dancing horses

dancing horses

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Trust the Process

 Last weekend I packed up the horses and headed to a local stable for a 2 day clinic with Jane. It may seem weird to go to a clinic with a person that I lesson with regularly. But I thought it was a good chance to have back-to-back lessons and in a new place.  I took Quaid as well for the miles. 

I had ridden at this stable before a three years ago and I remember having to work hard with Carmen to keep her focussed. But we are in a much different place now. 

 My lessons were Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning. I know I have done a lot of work with Carmen and seen a lot of success. Carmen was very chill getting groomed and tacked up despite this being her first time in a new barn. Yet, when I mounted, I immediately took a hold of Carmen to keep her contained. Jane immediately told me to let go and trust the work we've been doing. 

So I did and, spoiler alert, she was fine. Despite there being many things that she could legitimately take issue with: 

lots to look at, nothing to worry about

I was thrilled that we were able to simply go to work. Most of the lesson was on letting go of the inside rein and keeping my elbows at my side. That is so freaking hard but it keeps me stable and allow me to be soft in my arms. But as soon as she pulled or got tight I wanted to wing out my arms. 

Sigh. Riding is hard. But there's a lot of change too. She's not snarky and I'm not riding so defensively (the start notwithstanding). 

I love how she coming over her back and from behind. And in a lot of these screen grabs you can see that I have a soft rein. 

half-pass not half-bad


stretching into trot

I was very happy with our ride. I could feel her be balanced and trying really hard. Here's a little video of us working on a counter canter (if you listen closely you can hear Quaid yelling his head off) :

The next day Carmen out exactly the same. Although a little more tired. She continues to struggle with flexing to the right and believes to her very soul that the only way she can do a transition, especially to canter, is to straighten her neck and even move it to the left. That way she doesn't have to load her inside hind in the strike off. But she really really tried and we started to get it. 

look at her focus

her tail continues to be magnificent

She was a bit more behind the leg which made me naggy. Jane wanted me to squeeze with my legs for a couple strides and then soften. I thought I was doing that but when I look at the video it looks like I'm going 'nag-nag-nag' with my legs. Sigh. But I'll get it. This is why video is so useful- what you think you're doing and what you're really doing are often different. There were times Jane told me to put my elbows at my sides but when I watch the video there's a lot of air between my arm and sides. 

The lessons were very successful. Not the least because it reinforced that Carmen can go somewhere new and go to work. And the work is good. 

Saturday, September 16, 2023

Summer Wrap Up

This summer has been a bit unbelievable with all the events going on. Right now I am sitting in my living room on the couch listening to Tropical Storm Lee (formerly known as Hurricane Lee), blowing outside my window. So far we've been fortunate- trees are still standing and our power is on (unlike the over 136,000 without power). September storms are not unusual but they have definitely ramped up in intensity. After everything else that has happened this summer it seems a bit like adding insult to injury. 

it's funny because it's true (lol*sob)

The horses are tucked in safely. Carmen has some opinions on the quality of room service and Quaid is feeling a bit stir-crazy but they are fine.  I think if I wasn't retired I'd be a lot more frustrated in trying to find good weather for riding. 

Friday was warm and calm and I took full advantage by riding Carmen, working Quaid and meeting a friend for an ice cream treat. 

S'more ice cream. Soooo good

Quaid is doing really well with our training. The flies are driving him bonkers so not all our sessions are as productive as I'd like. The gnats are really bad with all the wet. But when I do work him he soaks it up like a sponge. Our steering is coming along. His 'whoa' is very good but standing for a longer than five seconds is a struggle. I am no worried, it's coming. 

Me: can you stand awkwardly for a photo? 
Quaid: you betcha

Both horses have decided to mess with my morning routine. Normally I feed them and go get my coffee. I then turn them out and clean the stalls. Lately they've not wanted to leave but instead hang out in the stalls. It's a real PITA because they get in my way. I've started shooing them out and closing the door behind them. They are not impressed. 

Carmen: We are outraged at this treatment!
Quaid: yes, we are OUTSIDE! 
Carmen: no, it's outraged
Quaid: Oh right- we are raged outside! 
Carmen: *sigh* no no no: OUTRAGED
Quaid: ohhhh. Carmen, what does 'outraged' mean? 
Carmen: that we are really really angry
Quaid: well I'm a little sad but I can't say I'm angry
Carmen: you don't have to be angry, you just have to convince the servant you are outraged
Quaid: why? 
Carmen: so she'll change her behaviour. It's called 'horse training'
Quaid: I thought horse training was us learning things. 
Carmen: no skippy, it's the horse training the human to be a better a servant. Now get your outraged face on . 
Quaid: how does this look? 
Me: adorable. 
Carmen: I hate working with amateurs
Me: I think that when you start cleaning your own stalls you can stay in as long as you like

In really happy news Quaid is now back to being barefoot. The last time the farrier came out a couple weeks ago his hoof was totally normal so we decided we could pull his shoes. I watched him pretty carefully and he's still 100% sound. I am so grateful that the hoof puncture nightmare is all behind us. 

if this doesn't warm your heart it's dead

Fall is coming and, to be honest, I'd like a couple frosts to kill off the bugs. That way we can enjoy working the horses without being tortured. 

Tuesday, September 5, 2023

Self-Fulfilling Prophecy


Buckle up folks, I'm going to recap the show from my perspective (since you've heard Carmen's already). In the days leading up to it Carmen was a bit spicy. And it wasn't just me, Julia rode her and she was pretty spicy then too. But, to be honest, it didn't really bother me too much- Carmen is often spicy. 

However, when she was being difficult about bathing her Friday morning and then in her stall leading to the trailer I was a little concerned. This concern was dissipated when we arrived and she totally relaxed at the venue. Quaid came along for the ride and he was pretty easy going about all of it. Except when I would take Carmen away. But that's all part of the learning. 

The nice thing about these shows is that you can book times to ride in the show ring on Friday afternoon. It's a great way to familiarise the horse with the ring. Of course Carmen has been there many times but it hasn't always been sunshine and roses.  I went through our groundwork exercises first and then hopped on and took her into the ring.  Jane was there to give some coaching which was wonderful. In fact she was available for all her students for the whole weekend. I am sure she was exhausted but we were all incredibly grateful. 

Anyway, Carmen was energised but tuned in and we were having a good ride. Then the show committee came in and explained that due to some issues, they had to water the ring while were in it. I figured it would be good for us so decided to stay. I was quite impressed with how she handled the person walking and spraying. We finished on a good note and I put her away happy. 

A photo of the pretty sunrise Saturday
morning to break up the wall of text

Our rides were late in the afternoon and with my least favourite timing of an hour apart. I find that too long to keep riding and too close to give a real break. I figured I would play it by ear and maybe  take her back to the stall and take off her bridle to have a rest. 

I spent the morning hand grazing the horses, watching my friends ride and hanging out with the horses. It as a 'new to us' judge at the show and as the morning went on information began to circulate that she was tough. I heard that she had just returned from a judging a young riders competition in Europe. She was originally from Europe and now living in Ontario. While she was a tough scorer it seemed that, while she would give 3's (or lower) she also would give 8's. 

Carmen: untie me woman, I'll just be outside on the grass.

I've been timing our warm-ups and it takes about 45 minutes for her to feel soft and ready so my plan was to mount up about 45 minutes before my ride. Jane was there to help with the warm up and Carmen felt great. The ring got a little crowded so I headed outside to walk around for a few minutes before our ride. 
Our first test was 2-1 and it felt really good. Carmen was tight and I was riding her very carefully. But it was a lot better than when we rode this same test in the June show. Here's the video: 

Carmen got a little strong at the end and took over a bit. When I went out I decided that she felt like she had a lot in the tank so I decided to stay on. I walked for a bit, then added in some turn on the haunches, leg yields etc. Then before I knew it it was time for our second test (2-2):

I was happy with this test too. For both of them I knew we weren't perfect. There were definite bobbles but I was having fun riding Carmen. In the show ring. 

After I cooled her out and put her away I went to get my tests. I was slightly disappointed but not surprised to see that my scores were in the high 50's. I don't like to get below 60 but I was still not upset. We were last in both classes and I was still really happy with how we did. I never felt any of those emotions that I have felt showing Carmen before:  out of control,  worried, frustrated. Instead I felt like we both did our best and worked together. 

Carmen: whatever, I look great in any colour

I read the tests over carefully later that day. The summary remarks at the end were really interesting. Both said that Carmen was a lovely, willing horse that was being held by a strong grip on the reins. For example "a pretty horse, willing to work with you". My first thoughts were 'yeah well you don't know Carmen. I need to keep her under control'. 

All night those comments kept rolling around in my head. You see I rarely think of Carmen as 'willing' because, for so long, she was not willing at all.  We have a history of bolting, spinning and even running backwards. 

But what if that wasn't true anymore? The judge saw a tense horse at times but didn't see she as uncooperative. What if I built this story and now accept it as gospel. 

What would happen if I rode her as though she was willing? 

So I decided to try it. 

I spent Sunday morning taking care of the horses and thinking about my plan. 

Can you spot Quaid tied to the post
while I cleaned his stall?

I shared my plan with Jane and she was all for it. We spent the warm up getting me to soften the rein and push her to contact not take back. It was a definite pattern break for us and it was difficult. Of course there was no way I was going to master that in one afternoon. But it was a start. Carmen was a bit confused: 
Hey you're doing it wrong- I lean, you pull. That's how we roll. 

Except this time when I felt her being to lean I would put on my leg and soften. I think Jane was happy. I know I was. Soon it was time to go in. When we walked in the ring while waiting for the judge to ring the bell I could feel us wanting to fall back into old patterns. 
I took a deep breath 'no, I'm riding a willing horse, I don't need to micromanage. And if it goes to hell that is okay. 

Spoiler alert- it did not go to hell. It went the opposite of hell. Every time I rode by C I gave the reins. I am not saying I never took back, I'm just saying that I was actively trying to not have a tight hold.  I thought that I didn't have any videos of my rides on Sunday but it turns out that Katie, who was working the gate, recorded on her phone and sent them to me (I am so grateful Katie, thank you!): 

My second ride was also good. I don't know if you can tell but a couple times I actually laughed: 

At the end of the ride as I was walking by the judge I heard her say ' nice'. I was thrilled with everything. I know that the rides were better but I wasn't expecting necessarily a big change in scores. That typically doesn't happen by more than a few points. 

I hosed Carmen and cooled her off feeling hot and happy. I felt we had done some really good work. 

Paula came to the barn and said 'I think you'll be happy with your score'.  After I put the horses away I went to watch some rides and grab my test sheets. 

I was shocked. Not that my scores had improved but that they had got up 7 and 5% respectively! We placed 3rd and 2nd but I actually don't remember in what class. I've never had an improvement by that much unless the first test was spectacularly bad. The comments were nice too. This is my favourite: "This is a lovely horse, quite eager and in front of your legs. Work on your contact, softer hands, a steady yet supple, giving (sometimes forgiving) connection'. Noted. 


Carmen napped during the final ribbon and awards. It was adorable. 
Carmen: my work here is done. 

It's funny how patterns become expectations were find ourselves in a reinforcement loop. Even when I've been working on changing the pattern. Even when I thought I knew better.  I'm not beating myself up- I totally understand why. I'm just glad that the judge said what she did at the time I was able to hear it. It's not like others haven't been working on getting me there.  I think that things just coalesced at this point to help me understand it at a deeper level. 

Now I just need to stay on this path and see where we go. 

Monday, September 4, 2023

Carmen's Perspective: Show Recap

 Hello internet fans, Carmen here. I am jumping on to give you my side of the weekend before the servant comes on and gets all philosophical and wordy.  

Quaid: Can I tell it? I was there too! 

Carmen: shush! You were just along for the ride. 

It's important for a mare to take things 
into her own hooves. 

First of all I knew something was up because the moving stall has been parked by the barn. Then when I had a bath I was pretty sure and when she put me in a blanket for overnight the jig was up. It was hard to sleep that night in that stupid blanket and I cannot be held responsible for how dirty I managed to get underneath of it. After all she should invest in better clothes, don't you agree? 

I was not happy to be sprayed and then hosed with cold water first thing the next morning and I made sure that she knew it. I mean, really! 

Then she took me to the moving stall (she calls it a trailer but I've never seen it on a trail so....). I did not want to leave Quaid but I am a lady so I walked right on and then called loudly so he would know I hadn't forgotten him. The servant must have understood me because she brought him out. She'll try to tell you that that was her plan but we know different. She thinks she's all smart because Quaid walked right on but it was because I told him to. 

Carmen: make sure you don't 
eat all the hay

We all know that she has a habit of taking us place and doing different things and I hate surprises. When we arrived I knew that it was a show we were doing and completely relaxed. After making sure our accommodations were in tip top shape she put on my tack and took me to the ring. I know this now, we go in, I behave so she's happy and stops. But first I have to  be a little difficult so that she doesn't take me for granted. 

The ring was dusty and people came in to hose it off while we were working. I kept one eye on it to make sure I didn't get sprinkled (see hating surprises above) but figured if I was what she calls 'behaved' then we'd finish sooner. And we did. So that was good. 

Teresa: I never thought that shed be so calm
being ridden past a person spraying

Quaid: I didn't like when you went away. I get bored with no one to talk to. 

Carmen: just suck it up, at least you weren't bathed and forced to work. 

how can you leave this face?

Overnight she put a different blanket on me and it kept me clean. That made her happy and lord knows I just want her to be happy. She was late in the morning. Don't tell me that horses can't tell time because we totally can. Other horse's servants were there and gave us hay but not our grain, no matter how many times I tried to explain to them. Humans are so dumb. 

In the morning she took us out to graze on the grass. I got impatient with waiting for her to get Quaid ready so I went out of the barn and started snacking. But someone saw me and yelled 'loose horse!' 

No one likes a rat, Karen! (Teresa: literally her name was karen, not trying to malign anyone with that name.  Carmen: whatever). The servant came out and told her she was here and it was fine. But honestly I am fine on my own. I know what I'm doing. I don't why I even need that rope attached. 

Teresa: dropped the lines for a quick photo. Honest. 

After two nights of captivity she packed everything up and took us home.  She seemed pretty tired so I'm not sure what the point of it all was. I mean it's not like she can't ride here. 

Teresa: but what about the actual show stuff? 

Carmen: fine! I went in the ring, the person sitting at the table rang a bell, I went around and was magnificent. The servant got some satin and was happy. Her coach was happy. 
The end. 

Teresa: but that's not enough detail. 
Carmen: well you're going to have to fill in the details. I don't have time for that. 

I have some grazing to catch up on

Teresa: *sigh* okay, I'll fill everyone in tomorrow.