dancing horses

dancing horses

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. 


  1. brilliant! this: «  I was having fun riding Carmen. In the show ring. » says it all! Bravo! Bravo!

  2. first of all, congratulations on putting together so many excellent tests across both days!! secondly tho, that's really really interesting about how integrating the feedback worked out. like, most of us ride our horses in specific ways for specific reasons that judges may or may not really know (or care) about... and i'm the first to admit i take a lot of feedback with a grain of salt. but it's also true that sometimes, our horses are ready for the "next step" before we quite realize. sounds like that's what the judge was seeing in Carmen? i like your 'reinforcement loop' analogy here. in any case, good for you for just going for it --- and getting such good results even with modifying your style of ride !

    1. I agree. there are comments that I don't take as much to heart because I know where we are in the training. Like canter-walk transition are still a work in progress so I don't take to heart the comment that I had trot steps during my simple changes.

  3. That’s a major breakthrough. You were open to their feedback and that takes humility. The stories we tell ourselves are very powerful.

  4. Sometimes we have to increase our expectations of ourselves as well as of our horse.
    Carmen, of course looked magnificent in all the videos, but I can sure see the difference in the last 2 videos. Well done! Loved your big smile when you were on the lose rein.

    1. I was very happy with her and it definitely showed. I like how you put 'increase our expectation'

  5. That is so awesome! Great about the score difference but the questioning and changing your approach to go out of your comfort zone is the real win. Can't ♥️ this enough!

  6. I feel like that would be a really tough one to recognize and change under pressure (for me at least!) Really impressive <3

    1. I agree. I don't think I would have been as successful without Jane's support.

  7. What a great mindset to be able to be open and flexible enough to try something new! It reminds me a lot of when my trainer told me to "stop riding him like he's green" - the idea being that if you keep riding them like they're green, they never learn to not be.

    1. It's so easy to stay in the 'they are still green' place. It takes someone to pull me out of my comfort zone to get there.

  8. I love this! A real aha moment if you will. It's so easy to dismiss comments like that when you obviously know your horse so well. So it's wonderful you were able to really hear that and try something different. What a great show! Congrats on so much improvement! And also that part about having fun in the show ring. That's also a big accomplishment!

    1. Thank you! I think I heard it because I was ready to.

  9. Lovely lovely lovely! And congratulations to the both of you. I love that you tried something different and (surprise surprise) got a different result

    1. Thank you! I am really happy with the result of my ‘leap’.

  10. I feel like there is an important lesson here for all of us <3 Nice work. Love your attitude!

  11. Woohoo! Congrats! It is such a journey, isn't it?!


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