dancing horses

dancing horses

Friday, May 27, 2022


 My rides are going so well that I feel that I'm in a permanent state of happiness. It would feel like magic, except that it isn't. It's the result of a lot of hard work. 

if you ignore the hands things look good here

Riding Carmen is so much more fun. Not that she's not challenging at times. She totally is. But I feel more confident and my riding is better able to deal with the shenanigans. As times I swear I can feel her contemplate doing a big spook/bolt and then think 'ah never mind, it's not worth it' . Which is hilarious because, while I may scold, I don't punish, I just take a deep breath and go back to what we were doing. 

Carmen is trying so much to figure things out. Now she offers me things that I haven't asked for (well not intentionally). She's so smart I have to be careful. My original plan with lessons was to have them every other week (for budgetary reasons). But with the show date quickly approaching I decided to have weekly ones and then go back to the bi-weekly plan. The truth is that I love my lessons. They are hard and challenge me but it all feels manageable. If I ask for a break for myself or Carmen Jane is quick to agree. 

Carmen also likes Jane. As evidenced by our lesson last week when we were doing a free walk across the diagonal and Carmen was 'oh, look there's Jane, let's go say hi and she can tell me how magnificent I am'. It's hard to not indulge this. 

such a cute face

I have to share this video clip from one of our rides (not a lesson).  In the past I would never show a vide of me mounting because Carmen was very cranky about it. She would pin her ears and bite at the air or a fence. Despite checking the saddle and uclers and all the things it never changed. I started to give her a treat after mounting to make her think more positively about it. That and the liberty work I think were the ticket. But look at this:

Her pawing is just a 'get on with it woman'  while I try to get her a bit closer. I am ridiculously proud of this change. 

In our last lesson we worked a lot on second level movements. It all felt so good. Jane said, more than once, second is level is right there. I can feel her shifting her weight back onto her haunches and she's much more stable in the bridle.  It's getting easier to parse things apart. Like when she got heavy in the canter and I held the half-halt too long so she broke. In the past I might not have noticed that is was because I held her too much. 

Carmen is, as always expressive but not closed off.  Every single lesson ends up better than the one before. Of course, there's always more to work on. Canter departs are coming. 
so not the best but at least it's uphill

but improved by the next stride

I've been working on it. Turns out that if your horse is on the outside rein and straight you can simply use the softest of cues and they pick up a soft canter (follow me for more training tips, lol). 

It's hard to not push the schooling. I have the tendency to want to to buckle down and grind. And we all know what Carmen thinks of that. Today I was tacking her up and she didn't look happy so I took off her tack and we did a play session at liberty up in the ring. She quite enjoys it. Including leaving me and then coming back on her own. It's fun. It's supposed to be fun, otherwise, what's the point?

Thursday, May 19, 2022

What's Happening with Team Carmen?

 I am sorry for the absence.  I have no big excuse, just the usual ones- busy, tired at end of the day, etc., you know. Adulting is hard.  Rather than try to catch up in a bunch of posts and falling impossibly behind I 'll share some brief updates. 

I love these May mornings

1. I won a bursary! 

Our provincial equestrian association (NSEF) gives out Long Term Equestrian Development bursaries every year. It's nice to see that older AAs can qualify for things. This year I decided to apply. To apply you need to fill out a form, get a letter from a certified coach and write a short essay explaining how you would use the funds. I asked Jane if she would write a letter for me and she did. It was lovely to read and I am going to quote a section of Jane's letter:

"Teresa is always on a mission to learn and improve. Although her mare has challenged her ability and her spirit, Teresa tenaciously seeks the information and skills that will move them forward. Teresa’s ability to focus and replace old habits with the new skills are changing their partnership and performance.

It is my belief that Teresa will use the LTED bursary to evolve as a rider and a competitor. As evidenced in her blog - https://journeywithadancinghorse.blogspot.com-  Teresa’s journey will inspire a myriad of riders facing similar challenges in this formidable sport." 

I don't about being inspirational but I always strive to be honest. 

I sent in my essay and form and then waited, not really expecting anything. So I was excited to receive the email that I was successful. Like I said, the amount is not a lot but everything helps. When I told Ed he said 'well that should pay for gas to go to the show!'. With the prices of gas he is not wrong. 

Everyone here is working hard. At least 2 of us love it. 

2. Steady Improvements 

Carmen and I continue to make our steady improvements. She is much more balanced and rhythmical these days. I am getting better at feeling it sooner. 

With the horse's transitioning to the grass paddocks I have noticed an increase in Carmen's reactivity. I attribute it to increased sugars in the grass this time of year. I've been trying to help her funnel that energy forward rather than sideways. It helps that I (finally) made the conncction between the grass and her energy. In the past we've always had an escalation of behaviour in the spring and I was never really sure why. 

Most of the time it's not that bad, just more tension and a little jumpy. Sometimes she surprises me. Like below. We were schooling by ourselves and she was a bit tense at the far end but not too bad then....

If you have the volume on you will hear me scolding her a bit. I do not apologize for that. :) I am happy with how my seat stayed in the saddle. 

We worked through that and then later had some lovely work:

3. I love my Pivo!

It has helped my riding so much. I can watch my entire lesson and gain insights. One thing I've noticed is that how it feels is often not how it looks. Sometimes she feels like a powder keg but in the video she looks fairly relaxed. Which is true? Can both be true? 

However, it does help me see things. I use it often in my schooling rides too. I try to make sure I say something  like 'good' so I can find that later and look at it to be sure (Karen's idea and it's brilliant). What was helpful for the spook video above is that I can see that she was not on the outside rein at all and was able to duck out pretty quickly (honestly, maybe she could do barrels?). 

Sometimes it loses me and then sees Guinness and follows for a bit. I do wish that they would develop a blue tooth system for the remote so that it could track that. But most of the time it's fine as long as it is in the middle of the ring and I don't get too close. 

Pivo decided to love on Guinness

4. I signed up for show. 

I am both excited and nervous about it. It is in a couple weeks. I spoke with Jane and we agreed that I will do First Level again. While I am very bored with First, I feel that we've just started filling in some holes and that we're not ready for Second. So we'll see what happens. It will be fun to reconnect with my horse show people. 

So we're plugging along and I am enjoying the spring weather. Even if it means that the blackflies are out. I want to finish with a quote from my essay: 

"I am often asked not only why I ride but why I (at my age) continue to pay for lessons. After all, I should know how to ride by now. My answer is always the same: I feel at home when I sit in the saddle. It’s where I belong. And I take lessons because I am constantly striving to improve- for myself and for my horse. Our horses did not volunteer for their role as our partners. I believe that it is our job to ensure that we are the best rider we can be." 

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Keeping Time

 In my lessons with Jane she has continually reminded me of the importance of rhythm and how often Carmen loses it. In full disclosure, while I believed her, it often didn't feel like the most important thing happening in the moment. So when Carmen spooked and Jane told me she lost rhythm I felt that I needed to focus on dealing with spook, not the loss of rhythm. I think in my head I figured that the key thing was the relaxation. 

like, I know this and yet I ignored it

 I was sure that as other things fell into place it would just magically be there. I wasn't seeing it as a means to get those 'other things'.  But at my last lesson, it finally bubbled up to me as, you know, maybe something I should focus on. 

not thinking about rhythm here at all

So for the next two weeks I put establishing and keeping a rhythm in the forefront of my mind.  

And, yeah, that was eye opening. I became truly aware of how often the tempo of her gaits shift. And because I've been accepting it for so long, it is not something that will change quickly. If you follow learning theory, I have moved from 'conscious incompetence' (you don't know what you don't know) to 'conscious incompetence' (I realize I'm not doing it). I do hate being incompetent.  In the past this would have really frustrated me and lead to not very good rides as I tried to fix it right now.  

I've been working on not always lunging before my ride. I will take my stuff up in case I need it. I haven't had to use it yet. But I also pay attention to how she is before we go up to the ring. 

How we walk off from the mounting block these days
(unless Irish gets his ass bit by the fence)

But now I know enough about learning theory to know that this is a very positive step and will lead me to improve. The problem hadn't changed, but now that I was becoming more aware, I could take steps towards competency.  

***Carmen: sorry guys, she does like to nerd out. Honestly, does she have to think quite so much?***

It felt like I was making progress and that Carmen was responding to it. I had a lesson booked for early Sunday and I was curious to know if Jane would find an improvement. The weather was clear but cold enough that I had to dig out my winter riding togs.  I shared with Jane what we had been doing for our homework and we went to work. 

It was an awesome lesson. Carmen was right with me and we were able to get to work. Jane noted an improvement in my inside hand (yay). Carmen was not sure about forward so Jane had me ask and then release so that Carmen could carry herself. At first Carmen just kept dropping out of the gait as soon as I took my leg off. Jane told me that was because I was doing all the work and Carmen didn't have to be responsible. 

Carmen: why must you be so mean?

Once we had that we had some really nice trot and canter work. Jane was getting after me for my leg slipping back, rather than staying at the girth. I finally had the realization that putting my leg on at the girth helped with our lengthens. So that was cool. Once I realized it our work became much more consistent and she actually lengthened her stride instead of going faster. 

Better. I love her ears

I also love her ears here- listening so carefully

You may notice Jane has a JRT in a carrier on her body. It is the cutest thing- she just hangs out and enjoys herself. Guinness has zero idea of what to make of this. 

Jane has been working on getting our transitions more balanced and uphill. Which means I need to change how I do them. Carmen has feelings about the change, which is totally fair. But in this lesson I could feel her start to understand. Our transitions are feeling much less flail-ly than in the past. 

By keeping the rhythm steady our transitions improved and so did Carmen's relaxation. Here's some canter video- it is our right lead (which is our worst one and often felt very unbalanced). I love how she's able to keep a steady rhythm through it. 

I am seeing on working on something as 'simple' as a steady tempo leads to her feeling better in her body and softer. And happier. It makes her less unbalanced and able to focus more on my requests. At the end of lesson I was pretty sweaty. It was hard work but all three of us were feeling pretty pleased with the results (four if you count Dottie the JRT). 

It's almost like rhythm is foundational, or something.