dancing horses

dancing horses

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. 

Monday, October 17, 2022

Unlocking the Neck

 Based on my recent blogs you would think that Carmen and I have not had any lessons lately. Between weather and other things, we have managed to squeeze in a few.  

Carmen has been a bit of a dragon this fall (as usual). Some of my rides were definitely less than fun. The trick is to stay course and not give up. Also, groundwork- lots and lots of groundwork.  But I  noticed a change this week in her overall feeling. Which coincided nicely with our lesson on the weekend. After a day and night of rain the morning was much improved. The weather was drizzly and gray but the wind was quiet and it was a lovely gray fall day. 

I do love these soft mornings

The ring was saturated- too wet to even dragging to be of use. But the nice thing about my ring is that the footing stays good and doesn't get slippery.  Jane arrived as I was getting on and we talked about how things had been going. Jane was describing another horse and said 'she's the queen of compromise.' 

Just like Carmen I said. 

Ha! Jane responded Carmen does NOT compromise. 

I laughed. fair enough. 

Our lessons have moved into working on Carmen's alignment and getting the half-halt to actually go through. Carmen's tendency is to lock her neck. This not only blocks the half-halt, it stops her from being able to really lift and come from behind. If I understand it correctly, if her neck is locked, the energy from behind hits it and bounces back, pushing her back down and her legs to go out behind. 

see how wet it is? Also see Carmen standing quietly in a puddle. 
Water has never been a problem for her. 

We won't be able to really progress if we can't get her to loosen her neck and soften. Not to mention that when her neck is locked steering is more 'Jesus take the wheel' than I'm comfortable with. 

You might think that Carmen was quite happy that I realised this and was working to help her use her neck properly. 

You would be wrong. Appalled might describe it better.  I'm not going to show you the start of our lesson, but trust me it was pretty awful. The goal was to use the half-halt on the outside rein and get her to soften on the inside and flex at her poll. I had been unaware of how much Carmen was choosing whether to listen to my half-halts and how much I was accepting that. So now that Jane won''t allow me to give up that means I can't let Carmen choose. 
However, we weren't a total disaster and our turn on the haunches are improving. 

I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have persisted as much without Jane there talking me through it and encouraging me to embrace the suck. 
here I am embracing the suck. it actually made me giggle

 As the lesson progressed things became softer and her neck really began to work. Rather than being a solid mass of muscle it became much more fluid. 

This photo was from the week before but shows how 
we're coming

Our canter work is really improving. Carmen is much more aligned, which allows her to lift. 

We picked up a right canter and Jane had us take it up by C. There was a lot of water there and as Carmen cantered through I couldn't help but squeal 'wheee' like I was 12. It was so much fun. 

Lot's to pick apart in terms of my equitation, but who cares? 
I am having so much fun and so is Carmen. 
And oh my, the mud!

Jane commented that I should compare our trot work to this time last year. When I looked I can definitely see a difference in how she's carrying herself. 
October 2022

October 2021

When I look I see her a lot more free in her shoulder and lower neck. Our last lessons have been hard- like boot camp hard. But I love this work. I have a vision of what I need to accomplish and what I need to do to get there. I can feel how much better Carmen feels when she's aligned and soft in her neck. It is not going to be easy - there's a lot we need to unpack and rebuild. But that's okay, I've never been afraid of hard work. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

Strike a Pose

Last month Julia, who rides Irish, was married. I jokingly told her that she should have wedding photos with Irish. I guess that got her thinking because she asked if she could bring a photographer to get some photos of Irish and her and  I could get some as well. I thought it was a great idea so she made all the arrangements and we did it yesterday. 

Who called this meeting anyway? 

The weather cooperated and it was a gorgeous October day. To paraphrase Leah "I'm glad I live in a place where there are Octobers". Julia came over early so we could get the horses all shined up. Carmen needed a bath and Irish just needed a rinse. I hummed and hawed about Quaid and then decided to do it since I had help. It was, as far as I know, his first bath. Not that you could tell by his complete non-reaction. Of course he'd been hosed off often over the summer and that is usually the biggest hurdle. But he didn't care about me scrubbing his white socks or slapping a soapy wash mitt on him. I kept him out in the sun to dry because I knew he'd want to roll. I was not prepared when he suddenly dropped and rolled on the grass. I had to laugh. I let him dry  more and then put him in the stall while we did more prep work. His winter coat is coming in really well and he took a long time. Of course he rolled again. 

I'm so glad he's not gray

We turned them out until the photographer arrived late in the afternoon. Before then I suggested a fun photo of Julia and Jim with one of my chickens. I have to say it's one of my favourite photos now. 

Like every couple should have a wedding photo like this

Don't worry- Guinness was not left out
Guinness: I don't know why I wasn't at the wedding, 
these things need security

I then changed into clothes that I wouldn't mind being photographed in. I had bought some Dubarry boots in Ireland (just closed my eyes and handed over the plastic) so figured that those should be worn. (I don't regret buying these boots but that's a different post.)

When the photographer arrived we walked out to the field with the horses. Our thoughts were that Julia and Jim could pose with Irish and I'd keep the others away. Julia walking out in her dress caused some fun reactions. 

Irish: what on earth are you wearing? I don't like how it flutters. 

Carmen:  uh oh a dress. I knew something was up. Is this another musical ride? 

Quaid:  oooh people. I LOVE people. Let me check out your dress. It tastes funny. Look at that bag. Let me check it out. 

Irish: back off, this is my photo shoot
Quaid: but I had a bath and am so much cuter

Quaid was all over the photographer. He wanted to play with her camera and tried to grab her bag with her extra lenses. It was cute and nerve wracking. 

Quaid: I just want to look, c'mon let go!
I won't ruin anything, promise

We ended up taking Irish out to get some photos and he was so cooperative. Even when Jim boosted Julia up to sit sideways on him. He's such a star. The other two watched on, fascinated. When we brought him back in they went back to swarming. 

Carmen: stop taking photos of Irish, I'm the beautiful one

Then I brought Irish back in and the photographer took photos of me with each of the horses and all together. I really relaxed and just interacted with them as I would normally would. I quite liked the photographer- she knew her stuff and understood horses. Her suggestions were soft and she kept us all having fun. Carmen was quite friendly with her as well and that is not something I expect- she tends to be stand offish with strangers.  

I am excited to see how they turn out. In the meantime I am enjoying the out takes. 

Quaid: hey man, that's the best spot to scratch, thanks

Monday, October 10, 2022

An Easy Season

 How is almost mid October already? The horses are definitely enjoying the cooler weather. I haven't been riding as much as I'd like but it's been worse. 

I love this old maple and in autumn 
she never disappoints

Hurricane Fiona hit our province (and the rest of the maritimes pretty hard). We were fortunate and she missed our area, but other places were damaged quite extensively. Some of my rides have been pretty hairy and others really good. Which is pretty typical for her in the fall. I think it's a combination of the increased sugar in the grass and she always has a nasty heat in October as well. 

I realised how far I'd come when the other day the neighbour gunned his engine repeatedly, followed by squealing tires and raced down the road. We were just coming by the part of the ring closest to the road and she was already tense so this put her over the edge. She spun and took off I couldn't stop her. I sighed, muttered about the driver and turned her onto a circle. We cantered until she didn't want to anymore and then we cantered a little more. I wasn't even upset. There was a time her bolting resulted in my brain freezing. Funnily enough, once we get through the crap she lets out a big breath and then is soft and amazing. 
These two are getting along well.

Quaid is growing like a weed. I've been doing some more ground work with him and he's doing well. I find he asks me more questions then he used to but I'm actually happy about that. It means that he's trying to figure it out. He's also hungry all the time and chewing on everything in sight. 

The most handsome of baby geniuses

Guinness: license and registration please

On the weekend Julia and her sister came to visit for a couple days. It was fun- I rode Carmen, Dominique rode Irish and I had Julia work with Quaid in the ring. It was a lot of fun and all three horses did really well. I would have expected that Quaid would be distracted but he was good. Irish loved it and you see having us all together put a real spring in his step. 

I love having a busy ring

On the second day we all went into the woods. Carmen led and when a grouse flew up just stopped and looked before carrying on. It was fun. 

we have a new addition! 
Everyone meet Raven

I'm going to enjoy the good weather as long as it lasts. Because we all know that winter will be here soon.