dancing horses

dancing horses

Monday, October 30, 2023


 This post has been circling around in my brain for a few months now and today is the day I'm going to try to put my thoughts down on, well not paper obviously,  pixels? would that be the correct term? 

Ahem, anyway.....

photo to break up the wall of text

There are a number of famous horse trainers that I follow on the various socials. One has a page on FB that is mostly for followers to ask questions. To be completely honest I read some of them and I cringe. The ones that make me shudder are ones that go like this: 

hey, I have this 4 year old mare that I've been building a relationship with. I hang out with her in the pasture and when she turns away or looks unhappy I back up and give her space. She's getting more and more communicative but now when I go in the pasture she pins her ears and charges at me. I wonder what I have missed in her communication and how can I repair the damage? 

Then others weigh in about her lack of awareness of the horse's communication and that she needs to back up but not to worry, in 20 years she'll be able to stand within 5 feet of her horse. Okay, the last part is sarcasm on my part but you get the the idea. 

Don't get me wrong, I'm a firm believer in building a positive relationship with my horse. I've literally dedicated hours to it. But I don't know of any good relationship that exists without boundaries.  And I worry that in our drive to have positive relationships with our horses we ignore this concept. I worry that we believe that if we can just listen and meet all the needs of our horses there will be a wonderful symbiotic relationship that is pure magic. 

establishing boundaries with Quaid

Unfortunately, life does not work this way. I don't believe we need to be always yielding to our horses to have a partnership. In fact, I think that does the opposite- I think it makes us not important and, even more serious, I think it can lead to us getting seriously hurt. 

In the above scenario I think that the horse has learned to chase the person out. I worry that the behaviour will get more aggressive. Not that it matters what I think. I am not a trainer, I am just a woman who has horses. In case you were wondering, I do not respond with my thoughts on those types of posts. I don't think that it would be helpful and I am sure that my answer is not the one they are looking for. 

I do believe that it's important to listen to the horse we're with. And that there is enough history of us ignoring every communication from the horse and that has lead to harm too. In thinking back over the years of horses I have known (in riding schools, boarding barns and even my own) I am sure that the behaviours they exhibited were of pain and discomfort. 

Long time followers may recall my early years with Carmen. Back when it was a good ride if I had less than 3 out of control bolts per ride. Each time she would spook I would let her leave the area and have a break away from it. I interpreted her behaviour as fear and tried to mitigate it. Looking back I realise that it was actually telling me two things: one that she had ulcers (which I treated) and two that bolting was the only way she knew of to deal with pressure. And it worked, she'd bolt and the work would stop. While I didn't create this behaviour I reinforced it far too long.  It got to the point that the only place I could ride. her was the centre circle and that was becoming dangerous. Fortunately, I got help and things are in a far better place. 

screen grab from yesterday's lesson

I try to take what Carmen and Quaid are doing as information. I form a hypothesis and then figure out what the right answer is. Because the truth is that there is no one right answer. So much depends on context, history that it would be foolish to believe that the same answer is always the right one. I make this sound very deliberate, and while it is, a lot of it happens pretty organically.  Here's a brief clip from our lesson yesterday. I was trying to clarify some aids with Jane when Carmen saw something in the next field. She immediately froze. Old Carmen would have followed that with a bolt. I saw her notice, looked over and saw nothing (I figured it was my cat) and then redirected her thoughts back to where she was. Here's a brief clip: 

I would never have had her settle so fast if I hadn't spent time on reinforcing what was okay behaviour and what was not. Carmen will always have feelings (lots and lots of feelings) and I don't interfere with them. But there are lines that we both understand. For example, she hates having the bottom of her belly brushed. I know that and try to keep it brief. But sometimes she lays in poo over night and it's crusty. Leaving it is not an option and I have to scrub at it to get it. She hates that with the passion of a 100 demons. I don't correct her ear pinning or faces. I acknowledge it and keep going. But if she swings her head around to make contact (note Carmen has never bitten me. Not once) I correct that immediately. And then carry on. 

I don't know of anyone, human or otherwise, only gets to do and experience what they like. Teaching a horse about boundaries is not only good for the relationship it can save a life. How can we expect a farrier or vet to help our horses if they can't touch them because the horse is 'not ready'.  I've seen a lot of negative posts on social media about a vet  or farrier refusing to work with a feral horse that can't even have a halter put on. Like seriously? Recognising communication does not necessarily mean going along with it. It can mean that we have to figure out how to 'explain' it better or simply know that we need to get to the other side of this. 

I do not always get it right in my response. Sometimes I miss things I should have fixed. Especially with Quaid because he's so low key and typically sweet. I am okay with getting it wrong. Well,  not really but I do my best to learn from it. 

I want to share this video from the lesson too. We're working on getting soft contact and that requires letting go. There's no way I would have gotten this work from her even last year. Giving the rein gave her freedom to go sideways. But we keep working and setting boundaries and now look at this mare going softly and happily forward (mostly). 

My boundaries have shifted over the years. and I know that mine are different than other horse people. That is fine. We're all on this journey and there is no one path. But there have to be boundaries. Do you agree? What are your non-negotiables? I'm okay if you think I'm wrong and we should always do what the horse is feeling. I'm probably not going to change but I'm open to flexing a little. 

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Warm October

 October has been unseasonably warm this year. Which has been lovely in some ways (if you ignore the whole climate change risk).  

there have been some fabulous skies

I normally love riding in October. This year the flies have still been bad which limits the overall enjoyment. Riding in the morning helps because they are less active. We had our first frost this week so that should help. 

I haven't had grass like this in October since I don't know when. It's definitely helping keeping hay intake down.  I think I've only had one lesson this month so far. Between scheduling conflicts and weather it's been tricky. It seems like it rains every weekend. 

Carmen and I continue to work on moving forward into contact and me not micromanaging. It's definitely coming.  

Carmen: eek my feet will get wet

There's nothing earth shattering but things are feeling better each lesson and I see improvement between rides. 

Quaid is settling well into work. Our ground driving is coming along really well. I think I've sorted out his bit fussiness. I couldn't figure out what was causing the fussiness.  It's a really mild bit and I didn't want to fall into the rabbit hole of bit searches (almost as frustrating as saddle searches).  I was working with him one day and I figured it out. You see I was putting on his halter and the bridle over top (without a nose band). I think that the halter was pushing on the bit and making him fuss. I've been putting on the bridle and halter over top and the fussiness seems to have ended. 

Quaid: pretty sure it's my turn

I have him booked to go for a month of training in February. Hopefully the weather will cooperate for trailering him there. And it gives me time to figure out what to do about Carmen being alone. 

The nice thing about riding in the fall is that the pressure to advance eases up. I know that that pressure is self-induced but it's nice to have it ease up.  I got this screen shot from my last lesson and I just love it. 

it looks like Carmen, Dottie and Guinness are having
a whole separate conversation

I know that snow will be coming and probably sooner than I'd like. But it's nice to enjoy a mild fall and I plan to make the most of it. Do you have plans for this fall? 

Friday, October 13, 2023

Tales from the Coop

 I realise that I have been doing a lot of 'serious' posts lately. 

But we all know that life with animals is often absurd. 

Especially if you have chickens. 

if you look close you can see Willow keeping an eye 
on the hens on the driveway. She's a little afraid of them. 

I was so excited to add the hens to our farm and I have zero regrets. But they do add unexpected drama. This story is about Diana. She's a beautiful barnyard mix hen. Her eggs are delicious.  But she is what I would categorise at 'high maintenance. 

You see Diana becomes broody quite often.  When they first started to lay I put some fake eggs in the coop to encourage them lay in the brood boxes. Diana took all the fake eggs and stayed on them for a week until I took them from her.  In the summer she disappeared and we thought she had been taken by a fox or eagle. But then one day there she was. She had a nest somewhere but we couldn't find it and she would always disappear when we weren't looking. I finally stalked her one day (like literally- I hid behind bushes every time she turned around to look at me) and found her spot. I came back at night and gathered her up and put her in the coop. Fortunately I could do that before something found her and ate her. 

Beauty and attitude

She then moved herself to my hay pile. That was not such a big deal, I would find the eggs and take them to the house. The day I left to go to the Jane clinic I startled her and she flapped around the round bales. When we were having supper Ed texted that he couldn't find Diana. I told him to check the hay and he said her did. I had a funny feeling so when I came home I went out to the barn telling Ed I would text him if I needed help. He thought I was crazy (to be fair, he's not wrong). 

I shut the barn doors (so if she was there and I startled her she couldn't escape) and  went over the hay with my cell phone flashlight. After a few passes I found her- down on the barn floor in a small space between a round bale and the wall. And of course this was at the very back.  She couldn't get out of that space on her own so I texted Ed and he came out. 

We had two options: get the tractor and move 4/5 bales until we could get her or have Ed hold my legs while I tried to hang down and nab her.  

Guess which one we decided to try? 

Ed held my legs and I slipped down between the round bale and the wall. There was not a lot of room. 

Me: a little more. I've almost got her. 

At this point I am mostly head first in the hay but I was able to reach and scoop her into my hand. 

At this point Diana started screaming blue murder: 


Me: Okay pull me up. 

I felt Ed start to pull and then stop. uh oh. I was too far down and could not help him and he couldn't get a purchase to haul me up. 

I want you to picture this: Ed is holding the legs of a woman who is mostly headfirst in the hay holding a shrieking chicken. 

I was picturing myself slipping further down and having to be rescued. I mean can you even picture the 911 call? Hello, what is your emergency? 

My wife is stuck in the hay being savaged by a chicken and I can't get her out. 

Fortunately, I felt him suddenly stand up, hook my feet over his shoulders and back up hauling us up while I kept a firm grip on a squawking Diana. When we popped out we all sat there panting and staring at each other. 

help Diana squawked quietly. 

I handed Diana to Ed while I hopped down out of the hay. She quieted immediately. My saviour.  When I was on the ground he handed her back to me (we weren't taking a chance that she would flap off and land back where she started). Diana immediately began to shriek again. 

Oh shut it I muttered. And, with a baleful glance, she did. 

I put her in the coop and she gave me one last glare before leaping onto her perch. 

you're welcome I said as I shut the door. 

The horses were wildly entertained. 

Guinness and Willow think that hens
aren't worth the drama. 

Tuesday, October 3, 2023

Big Steps for the Baby Genius

Last weekend I loaded up the horses to take to another clinic.  This time it was with Johanna Batista, the trainer who comes from Spain (although in this case it was Portugal because she has moved). I have taken many clinics with Johanna over the years and have gotten a lot out of them. Covid stopped them for the past three years and I honestly thought that might be it. But Karen and Stacie arranged for her to come this year. 

I had originally thought that Carmen and I would be riding in it but after thinking a bit I had a different idea. I decided that this would be a great opportunity for Quaid. I have done a lot of work with him but there's only so far I could get when I am usually all by myself. I know that Johanna has a lot of experience starting young horses and there would be people there to assist. I thought it would be a great chance to move things forward and also to identify holes in our training. 

Looking so grown up right? :D 

There were three sessions starting on Friday. We did a lot of ground work. And, to my eternal embarrassment, I totally allowed him to invade my space and flip me off. Like I know better but totally froze in the moment. The first part was pretty much a repeat of the work I did with Danique a few weeks ago. Sigh. My problem is that he's basically sweet so I let things slide. I made a resolution to do better. 

We worked on flexions and lining up at the mounting block. Like you would expect with a three year old he was easily distracted in this new place but did not do anything horrible. Lining up and standing at the mounting block took a few trials but we go there. 

Karen led him while Johanna gave us feedback. He was really good about all of it. 

It was  great first day. 

Our lesson was the next morning. This time Quaid was feeling a lot more sassy. I think it was because of me setting the boundaries and him asking me a lot of questions about them. 

Quaid: you're not the boss of me.... are you? 

In the end we decided that it was not a good day to ride. Instead we focussed on the groundwork and getting him tuned in. I would have liked to have ridden but not too bummed out. I totally get you deal with the horse you have on the day. 

Guess who's nose was out of joint about this clinic being all about Quaid? 

Yup, Carmen. She was not approving of this development. You can see her expression in the back. 

Carmen: what is this new outrage?
Quaid: it's all about meeee

I made sure on Saturday I rode her at lunch time and she seemed to be appeased. Especially when I turned them out in the afternoon. 

Sunday we were early as well. I could tell when I brought him out to groom that he was back to his normal sweet self. 

We spent some time on ground work and then getting him to line up at the mounting block. It was interesting, he would line up but as soon as I flexed him he'd step away. I'd ask him to come back and he got quite rude about it, pushing into me on the block. The first time I thought it was a mistake. By the third time I realised he was pushing me around so I kneed him in the belly. After that he settled significantly. 

I mounted and Karen led us around again while I focussed on using my seat to follow him. As soon as my seat would follow his ear would come back to me. Even though there were birds making weird noises on the roof. Then I played with using my seat to steer and ask him to whoa. 

Here's a video of near the end:

It was a great note to end with. I learned a lot from this clinic:

1. I need to be clear on boundaries and expectations. 
2. We still need to work on him learning how to deal with getting excited and being able to come back down. 
3.  Quaid is still incredibly smart. 
4. I may need a different bit. He was quite chompy with it. I need to determine if that was just an expression of nerves or if we need something else. 
5. I need to work more on him lining up and standing at the mounting block. 

My biggest takeaway is that I will be sending him off in the new year for professional training. He's very smart and sensitive. Because I am alone it limits how much I can do. So it's worth it to pay a trainer to get him going. I did that with Steele and I believe it's money well spent. 

Quaid: was I good? I think I was good.