dancing horses

dancing horses

Friday, December 22, 2023

Reflections: Looking Back on 2023

 Yesterday was the winter solstice and that seems to be a good time to reflect on the past year. 

2023 was quite the year, full of ups and downs. I know that's fairly normal, it just seemed that this year there peaks were higher and the valleys lower.  The year started off easy enough with a fairly mild January. I was able to ride and the horses enjoyed the sunshine. 

In February the weather took a turn to record low temperatures. Ed was home recovering from heart surgery.  On the coldest day of the year I found Quaid with a screw embedded in his hoof.  This lead to a nightmare of multiple vet visits, two trips to the Veterinary Hospital and a real fear that I was going to lose him.  In the end he had to have a second surgery to debride the bone which had gotten infected. 


Once he was home, he was still not out of the woods. I had to protect the hoof, do regular bandage changes and make sure that not one drop of dirt got in the open hoof wound.  It was expensive and I had to work through some trauma with Quaid once it was all done.  At one point he kicked me and I thought I broke my elbow. It turned out to be heavily bruised but it was all a bit much.  I think I can now wrap a hoof with my eyes closed. I have a great stock of supplies now and if you need recommendations on how to turn out a horse in March and keep their hoof dry just ask. It was all worth it, though because Quaid is now 100% sound (and has been since his surgery). 

every time I see him canter in the field I get a happy thrill

It was hard on all of us and I honestly don't know how I would have gotten through it without Julia and Tanya who helped me pretty. much every day.  Because of them and Joanne I was able to go off on a trip of lifetime to Europe while they took care of things at home. Karen and Jim gave me a place to stay while Quaid was in hospital and Paula took two trips with me to island.  I learned that friends are basically family that you pick up as you go. 

I retired at the end of March and Ed and I celebrated by doing a River Cruise from Zurich to Paris. It was an incredible trip. 

 I loved Strasbourg

When we returned home I settled in to learn what it was like to be a retired person. I spent the first two weeks basically exhausted. I think it was a combination of jet lag and stress leaving my body.  I loved having the summer to ride when I wanted to and not because I was squeezing it in between all my other responsibilities. 
Carmen and I got fitter

Which was good because the weather was not cooperative. Our spring was the driest I've ever seen and our province dealt with some pretty devastating wildfires. It was scary. And then in June it started to rain and from there we had the wettest summer ever.  There were road washouts and flooding. We couldn't get our hay until August. 
Thank heavens for French drains- this water
was gone by the next day

Being retired meant that I could take advantage of the weather when I could. I also read so many books this year.  I have to say that I was never bored. 

Things got busy in May with an Obstacle Clinic and a 'ride your test' at the show grounds.  Both were very useful in our training. After the test riding clinic I felt a lot more confident about showing Carmen. Before then I was convinced it was going to be a disaster. 

This year Carmen and I debuted Second Level. My literal goal was to lay down reasonable tests keeping her on the aids and not melt down. We succeeded beyond my imaginings. This fall I was pleasantly surprised to learn that we actually earned a Silver Medal this year. 

More important than the ribbons or awards is that I learned to ride more effectively and confidently.  My show in September helped me to learn to let go of Carmen.  Jane helped me so much at the shows and then picking things up from there and helping us to move ahead. 

I had a lot of lessons this year and they really paid off. Carmen is carrying herself more and is straighter. 

We travelled to Krista's for a clinic too. It was great. 

Training of Quaid started slow this year, for obvious reasons. But as the year progressed we gained momentum. I've ridden him a few times and he continues to impress me with his mind and willingness. 

I had a very active summer and it showed in my fitness and body. It felt really good to get in shape and I didn't want to regress over the winter. So I joined the local rec centre in October. I have been going to classes regularly. It's hard but it's fun. I have been doing this thing called a 'Total Body Workout', which I originally thought was aerobics but instead was doing things. with weights, exercise balls and tension bands. It's sooo hard but when it gets really tough I picture the flinging of hay bales.  After my first class my thighs were in serious pain from all the squats. I was still sore the next day but decided to ride anyway. When I was done I dismounted and my legs said 'nope!' and I fell on my ass on the ground. Carmen didn't move a muscle, just gave me her Carmen look and, I swear, rolled her eyes.  
Carmen: god, stop giggling and get up. You are so embarrassing. 

 I've also been doing Pilates and AquaFit (which is really fun). 

showed up one day not realising class was cancelled. 
Worked out anyway. 

I do like how I've been feeling. I am in the best shape I've been in years and it's showing up in my riding too. Jane has commented on it. Don't get me wrong, I'm no Nicole.(although she's an inspiration).  No one is going to be bouncing a quarter off my butt but at least now it won't disappear.  

Now it's December and things have really slowed down. Winter is here and the ring is frozen. I know that there will be some thaws that I plan to take advantage of. I am looking forward to not worrying about how I'm going to get to work when there's a storm. Instead I can stay home and watch horse training videos. 

That was the highlights and lowlights of 2023.  It felt like a lot, mostly because it was. But it's ended with everyone healthy and happy. What more could you ask for? 

All ready for Christmas

Monday, December 18, 2023

The Pinch Hitter

 After a few days of snow and really cold temperatures, things started to warm up again and my ring thawed.  Which was great. I had a couple rides on Carmen and she was pretty good. I did a few lunging sessions with Quaid too. 

This is the latest that the horses have been able to  be grazing on the
 back field. There's still lots of good grass.

I was able to actually arrange a lesson for Sunday. While I don't like to drill before a lesson I do like to be prepared. Friday was cold and the ring was frozen but Saturday was lovely, although blustery. I was leading Carmen in through the small paddock into the stall to get her ready. The small paddock has been pretty muddy all year because of all the rain. Now it's frozen, rutted mud. Carmen was not paying attention to her feet and she tripped. It was scary because she couldn't get her balance on the frozen mud (despite her studs) and fell hard on her front legs. 

I brought her in and she had a few scrapes that looked superficial but she was quite shaken. And slightly off on her right fore. I checked her all over but, other than the cuts, I couldn't see any swelling.  I hosed her legs off, put some ointment on the cuts, gave her some Bute and turned her back out. It was interesting because, in the past, Carmen was quite defensive over injuries and required two handlers.  "that hurts, touch that bitch and I will end you."  But this time she was clearly shaken and was quite clingy, letting me fuss over her.  She did appreciate the extra feed with Bute. 

Carmen: extra feed? Makes it almost worth it. 

While I figured she had just stung herself I decided that I shouldn't take her in the lesson. But it was a good time to get Jane's perspective and help with Quaid. I was already planning to work him Saturday so that didn't change.  Keeping in mind that he'd only been lunged in the past few weeks a couple times he was perfect. 

He can look so grown up

And then so much like a baby

Our ground driving is really coming along. We actually manage to do a circle that doesn't look like it was made by a drunk duck. 

Jane was completely onboard with subbing in Quaid. In fact, it's really great to have two horses in work like this- it means that there is always one to work with.  

And you know what? It went great.  I did a little lunging warm up with him a few minutes before she came. He was a bit tighter and distractible than the day before. Which makes sense, A) he's still young and B) the weather was cooler and blustery than the day before. 

Warming up

When Jane came we hooked up the side reins. She made a couple adjustments and he did quite well. He's learning to trust the contact, especially at the trot. Canter is more difficult, which makes sense but he needs the opportunity to figure it out. 

He got a little frustrated with me pushing him forward and had a brief temper tantrum. 

Thee days it's as upset as he gets. I like to push him through and then give him a break to think about things. I have to be careful to not back off when he's upset because that will teach the wrong thing. 

Then it was time to mount up. 

Quaid: what's in the wheelbarrow? I hope it's food. 

note him standing ground tied while getting tacked up

Jane took the lunge line and I mounted. He was a little wiggly but stood stock still while I got on.  Jane was a great anchor for us. Talking me through using my leg aids and helping him to learn not only forward, but to not fall into the ring with his shoulder.  

Everyone is trying really hard here

He did spook once. I have it on video. Hang on to your hats while you watch it: 

Did you catch it? The moment of uncertainty and then 'phew, I'm okay'. 

I think it was about 25 minutes of riding, getting him to come off the inside leg when I felt him figure it out "ohhhh, you want THIS'.   I stopped him with my seat and turned to Jane and said 'I think that's a great spot to stop'.  
I was thinking the exact same thing!

So I dismounted. I love how he stands like a rock: 

It was a great lesson with him.  I am so happy with this horse, I think he's going to be exactly what I want. My plans have not changed with him- I still am going to send him off for a month of training. I have the opportunity to do everything right with Quaid. Having a professional get him really going under saddle and then having Jane pick us up in lessons seems like a great recipe for success. 

Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Quite Possibly the Last Lesson of the Year

 Late Fall into Winter is always difficult for lessons. You simply cannot count on the weather. This year has been pretty mild and I've managed to get more riding in than I would usually. Retirement also helps because I am not racing the dark after work. 

Unfortunately, lessons came to a screeching halt because of an outbreak of EHM at a barn. A few horses had to be put down and everyone closed their barns to stop the spread. This meant that it wasn't a good idea for Jane to travel to different barns to teach. 

I have no media from the lesson so here's  some other photos.
Carmen looking pretty during a groundwork session 

I completely understood but really missed having our lessons. I kept up the work but Carmen has been quite challenging the past few weeks. Now that the girth has freed up her shoulders she's been asking lots of questions. Usually around the concept of 'whyyyyyy must you torture me in this way?'.  

Part of this is because she's still fit but the consistency of being able to ride really dropped off, leaving a lot of energy. And, let's face it, Carmen is a horse that will always challenge. She requires riding that doesn't let her set the agenda but is also not dictatorial. She doesn't necessarily like to work but she hates to be left alone. Frankly, it's like living with a 14 year old human child: 'I hate you go away. You are ignoring me, you HATE me!' 

Unlike this guy who is pretty chilll

Finally last weekend the stars aligned and I was able to book a lesson on Sunday. The weather was warm and the ring was perfect, despite all the rain we had Saturday.  On Friday I did a groundwork session with both horses and Carmen really enjoyed it. I wanted to establish our communication and responses. 

she has the tarp lesson down pat

I lunged her before the lesson. It's difficult because with the inconsistent riding I don't want to make her sore but I have to deal with the energy. So I lunged getting her to work but not run wild.  I let Jane know that she's been challenging when she arrived and then mounted. As soon as I asked her to walk down towards the gate she began to refuse to go. Then threw her haunches in and spun away.  Jane had me turn her in some small circles to get her bent and soften her topliine. Then she began to run backwards and threaten to rear. FYI this is not pain*. This is old old old behaviour that used to intimidate the hell out of me and make me get off.  I know that Carmen can rear (she has) but she's never going to flip herself because she has such a strong sense of self-preservation. Even when bolting she's careful. Sigh. But it's still really intimidating and the lizard part of my brain will start screaming and want me to clutch everything tight. 

Jane talked me all the way through it. **
** disclaimer** I'm about the describe my memory and take aways from what she guided me to do. If you take issue with it, take it up with me and assume that I misunderstood

 Jane had me walk her on a 20 metre circle asking her to move her haunches out on the circle. Sort of like riding a shoulder in on the circle but not really because her shape was not exactly right.  I was to ride her forward, ask her to move her haunches to the outside of the circle and then lighten the rein. Not give it away but unclench my arm muscles and let the rein 'float'.   

This is not easy because I'm overriding my whole sense of self-preservation. Jane never altered her quiet tone but didn't let me stop. At one point I said I understand your words, but my lizard brain is telling me fuck no.'She laughed and said 'damn lizard brain' and kept moving me forward.  

This was a struggle to do this exercise when I, frankly, wanted to get off and sell her for $10. I did say that I didn't understand why we were doing this. Carmen concurred. Jane basically told me to keep going for now. 

And funnily enough, Carmen began to soften and reach forward. Then Jane asked me to trot. I gulped and did it. We repeated the same exercise: ask her to put her haunches out, soften my rein, go forward. Jane then explained the 'why' of this exercise: this allows you to soften her with the bending and with her haunches in this position she can't lock and run backwards or rear. So essentially this exercise moves her forward, giving her an outlet for her energy but in a productive way  and supports her to soften and does not allow her to spin, bolt or rear. 

Carmen: These lies you tell, I am an angel. 

It wasn't long before we were moving all around the ring without any of the bullshit. She was forward, soft and gave me some of her loveliest work. We even did some half-pass that, while not great, wasn't too shabby either. 

Just as I was thinking that she was getting tired and we should stop Jane said 'I think that's enough for her'

It was a productive and perfectly timed lesson. Which is good because the next day we had a snowstorm. So I am not sure how much ride time I'm going to get in. At least the horses enjoyed the snow. 

*For those who wonder how I can say it's behaviour vs pain, it's a judgement based on experience and making sure this mare has all the care she needs. I've been all over her and can find no sensitive spots or lameness. In the past, behaviours that were related to pain (e.g., ulcers)  increased over the ride, not decreased. I believe that the fact that she becomes soft, engaged and happy in the ride means we are on the right path.