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. 


  1. Sounds like the clinic was just what you all needed. But the evacuation and fires... no. I hope your place is ok. Did you evacuate too? So sad about the injured horse(s). Here the farm communities all rally together to help in disasters like that, I'm sure it's the same there .
    I pray you get the rain you need. It sure helped here. Today I heard that in Manitoba there is a tornado warning . Crazy.

    1. The equestrian community has really stepped up. Show facilities are opening to provide stalls. Others are donating hay and feed.

  2. Carmen found a great place to nap lol. What a wonderful clinic! Well worth the time & effort. Good job working through the sticky spots. Pretty sure I would have gotten dizzy on that A frame, especially in the heat. I love trail courses. We hope to create one on our land. Someday.

    So sorry to hear about the terrifying wildfires :( I know people come first, but my heart goes out to the helpless animals. Kudos to all who band together to make a bad situation better, for all those affected.

  3. The clinic sounds wonderful, but the fire sounds tragic and horrible. This is going to be a bad year with that El Niño. They’re saying we’re going into uncharted territory this summer. I’m not looking forward to it.

    It’s hard teaching them over obstacles, and sometimes the obstacles make it difficult. The size of that narrow bridge is perfect. The one we have is longer, perhaps even more narrow and difficult to work them around. So far, I’ve only achieved T putting a hoof on it. When I meet my trainer, which is very rare, 2 times so far this year, I want to have her help us with that obstacle.

    I’d say it was huge success, and good for them to be working separated, too ! That’s underrated! Buddy sour is the worst.

    1. A longer one would be tough. Maybe build a short one to practice on?

  4. It's hot and dry out here too. I saw the fires in the news and was hoping you weren't affected and horses and humans were all ok. We drove past a place here this morning selling firewood for people to take camping despite there being a fire ban and active fires making the air smoky, people just don't get it. I'm sorry for everyone and hope for rain soon. The clinic sounds like big success, what lovely horses you have.

    1. I know I shouldn’t be surprised at the ignorance of others but I am. They’ve closed the woods and put some huge fines in place for illegal burns.

  5. I was thinking about you! We've been getting haze from the smoke down here, and the weathermen said it was coming from your area. I'm so sorry to hear all you've all been dealing with. I hope they get the fires out soon and you all stay safe!
    On a more positive note, glad the clinic went so well! I love that Carmen is such a pro and I bet Quaid will be in no time too!

  6. Sounds like a great clinic. Jealous! On the other hand, fire is so scary. Hope you have some rain soon.

    1. The fire is so scary. I’m hoping that the coming rain will turn the tide.


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