dancing horses

dancing horses

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Palate Cleanser

 Last weekend Julia and I took both horses to an Obstacle clinic. You may remember that I like to do at least one of these every year. Last year I took Quaid instead of Carmen. It was a great experience for both of us. This year I signed both horses up and offered Julia to take Carmen if she wanted. I felt that it would be good for her to learn groundwork from the exercises. If she wasn't able to I was still going to take them both but she was able to get the time off so we packed them up and hit the road. 

Where am I now? 

It was a different stable then last year but the stalls were a nice size. We arrived Friday night and started at 8:30 the next morning. As always, everyone introduced themselves, their horses and their goals. I shared what happened (briefly) and the impact it had on Quaid, myself and our relationship. My goals were to: 

- reestablish our working relationship

- get feedback on what I'm doing 

- get some direction on where to go 

An additional goal was to to work on their separation anxiety by having them be in different groups. 

The format of this clinic was the same as before: 

Saturday a.m:  ground work

Saturday p.m: obstacles in hand

Sunday a.m.: obstacles in hand and mounter

Sunday p.m: practice a pattern. 

I was so glad that I came. Mike and Nikki really helped me to hone in on some key things: 

- Quaid is quite willing to try things and work with me. What he lacks is focus. Which makes sense because he's only 3. I spent the whole weekend learning how to consistently get his focus and attention. It's not that he couldn't look around and notice things. Of course he should. But, when I ask for him to come back he needs to do so, not just say 'in a minute'. 

When we work on the obstacles the goal is to make them the place of rest. So we work them and then offer the obstacle as the easy option. When they are learning the obstacle we help them to be successful. But once they know it we can raise our expectations that they take responsibility. It's not unusual that a horse will go over without issue and then begin to step off after a while. It's just them trying to see if shortcuts are okay. When that happens we back them up to the beginning and then ask them again. The goal is to make them a bit uncomfortable when they miss and really comfortable when they get it. 

Here's Carmen doing a perfect demonstration. She actually napped while Nikki talked. 
I love this so much

Here's a video of me working with him on the narrow balance beam: 

You can see that there's a lot going on around him but he stays with me. 

On Sunday afternoon the importance of this focus was made very clear. Friday the weather was freezing- 9 degrees (celsius) and I had out my winter coat. Sunday the temperature was 32. It was hot and the wind was blowing. everyone took a turn through the pattern and as I stood there in the hot sun I really began to wilt. When it was our turn both of us were distracted and it showed. We totally screwed up the first couple obstacles. Mike came and took us in hand. He showed me that Quaid was not with me at all so asking for him to do the obstacle was asking for trouble. And he showed me in a positive way not a 'you suck' way. He did look at me and said 'you are better than this'. So I did the focus work and then, surprise, surprise, we were successful. 

Here's another video from Sunday morning. Here we work through a bit of him asking me lots of questions. I screwed up with my body language a couple times too but we regrouped and were fine. 

You may think when you watch the video that Quaid was afraid of the flag and felt trapped between the A frame and the flag. But we'd worked through there lots of times before then and the day before. So I didn't feel the need to move him away but rather to work him through it. This is all part of the work I've building on with him in terms of learning to raise his energy and bring it back down. 

Quaid: nope, nope nope

Quaid: okay

A big success was that both horses were good at leaving and being left. Saturday morning there was a few whinnies but by Sunday they did not care. Now I just need to keep building on this. Carmen was a rock star. she really enjoys this work and was quite happy to teach Julia the ropes. The first day she kept looking at me but transitioned really well. 

I was really happy I went to the clinic. I felt like I had a much needed reset on my ground work. Nikki and Mike gave me lots of great tips to tighten up my body language. Carmen has come so far that I have let things slide. But this is all new to Quaid so I need to be better. 

Baby Genius or Donkey? 

That's all the good stuff. Now for the not so good things. Saturday I learned that there was a forest fire at the end of our road. On Sunday morning it was not clear if I'd be able to get home. The owner of the stable said we were welcome to stay. But late Sunday afternoon Ed told me that the fire was pretty much out and they would let us drive down the road. 

When we loaded the horses Carmen walked on as usual. I walked Quaid up to the ramp, put the lead line over his neck and asked him to walk on. With a brief hesitation he walked on and stood like he's been self-lauding his whole life (though this was his first time). 

As we were driving out the barn owner came out "are you sure it's safe to come home? You can stay'  I told her that my husband said it would be fine and since he was the fire chief I had to trust him.  On the drive home Julia learned that there was a fire in her parents neighbourhood. By the time we got home a mandatory evacuation order was in place. 

The fire continues to burn out of control. At least 150 homes are gone and 14,000 people displaced. One stable was able to get all their horses out and taken to a show venue. Another stable was not so lucky and the trailers were not allowed in. The horses were turned loose and left. It was heartbreaking. But by the next day all the horses were located and rescued. One was badly injured and we don't know if she will make it. One of the mares made her way back to the barn and put herself in a stall. 

The horse community has rallied to support the displaced horses. Others are working to rescue pets that were in homes. My heart breaks for everyone. The south part of the province is also on fire and today we can smell smoke all day.  We need rain desperately. 

I am so glad I went to the clinic. I always learn things that directly impact my riding and relationships with my horses. The other participants are always fun to talk to and get to know. The horses always enjoy it too. It's nice to mix things up. 

Friday, May 26, 2023

Carmen the Magnificent

 While I was away on my trip Jane sent an email out to her students to do a test riding clinic at the show grounds on a Tuesday in May. I had to think about it for a bit but, after chatting with Tanya I decided to sign up for it. 

The truth is that, since signing up for the show to do Second level, those nasty voices were muttering in the back of my head. I was talking about the clinic with Ed and he asked why I was doing it. I explained that ofter Carmen gets pretty reactive in the ring and it disrupts my test. 

Ed "so do you think riding in the ring again is going to make a difference?'

Now I know Ed and know that he didn't mean that question the way it landed. But the voices in my head grabbed on to it with glee. They were saying things like:

You're not ready to show second

Carmen is going to be horrible

You will ride terribly

It's gong to be a disaster. 

It didn't help that right before Carmen came into a bad heat and our rides were very very spicy. 

I almost bailed. But Julia was coming and Quaid was going (see last post) and it seemed cowardly to back out. 

I was riding last in the day. It was nice to watch others have wonderful and productive rides. I felt pretty good until it was time to tack up. I took Carmen into the warm up ring and immediately fell back into my hold habit of babying her along and negotiating what she was okay with. 

Don't get me wrong, I'm perfectly fine helping her when she's uncertain but there's a difference between her feeling afraid and feeling like she just wants to call the shots. Julia came in and helped but I was not feeling sure about anything. 

I was pretty sure that I sucked though. 

I walked in the show ring and walked her around. 

screen grab from the video Julia took

She was actually pretty good but I was kinda frozen. I don't know if Jane recognised that or not but she began to put us right to work. And as soon as that happened I could feel us both begin to breathe. 

And I remembered how to ride. A theme for the lesson was to give with my hands, keep my elbows at my side. I need to tattoo it on my wrist- when she feels tight I want to hold. Carmen did a spook at A. In the past it would have derailed but instead I put my leg on, rode her back and carried on. 

That was a boost to my confidence. Also Jane was very positive about our riding. 

"You really worked hard last week"  she said more than once. Here's a video of it. 

Our warm up was a lot of trot  and shoulder in. Jane then asked us to do some half-pass and that felt really good. 

Watching the video I was quite happy with how rhythmic Carmen was and how she was not fighting me like I feared but actually tuning in. 

We ran through Second Level test 1 and 2. I had 1 memorised but not 2. Fortunately Tanya read for me. 

And guess what? The tests were not a disaster. We're not heading to FEI anytime soon but the work was solid. 

Halt at C and then rein back 

nice canter but please could I stop leaning forward? 

As we rode through Carmen became more and more powerful. Our trot work was lovely. Here's a video of part of test 2: You can see slight bobbles at A but only if you look. 

At the end I was very happy. I shared with Jane that my plan had been that if the clinic was a disaster I was going to scratch. But I am not scratching. 

Carmen felt very proud to me of the work that we did. Not sure how else to explain it. 

What is clear is that I need to figure out the warm up at the show. I freeze and then ride without confidence or a plan. In the rush of adrenaline post lesson I told Jane that I couldn't warm up without her. 

While that is probably true, I knew on reflection, that this was not fair. Jane is also showing. Plus why am I more special than her other students? So we built a plan for my next lesson: I'm not going to warm up and the lesson will be about warming up Carmen to get her ready to show her magnificence. 

Carmen: you should trust me more

I do like having a goal and a plan. 

But this weekend, Julia, myself, Quaid and Carmen are off to a trail clinic. It's time for some fun. 

Thursday, May 25, 2023

Road Trip

 Hey everyone, Quaid here. 

I thought you'd like to hear about my latest adventure. It all started when Mom (Carmen's servant) set up the big moving stall. I watched her get it ready and I suspected something was up.  When Carmen's servant servant showed up (a.k.a) Julia showed up really early the next morning we knew for sure. 

Beth: just checking out some potential new digs
Me: no

Last time I went on a really long drive all by myself and ended up at the hospital. This time Carmen came with me. 

Quaid: Do you know where we are going? 
Carmen: no, but I'm pretty sure it's your fault.

*Me: note how his bum is almost as tall as Carmen's*

But we didn't go to the hospital, we went to this brand new place. but Carmen looked around and said 'Oh we're here. *sigh*'

*Me: let me explain. Jane arranged to book the arena where we show to have a one day clinic for her students showing. We hauled in for the day and practiced our tests in the ring. I brought Quaid along for the experience* 
Back to Quaid

There was a lot to look at, even for a well-traveled horse like me. 

Carmen: *snorts* listen youngster, talk to me when you've travelled from Virginia to Michigan to Texas and to Nova Scotia. 

I followed Carmen into the barn. My stall was between Carmen and a really cute mare called Suzi. She was nice. 

Carmen: don't worry, it will all be fine

I even had my own window. I was very busy all day watching horses come and go and looking outside. 

After a few hours Mom and Julia (Carmen: you mean the servant and the servant's servant) came and took us out and into this huge building. 

I was very good but it was quite freaky. And guys, I think it was haunted

I could see these faint images of horses but I could also see through them. I snorted a lot. I even called to them but they didn't call back. Mom called them 'reflections' but I have no idea what that means. 

It did feel good to be able to move around though. Mom would let me move out and, if seemed too stressed, would bring me down to breathe and calm down. Carmen was with me so that was good. I figured she was brave enough to fight off any ghost. 

Brave little horse in a big world

I also got to visit a place called the 'warm up ring'. What are they warming up? I want to know. 

It was nice to get back to my stall and tell Suzi all about it. 

Later mom took Carmen out and I did not like that at all. I called and called and called. But Julia stayed with me and told mom that I didn't kick or try to escape. After a while I stopped calling because there seemed to be no point. At least I wasn't alone. 

After a million years Mom and Carmen came back. Both were sweaty but seemed happy. 

Quaid: where did you go? what happened? Why did you leave me?

Carmen:  I was showing off all my moves. Some of which mom even wanted. I was magnificent. 

Quaid: oh. Can I be magnificent sometime? 

Mom cleaned our stalls and began to put things back in the truck and trailer. I watched her out the window and called to let he know that we were still there. 

Quaid: don't forget about meeeeee

When Julia and Mom took us out Carmen didn't care about me at all. She just marched out and onto the trailer. Mom even said that she probably didn't even need to lead her. 

I hopped back on the trailer and we headed out. After a bit we were home! I was so happy to be back in my stall. They fed us supper (Carmen: it was late, I am NOT impressed). 

That night I slept really well. You see I didn't nap very well during the day and was very tired. 

Sunday, May 21, 2023

Requiem for a Hat

 Today I had to finally throw out my favourite hat. 

Back in 2004 the "World Famous Lippizaner Stallions" in Halifax. This is not the Spanish Riding School in Vienna but was a show based out of North America. A friend and I took our daughters and mothers to the show. I remember being impressed with how beautiful the horses were, even when things were not correct. But most of the people in the audience didn't know that and oohed and aaahed even when it was wrong. I probably began to fall in love with the baroque horses at this show. Either way, as a souvenir I bought a hat. 

This hat became my 'horse' hat. I wore it to the barns that I boarded at, clinics and horse shows. 

Carmen's and I first horse show

When we moved to our farm I probably wore it every day to do chores. 

It kept the sun and rain off. 

It became molded to my head and became one  the most comfortable thing I owned. 

hanging in the field with Irish and Steele

'hey where are you going? Come back here!'

at another show with Ms Carmen

our first obstacle clinic

I  had it when I brought Irish home and when I bought Steele.  I also wore it when I said goodbye to both of those beautiful souls. 

sitting with the horses after saying goodbye to Irish

I wore it when Quaid came home to join the family. 

sniffing my hat on his first night home

selfie with the new guy

When people began to tease me about this worn out hat I would leap to its defence. 'it still has tons of wear. And it's so comfortable. "

I sometimes called it my lucky hat. Not that I believed it but it helped others to understand. The truth was it just was part of who I was as a horsewoman. It just felt right to put it on. 

The hat lasted 19 years. Which is amazing when you think about it. But now it's time to let it go. 

And as silly as it sounds, I will miss it. 

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

Head and Shoulders

 I had the best lesson on Monday. Unfortunately there is no media because my phone stopped recording after 10 minutes.  I always do my best to remember but we were doing some new things and seeing it after would have helped me. 

a shot of our warm up

What is nice this year is that we are not spending the majority of the lesson getting Carmen to cooperate and stop spooking. I have been timing our rides to see at what point in the warm up does she begin to loosen up and feel ready to work. The time is about 30 minutes. Knowing this I made sure to be up in the ring 30 minutes ahead. Most of my warm up is at the walk, changing directions, circles, leg yields and transitions. 

This was the lesson where we really tackled straightness. Carmen has a habit of keeping her shoulder out and hind legs in- especially to the right. Asking her to bend and she tries to keep an eye outside and tilt her head. 

Turns out that hanging on the inside rein is not the answer to that (*sarcasm font).  It took a lot of outside rein to keep her from becoming crooked - especially on the circles. I've gotten so used to this way of going that I don't notice it when it's subtle. But when I got moments of it, I could feel the difference.  I know Carmen could too and I also felt how it really loaded the hind legs. 

Carmen was not a fan and felt I was violating our terms of engagement. For one thing, it prevented her from keeping an eye on what was happening outside of the ring. 

Carmen: clearly one of us has to pay attention to potential hazards. 

We worked on this at all the gaits- walk-trot and canter. Then Jane had us work on our counter canter. We picked up a canter on a circle and then counter canter the next one. Carmen was convinced that we had lost our minds and kept breaking or switching leads (not clean switches). So then Jane had us walk down the long side on the inside track, pick up a shoulder in to the outside and ask for the lead. Then walk. Carmen began to figure this out and was really trying hard.  When we got one where she really tried hard to canter-walk without diving down and I asked if we could stop. It felt to me that she had given us a lot and pushing farther would not be a good thing. Carmen is not a horse you drill with- it makes her irritable and she'll begin to act up. I do my best to not ride to that point. 

When I dismounted I was happy with that decision- she was clearly tired and needed a good hose.  

grazing outside the tack room post ride

I will usually ride the day after a lesson (if possible) because I find that she's can be tight and sore. I don't make it a hard ride- most of the time we just walk and stretch. I really wanted to ride again to practice the work from the day before but just at a walk.  It was good for me to play with it and see if I could replicate it. I think we had some good moments and I could feel us both starting to understand it (at least I hope so). 

After the lesson, Julia and I took Quaid up in the ring. I wanted to practice working through distractions. I've done a lot of work with him with flags, plastic bags and other things. But the problem is that it is me controlling the things and he knows. We started with me just working with him as per usual- leading, lunging, walking/trotting on cue etc. I took the plastic bag on a stick and rubbed him all over. All of this is 'old' work for Quaid. He totally get this. 

growing up and shedding caps (baby teeth)

I then gave Julia the bag and stick and asked her to go to the end of the ring. The plan was for me to continue to ask him to listen and 'work' while she walked around the far side of the ring casually waving the plastic bag.  

At first he was quite distracted by what was happening down there but quickly settled. I then asked her to slowly walk closer and while we continued to work. When she was able to walk close by us will waving the bag and he didn't even react we stopped. We'll keep doing this work because it's going to be so helpful when he's under saddle. 

Sunday, May 14, 2023

Farm Happenings

 Life has been feeling pretty good lately and I'm just enjoying it without over-thinking. 

I know, I know, I am surprised too. 

I am finding that I am well-rested and unstressed. I attribute it to being retired and not having all these competing demands for my energy. I am seeing this have a positive impact on my interactions with Carmen and Quaid. Clearly this is to be expected, energy being such a big part of horsemanship, but it is still interesting

green grass and sunshine

Quaid is becoming more like his 'old' self. I attribute it to spending quality time that is not aversive to him.  I find that he's quite fidgety in the cross ties but it's improving. Our sessions are good and he is coming along. I find that he's quite tuned to my body language and that's helping me to see when I am not being clear.  The other day I took off his halter and we played with some liberty work. Although work is a stretch. It's more about seeing if he chooses to stay with me and follow my lead. 

oh hai, do you have cookies? 

I'm not gonna lie, there's something heartwarming about a horse choosing to stay with you rather than eat grass or run away. Especially when it's not because I chased him. 

My rides on Carmen are going really well. So far we haven't fallen into the rabbit hole of resistance. I had the saddle fitter out on Friday. I knew that things were a bit off kilter and I wasn't wrong. She ended up taking the flocking out and re-stuffing it. At the same time we checked out saddle fit for Quaid. It looks like the same brand Carmen has will work (different gullet of course). But it also looks like the Spanish saddle will fit as well once he fills out a bit. That is what I was hoping for because I'd like to start him with that when we're ready. Turns out he's wider than he looks. Based on his parents I expect him to be quite a sturdy guy. 

We bought a new drag for the ring. I wore out the old one and it was quite worn. I love the new one and was surprised and how much better it did. 

I love all the lines. 

Things wear out over time but I am always surprised by that. Like when I pulled up the mats off my barn floor and found that I need to replace a few ones. 
I clearly need supervision

guys, I'm just taking a break. Cut me some slack

I've been working on the separation anxiety. Quaid is doing way better than Carmen. Like way better. But I keep plugging away. It's kind of funny- I bring Carmen out and he doesn't' care. When we get to the barn he sometimes follows us later, usually to take a drink and then wander off again. 

see that brown dot way down in the field? that's Quaid not caring we left. 

She seems a little miffed by that. He worries more about leaving Carmen than her leaving. I am hoping that we can get to a place where I can take one away and not have the one behind stressed out. Other wise I may need to get myself a third horse. *gasp* (don't tell Ed). 

How's your spring going? 

Monday, May 8, 2023

Finally Spring

 Spring in Nova Scotia is not for the faint hearted. The weather can veer wildly from sunshine to rain to hail to wind and possibly snow. Sometimes in the same day. 

despite this my magnolia is blooming

Last week I didn't ride at all. I can ride in wind, or wet or cold but when I get all 3 I bow out. It's just not fun. Friday was better. And by 'better' I mean when we wore our winter coats it felt okay. Julia rode Carmen and I worked with Quaid. Julia rode because she was taking my lesson slot on Saturday. Since she is riding Carmen we both felt it would be useful for both of them. 

It's not my place to recap someone else's lesson but it was great. I loved seeing someone else work through things with Carmen. Both of them were keen and there was some lovely work. 

Carmen: I hope you appreciate how great I was 

After Saturday the weather started trending in the right direction and now we're in shortsleeved. It's been interesting getting Quaid back to work. I have noticed that he has been more wary and less social than pre-injury. It's understandable, given all that he experienced. However, I don't need to keep that as permanent and I set out to bring him out of his shell. 

Nothing magic, just time and consistency. I have introducing more stuff and asking more with the aim of helping him figure out how to deal with pressure. 

I love how he's filling out again

While I was away it seemed like his legs sprouted and he became tall and lean. I actually doubled his feed and he's slowly filling out again. I measured him last week and he's almost 15.2 at the wither. 

I weaned them onto the back pasture and they are now there full days. In the past Irish would block the alley way to keep Carmen from going out for a few minutes. Now she's doing it to Quaid. Herd dynamics are interesting. 

He's been completely sound. The plate is still on to protect the soft spot on his hoof. I was worried but the farrier and vet both assure me that it's fine to leave it on. On Friday with the weather a balmy 20 degrees Julia and I worked the horses and then gave them a bath. Quaid was less certain about being bathed but tolerated it. When we let them in the field he ran out, rolled and leaped up bucking. This was followed by a good five minutes of him gambolling about the field while Carmen ate. It was adorable. I probably should have grabbed my phone to take a video but I was too busy enjoying him frolicking about. 

As we've been working he's becoming more out of his shell and more like his affectionate self. It's not perfect- he still wants to yank his hoof out of my hand when I'm working on it but it's improving. Both horses are signed up for an obstacle clinic in a couple weeks. It should be fun. My plan is to take him with Carmen and I when we show so he can hang out in the atmosphere without the pressure. 

I am looking forward to warmer weather and summer. 

Monday, May 1, 2023

Feelin' It

 Another post that proves I can overthink. 

I've been doing a lot of thinking about the concept of 'feel'. As horse people we all know and use this term. I'm starting to think that it's like many of those horse terms- like half-halt. 

According to the dictionary 'Feel' is defined as: "Feel means to be aware of a physical or emotional sensation. Feel is most often used as a verb, meaning to physically touch or grope something or to be conscious of something emotionally." 

When it comes to riding and horses there are many ways people define 'feel (random google results)': 

Feel' is the term used to describe the mysterious ability a good rider has when communicating with their horse. A rider with good feel knows exactly where their horse is at every moment. They sense their horse's balance, thoroughness, connection, and the acceptance of their leg, seat, and rein aids. (How To Dressage)

Feel is a commonly used term in the horse world. The idea of feeling for the subtleties in the horse's responses to our aids, along with skilled timing, is something that I believe differentiates between average riders and great horsemen. (Reimagine Horsemanship)

feel as an awareness of your horse and of yourself. It is making observations and reading the horse, but at a glance. Going further than reading the horse, feel is awareness of emotion, of tension, pressure, movement and what might be coming next.

from my Sunday lesson- trying to feel straightness

When we experience true feel, it’s not a cognitive process, it is a sense, a knowing. Feel is the unconscious mind at work, using prior learning to process information and make assumptions quickly. (Horse Class)

Honestly, it all sounds like magic. What has struck me about the idea of feel is that it evolves. I can remember lots of examples of a coach asking if I could feel something while riding (where my hip was, how my seat bones move).  I would definitely feel something but not always sure if that was the right thing. Later I would have an 'aha' moment when I realised that this was it. 

The is a definite physical component but also an emotional one. I have definitely tuned into Carmen's emotions but I tend to baby her too much. In my Sunday lesson Jane had us warm up with work, rather than baby her along. I was sure she would escalate with that but she didn't. Instead she started to relax into the work. 

feeling the outside rein for SI but not feeling that I'm 
too much on the inside rein. 

In terms of the physical aspect of feel we can tell a lot of things. But also need to recognise that our bodies lie to us all the time. 

More recently I have been working on keep my seat soft and relaxed in the saddle. I know that when I do I can keep her with me. But my default, when she tenses, is to tense as well which pops me out of the saddle. I don't think I really noticed it last year. Well I did, but not like now. My feel for that now is much better. I can actually feel my seat bones move separately. Next year it will probably be different. 

I also feel that I'm allowing her to stretch in her neck but when I watch the video I see that I am not giving her enough rein. Sigh.  

Half-pass, it felt good though

When I have my lessons, I have started asking Jane if I had something right or better. I do it so I can improve my feel but also so that when I look at the video again I can see it. while I believe that there are people with a natural feel, I also believe that it can only improve if we are consciously aware of what is happening. 

In terms of our canter work I am still working on keeping my seat soft in the saddle. As soon as I tighten I begin to bounce. So that's easy to feel. Not always easy to fix. But it's coming. One thing I struggle to feel is that my leg tends to go back. It's probably all linked to my tension. 

Proving that I'm not just cherry picking:
so much tension and my leg creeping back

better here (if you don't look at my creeping leg)

Jane is very good at finding words to help me improve my riding and my feel. Carmen is very good at letting me know when I get it wrong. 

It would be easy to think of 'feel' as a myth.  

Like the half-halt (ha! just kidding. I think).

I don't think that's it. We all have those moments in riding when things just click and it's magical. It's what gets me back in the saddle. I love that feeling. 

In other news someone else is also feeling really good. 

Seeing him carrying on like a young horse, building muscle and shine makes me feel so happy.