good at staying in the moment and not letting my brain ping around like a bingo game ball. I'm also trying to not working Carmen hard. It seems unfair if I can't be consistent. And I'm trying to get her to enjoy what we're doing, not dread it. The footing has been really soft- which is pretty typical with the frost coming out of the ground. 

Just recently the weather has been showing signs of improving. And with the clocks going forward the sun is setting much later.  Which meant that I can ride after work and not feel rushed. 

Yesterday, Julia joined me and we had a good ride. I'm finding that at the start of my rides Carmen will give a couple tests (tension, consider spooking etc) but I'm able to stay consistent on the outside rein and keep my legs on to get her up to the bit. Once we have that in the past we can carry on with the work. I felt in the zone and it was enjoyable. 

I may be baking too many loaves of bread. 
If that is even a thing

Today I felt tired after a full day of work but the sun was shining and I really wanted to ride. So I got Carmen ready and we headed to the ring. It was clear that Carmen was in a very mellow place and not at all keen to go forward. I'm hoping this year to be able to connect the concept of forward and relaxed for us.  

In addition to being slow she was also heavily on the forehand. To the point of tripping herself. One option would be to pick up a crop and get after her a little. However, I had actually forgotten my crop and I wasn't in the mood for an argument. So instead I settled on quietly working her through it, encouraging and rewarding her for the forward. I did get some okay trot work (look away Jane, pay no attention to this admission). I decided to come back to walk and just focus on flexibility and suppleness. So I collected and let out the walk. We played with shoulder in, turn on the haunches, travers, renvers, shoulder out. 

At the end she was a telescoping nicely and felt open and relaxed. And so was I. It turns out that I didn't need a workout, I just needed to have a quiet, 'yoga-like' session. 

I'm really hoping that this weather continues to be warmer so I can work more consistently. 

I need more of this view