dancing horses

dancing horses

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. 


  1. Actually, there’s a trainer I follow and he addressed the “pain” issue on one of his videos. Someone brought a horse to him and excused the dangerous behavior as possible pain. He determined there wasn’t any, but he also said, even if there is some pain, they shouldn’t be behaving like this. You want to do everything you can, but they should also have some tolerance.

    Anyway, it sounds like she was just saying no, thank you and GTHOff my back. ๐Ÿ˜‚ Smart work to keep her going and bent in enough to avoid rearing and bolting.

    Another antedote. My mare, Leah, used to bolt and rear. She always bolted to the left, and my trainer then was perplexed on how to solve the habit. She ended up coming up with an idea to carry a bag, and as soon as she looked to bolt, put that bag in front of her exit route. It was an oddball solution that soon began to work. I carried a bag with me in my saddlebag on trail rides for awhile. After a month or so, she didn’t even try. Habit is a powerful thing to change.

    1. That is interesting about the bag. Love the out of the box thinking.

  2. Jane sounds amazing. I love the trainers who can acknowledge the fear and still get the student to the other side of it safely, mentally and physically. It's a big difference between that and ignoring the fear and pretending it isn't there.

  3. so glad you were able to squeeze in another lesson!! and hopefully there will be more pockets of good weather for you as the season unfolds.

    also, that's totally relatable about feeling of "i don't understand why we're doing this," i kinda hate that feeling in a lesson bc it's hard for me to both listen and ride, without feeling like i know what the outcome or result is supposed to be.... but lol god bless our coaches haha bc apparently they do in fact know what they're doing LOL..... and good for you too for overruling the lizard brain!!! no easy feat!

    1. lol I actually asked Jane if she ever gets tired of being right. ‘Nope!’ Was the answer. ๐Ÿ˜

  4. Oh thank you for this exercise! Al isn't one to rear, but he does like to bolt and spin some. I know in my brain that I need to be soft to get him soft, but when he's like that I just feel like i need to hold on to his face and keep funneling him straight. Which I do... but more the straight part and less the hold the face part. So this exercise might be really helpful for us too.
    Glad you got in one last lesson before the snow. Hopefully there will be another warm up and you can get a few more rides in before winter really takes a hold.

  5. Interesting that forward in a light contact with a leg yield on the 20m circle did the trick. I'm doing a lot of walk leg yields right now alternating with a forward march and finding it very beneficial for loosening.

  6. Oh that was an interesting lesson! I will have to remember that one.
    It's hard to relax and not ride all tense when you (I) expect the worst to happen. How great to have a coach to talk you through it. (Lizard brain, hahaha!)
    That's awful about the EHM. So sad for the owners.

    1. It was a good lesson. We need in such a happy place.

  7. Awesome strategy to keep in one's toolbox! I love it when dressage saves the day.


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