dancing horses

dancing horses

Monday, August 22, 2022

Quaid's Big Adventure

 Heads up- this is a post about how amazing Quaid is and how happy I have to have him in my life. 

Don't say I didn't warn you. 

As you know I've been working with Quaid since he arrived June 30 (although it seems like he's been here much longer). I've been keeping our sessions short and wondering if I'm doing it right (the curse of AAs, right?). 

Practicing our tying 

Way back in the winter when getting a third horse was barely a thought I signed Carmen and I up for a Horsemanship and Obstacle clinic for Aug 20/21. I always get a lot out of them but mostly they are fun for both Carmen and I. 

As I've been working with Quaid I began to entertain the idea of taking him instead. He was settled in nicely at home, was doing well and I thought that it would a great way for him and I to spend some quality time together. 

So I started to prepare. The last time Quaid was trailered was his journey to come home. I figured he might have a few worries about that so I hooked up my trailer and we spent the next week just loading and unloading. The first time he was 'oh oh! NO! I don't wanna!'  but we kept it slow and easy. One foot, off, two feet, off etc. Within a few days he was walk on and stand quietly with a leg cocked. 

The day we left I repeated our process- walk on, walk off, walk on, etc. And then I had Ed quietly put up the butt bar and then close the door. And then we were off. Quaid kicked the trailer 4-5 times as we headed out and then was quiet the whole way. To be fair, until he got on my trailer I think he'd always been free (in a box stall or a stock trailer) but I don't know that for sure. 

Our ride was about 1 hour and 45 minutes. Once there, Paula (who was doing the clinic with her mare) helped me unload. He backed off quietly and, although his eyes were huge, he followed me into his stall. That night I took him into the indoor (his first possibly) and hand grazed outside. He and Georgie (Paula's mare) were across from each other and he fell in love (to be fair she is gorgeous). I was told that after we left for the night he did pitch a small tantrum in his stall but he settled after about 20 minutes so she didn't call me to come back. 

Quaid: is this my new home? What is happening?

checking out the indoor

I stayed with Paula, who lives about 15-20 minutes away. Her place is lovely and has the best view for sunrises. 

The next morning we all gathered together for the clinic to share about our horses, what our goals were etc. I always really enjoy those sessions. It's fun to hear from others and to identify similarities and shared experiences. It's also great to hear other perspectives. 

I shared that I brought my 2 year old and that I was looking for: 

  • feedback on my groundwork because I have probably gotten lax since Carmen understands it so well
  • an understanding of how Quaid thinks and reacts to new asks. 
  • for Quaid to have a good experience
  • for us both to get to know each other a little better. 

there were kittens everywhere! They loved all the whip action. 
Quaid was quite entertained by them

We were in the first group and I brought Quaid out. Funny conversation with Nikki when she came over to meet him: 
Nikki "he's very pretty. He's an Andalusian right? 
Me: no
Nikki:  *looks at me in surprise* are you broken? 
I laughed and explained that he is an Azteca and in this case a Lusitano/QH cross. 

As I suspected, my timing and clarity needed improvement but mostly it was my expectation. Mike talked to us about having a 'spot' for our horses. It can be close, it can be further away, we get to decide but it's important. It helps the horse to relax and understand the ask and allows us to be safe. I have to say I loved working on that. It helped a ton with the leading and when I was cleaning out his stall. Normally the horses go out and I clean when it's empty (I might pick it out with them in but not clean). I couldn't do that at the clinic so it was great to work on that in the stall so I could keep him out of my way and out of the wheelbarrow. 

Here's what I learned about Quaid: he's amazing. 
No seriously, he was able to figure out to stay on me even when stuff was going on around him. He tried his best to figure out everything. We even began to work on ground tying. Which is hard, especially with all the kittens. 

The morning is groundwork and the afternoon introduces the obstacles. We start on the easiest- the square part of the L (the L is a small square platform about 4" with two narrow arms, one higher than the other). Quaid walked up, sniffed it and the was 'okay' and walked over. 

He was like that about every single thing. When he was unsure he'd look at me. Like the first time over the teeter totter (set very low), he stepped on it, felt it move, looked at me 
Quaid: did you see that?
Me: yes, it will be okay, I'll help you. 
Quaid:  okay, if you say so. 

His eyes were huge after lunch when he saw all the things. 

We did A-Frames, balance beam, saloon doors, curtain, moving platform, teeter totter, water box and the flintstone car. Here's an old video of Carmen pushing the car. It was always her favourite. I was happy that he was able to work with me when other horses first started pushing it around. He definitely was a little worried but stayed with me. 

He was more worried about the teeter totter than the moving platform (maybe it reminded him of the trailer). I was even able to give him some freedom and he would walk over the things. He was also a little startled by the saloon doors and the curtain. The approach is always slow and easy with us holding things to the side and gradually letting the horses feel it touch their sides. This is going to be very useful for trail riding so we'll keep working on it. But honestly, his struggle was to scoot a wee bit. 

He loved the water box. The first time they go through it's empty. The next day it's filled with water. I waited my turn and Nikki was there to help. The idea is to line them up to it to go over the short side. At first it's just about them thinking forward (think trailer loading). Nikki turned to answer a question, Quaid looked at the water, put his foot in and then walked right through. He went around and walked through again all on his own. Nikki turned back and said 'well that was easy' I said (with a lot of pride) 'that was actually his second time through. I then lined him up to go through the long way and splashed though quite happily. 

I know that this sounds like shameless bragging but he was a total star and everyone fell in love with him. Mike took him from me a few times to play with him. 

I couldn't take pictures of us working the obstacles but here's a short of Mike showing me to give Quaid some freedom to make a mistake and then gently correct. This helps him learn to control himself and not have me micromanage every step. This happened after we had gone over it a few times so that he knew the ask. 

Every session I was careful to give him breaks and then to put him away before he felt tired or overwhelmed. I mean, he did it all really well, there was no point in drilling. the last session on Sunday afternoon I questioned if I should even bring him out or not. He had a lot thrown at him and handled it well. Mike suggested I bring him out, walk him through each obstacle and be done with it. So that's what I did. 

Then Paula and I helped each other load up and get on our way. He walked on the trailer like a champ. I feel that he might be ready to learn how to self-load. When we left there was no kicking or fussing in the trailer. When we arrived home, Irish started to call. he answered.
Irish: Quaid is that you?
Quaid: yes, it's me!! I'm home. I thought I was in a new place forever but I'm back!

Despite being excited, he backed off quietly and I needed a few gentle reminders that he couldn't pass me to get back to the barn. Even Carmen nickered at him when we were walking up. 
I let him into the paddock where he greeted Irish and Carmen and then trotted of happily to his field. He spent the next hour grazing and cavorting and just generally looking really happy to be home. It was adorable.  I let Carmen and Irish in for supper and I had to go out to the field to get him. Clearly he feels all grown up now. 

I am so glad that I took him. I got some great insights into his mind and character. I think he got some insights into me as well. I think we're going to have a lot of fun together. 

Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Replacing Old Expectations with New Ones

 As Carmen and I continue to advance together it is becoming increasingly clear that I need to keep expecting more of her. She's simply not the horse I had 5 years ago (or even 1 for that matter).  To be honest, I do find myself often thinking 'oh that's a good try' which is fine if it is something new and/or hard. But really, I should be thinking that in terms of us trotting around the ring (it is okay if you are rolling your eyes at me, I am too) 

My lessons with Jane are really good at keeping me (and Carmen) on our upward trajectory. Despite the heat for the past week I booked a lesson for Sunday. I was extremely fortunate to be first, which meant I rode at 8:30. 

I was excited to show Jane our progress with the stretching. Jane also commented that my posture while riding has changed since last year. I think much of it is  because I am much more confident now. 

There are many improvements in our rides. I was watching my video after and I could see how much freer her gaits are getting. Her walk used to be so short and now she's pretty close to tracking up right from the beginning. She's swinging through more. 
maybe not the best screen grab but look at her hind leg coming under. 

You may recall that I was struggling to have Carmen be forward in her trot. It seemed that we'd get either fast or plodding. A couple weeks ago I was riding with Julia and no matter what I did to ask Carmen to move out more I could feel all her energy pushing back at me. I was sure I was asking properly and it really felt like she was saying 'no thank you'. Except without the 'thank you part'. 

I asked Julia to pass me her crop. I asked for her to trot and she pushed back (I don't know how else to describe it, it's like all her energy is pushing back and she's turtling). I asked again and gave a tap. Her ears pinned. I asked again and tapped again. Her ears pinned and she snaked her neck. So gave her a sharp tap and she shot forward. good girl.  After that every time my leg came on she went nicely forward. 

Since then I've been carrying a whip, for at least the beginning. In trying to just use my legs I inadvertently accepted Carmen choosing to do what she wanted (which is usually less). Now we have a nice forward trot right from the beginning and it's so much easier. 

This is some of early trot work in the lesson. Which was what our good end-of-lesson trot used to look like: 

Jane has been expecting more of us as well. I guess that's fair. So I can expect her to be much more clear on what my hands should be doing, where my leg should be and that she asked us to do shoulder in out of the corner not at B. Not that she's ever mean or yells. She's just super clear with her expectation. She's also quick to point out when things are good. I've been working on my shoulder alignment the past week and she noticed right away. 

With this forward motion transitions are so much better and our halts are getting there. 
Square halt- squish horsefly 

Our right lead canter is soooo much better. It doesn't look so up and down anymore (although there are moments). I quite like this snip of our canter to trot transition. We didn't splat on our forehand and speed up. 

I have to remember to use my core and not let my legs swing all over the place. At least I'm getting better at keeping my thighs looser so my calf can come on. 

We were done a lot of the work and were finishing up doing some walk work: shoulder in, renvers, travers (which I constantly mix up btw) and turn on the haunches. It was going pretty well when a neighbour began to rev an engine. That caused Quaid and Irish to spook in the paddock and Carmen totally locked on that.  Now, Quaid I understand. I don't think he's heard that but my horses have heard that particular racket many many times. Carmen also rarely reacts to Irish pitching a fit in the paddock. But she was tired, it was hot and so..... Anyway, the remainder of the ride was about me containing Carmen. 

Actually, that's not true, contentment would have been my goal. Jane wanted me to continue to work with her and get good work from her.  It was great opportunity for Carmen and I. I viewed it as getting to work through our pigeon problem.  

Here's the beginning. Carmen was pretty clear that she wanted to bolt (I was appalled). I was pretty clear that she was not going to (Carmen was appalled). Jane was pretty clear that we were still working (we both were appalled). 

Heres'a video of right after everyone was spooked by the engine. 

I was quite pleased at how I fought my urge to bring my hands up with her and tighten my thighs so I pop out of the saddle. To be honest, I wasn't nervous or scared or even frustrated. I was just calm. And we worked through it and got some of our best turn on the haunches. 

So apparently, we are capable of having emotions and doing good work. Who knew? Jane, that's who. 

Carmen, probably.

Friday, August 5, 2022

Four Rides and a Lesson

 The heat has definitely hit us and it's brutal. Not Texas brutal but as a Canadian, it's hard to deal with. With the humidity it's been up to 38 degrees (about 100 in Fahrenheit). The nice thing about being on vacation is that I can ride early before it gets too bad. 

The chickens are seeking all kinds of ways to cool off-
like sitting on wet cement blocks


I tacked up Carmen and we went up to the ring. I did a little in hand work but she seemed fine so I hopped on and hard a good ride. Nothing spectacular, but I appreciated that, after 10 days off, she was fine to hop on and be ridden. 


I hadn't been able to have a lesson for a while- my vacation, a lost shoe and weather all got in the way. But I booked a lesson for early Monday. Note: all the riding photos are from the lesson. It was still warm but not brutal. The main theme of the lesson was to get Carmen to stretch down and over her back.  

It's no secret that this is our worst manoeuvre. In fact, one of the main reasons I want to ride higher levels is to not have to do this.

 I know, I know, not the right attitude for training. 

The issues in the past is that Carmen will often take the longer rein and  reef it down and/or pop up her head and spook away.  This makes me very reluctant to let her stretch into a long rein unless everything is perfect. And I am rarely perfect. 

But Jane felt it was time and, to quote her 'you need to expect more of Carmen'

here we are not stretching, Note Jane's assistant 

Our walk rhythm was pretty steady and clear so it was time to ask her to reach for the bit. 

My understanding of the exercise was this (don't blame Jane if I'm wrong): 

- Ask Carmen to soften to the inside rein. 

-Give the rein (don't loop it, soften it) and see if she will follow it down. 

-As that improved, give both reins, but don't loop them. 

When she follows the rein, ask her for more. 

It wasn't a hard lesson in terms of physical work but mentally it was hard. 

If I had a quarter for every time I heard 'don't take back with the reins, push her to it' I'd be well on my way to a new fancy saddle pad. Poor Jane. She's very patient. 

A horrible moment in the walk but she's reaching for the bit. 

As we went along I could feel her starting to figure it out. Both of us were tentative about it and neither of us were too sure of each other. Watching the video after was eye opening. What felt like a huge stretch wasn't that big when I looked at it. I also was frustrated with my shoulders going to the right. Jane is always telling me to turn them to the inside. I would swear I was doing so but when I look at the video my right shoulder is actually back compared to my left. Which means I'm twisting contrary to the way we're travelling and NOT HELPFUL. 

Sigh. Riding is hard. 

But what I could also see in the video is that Carmen and I were both trying very hard to figure this out. After walking we tried it again at the trot. Which is, of course, exponentially harder. 

Not stretching but soft so I'l take it

It's very hard to ask her to soften without taking back. At least for me. I also often stopped asking once she dropped so she'd carry a bit and then go back up. 

At the end of the ride I could feel her really start to understand begin to ask me 'is this what you want?' 

Hey look, no pulling. 

Totally cherry picked photo from the video but I 
keep it to remind myself about what we can do

It was a great lesson and one I really enjoyed. I knew I had some good homework to take away. 


The morning was foggy and cool and it was quite windy. I got Carmen ready eager to work on the stretching again. it quickly became apparent that Carmen was feeling quite worried about the wind and weather. I did not feel safe giving her a long enough rein to get away. When I did she would spook to the inside. 

I could feel her ramping up. In the past I would have dismounted, lunged her and felt discouraged. This time I took a breath and told her that she could feel her feels but I was going to keep her to task and we were going to be fine. 

I would ask her to stretch a little with the softening of the inside rein. When Carmen gets tight she locks the base of her neck and it's hard to bend her and keep her straight. It usually goes: lock neck, drop weight to inside shoulder, deke away.  So I kept asking her to bend and bend her neck. I definitely asked for more bend in the neck then would be technically 'correct' but I needed her to let go. 

She was not happy. Then it started to sprinkle and then rain hard. I decided we weren't in a good spot so we kept going. 

It was not a great ride. But what was great was that at the end she was actually stretching to the bit and I could give her a longer rein to do so. I was happy with it but sent a message to Jane asking if I had done the right thing. Based on my explanation she agreed and also reminded me to not give her more then she was able to take. Carmen does not like me to drop the rein, she feels unsupported. 

We joke that Dottie is the real trainer. Here she's
definitely watching us pretty intently


The weather was warmer and still with a heat warning for later. Carmen was definitely feeling it. I hopped on and asked for the stretching again. This time we started where we ended the day before. That made me happy. 

We spent some time at the walk asking her to stretch and then we went to work on our trot and canter. After the stretching everything felt a lot easier. Although at first, Carmen was asking if we could back to the stretching work and forget this other stuff. 

After some good work we finished with the stretch walk again. This time I was able to give the rein with my hands past the braid and still have contact and not pull back. We even played with walking a figure eight on the long rein and it was pretty good (especially since I've started to focus on my shoulders). 

I was really happy with our ride. 


I gave Carmen Thursday off. Today when I got on we picked up right were we left off. She seems to have figured it out and decide that she likes it. It's clear to me how much core is required to keep the horse from falling on the forehand and speeding up. Especially at the trot. 

It's also clear that warming up like this makes the work later so much better. Carmen is looser and freer and there's much less discussion about forward or steering. or even this riding thing as she likes to call it.

I'm hoping that we can continue to make progress on this and that the 'We suck at stretching' belief goes away.  

I do love summer staycations. They are both relaxing and allow me to make a lot of progress with riding. 

The End. (don't hate me)