dancing horses

dancing horses

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Whoa Nelly

Sorry for the radio silence- life has been beyond busy with tons to do at work and at home. It seems that I'm just bailing enough water to keep my boat afloat.

It's not all bad- Guinness and I have started Obedience classes. 
Obedience? Now why would I need that? 
And the hay is starting to be baled. We got half of it this week and the rest will be next week. Fortunately Andrew and Alec came to help. 

But there are only so many hours in a day, so something has had to give. 

And that's been the riding. 

Which leads to guilt over NOT riding. 

Anyway, I have come to the realization that I need to slow the hell down. 

What has been interesting is that Carmen appears to have noticed as well. She's pausing when I'm in the barn to snuggle with me. 

So tonight I decided that we were going to go ahead with a lesson. Shanea was supposed to come earlier but I had to cancel because of the hay. Fortunately she was able to fit me in because she's leaving for vacation tomorrow.

I'll save the details of the lesson for a different post but it was just what the doctor ordered. I made sure that I didn't rush to the lesson but spent some time grooming her and being quiet. it was so nice to NOT be talking. 

When I took off her halter to put on her bridle she dropped her head and I gave it a little rub by her her forelock. She closed her eyes and leaned into it. So we spent a few minutes just quietly standing - her completely free and me just quietly rubbing her forehead. It was a true grounding moment. 

Then it was over and I put on her bridle and we went up to the ring. And I already felt lighter. 

Saturday, June 24, 2017


First of all let me thank everyone who commented (here and on FB), sent me messages and just reached out to offer support. It didn't matter that you didn't know what it was about and I was truly touched by all of you. Friday I had to do something was going to be incredibly awful. I felt that it was impossible for me to get through it. But I found strength that I didn't know I had and I made it through to the other side. I don't think that I could have done it at all without Ed but you were all part of it too.

Now that it's done I feel like a huge weight is lifted off of our shoulders. We spent friday hiding on the farm and went out for a nice dinner. Today we went to visit Alec and Ripley (I think I forgot to tell you that Ripley has gone home). Cynthia and Andrew came by in the afternoon and Cynthia and I went for a ride.

I wanted to focus on getting my 'whatever' attitude but without the numbness. And I actually managed to do it. I wasn't able t keep it 100% but I was pretty consistent. And it meant that we were able to school. Removing the emotion from the riding is helming me stay clear in my intent and in my signals. And funnily enough, taking away the tightness is improving my seat.

Once when we were cantering she gave a scoot and sped off a bit out of control.
Whoops I said  Where are we going? 
Carmen:  what is happening with you? Have you been drinking? 
Me: Well maybe one glass of wine before our ride...(note to self if this happens in the show don't ask 'where are we going' out loud). 

I have a lot more to do but today I managed to ride and to have fun. Even when she freaked out at the end because Irish left the ring before us- I still worked her through it and I did not let any dramatics keep me off course. I felt zero fear and that was interesting. Maybe getting through Friday helped that as well.

It will be interesting to see where this takes us.

Thursday, June 22, 2017


There's something personal going that I'm not going to blog about (maybe later but most likely not). Anyway, this personal thing involves something that will be incredibly emotionally painful and draining. And for a brief time today I thought I had a reprieve. The weight lifted off was indescribable. But then it turned out that I was wrong and it came crashing back down.

Poor Cynthia was with me- she had come to ride Irish. I think that if she hadn't been there I would have gone into the house and just hid. But she drove all this way and I couldn't send her back home because I was in some sort of crisis.

But Teresa, I hear you saying, you shouldn't ride if you are emotionally not stable.

And you are correct- it's a bad idea to ride if you are upset or angry or generally out of whack (technical term).

I know this.

And still, I said 'fuck it' and got my horse ready.

Did I mention that Carmen hadn't been ridden since Sunday?

Are you worried about me yet?

Here's the thing- when you have experience with anxiety and depression you learn to shove it all down deep and then put your foot on the trap door.

Which is what I did.

So when I mounted Carmen and she was a bit tense I simply said 'whatever'. I honestly didn't care if I came off.

I sat up and gave her rein and when she sucked back I booted her forward. When she spooked I simply put my leg on and we went.

Carmen became confused. But not in a I don't know what you want way. More like a what's up with you? way.

And she actually tried to meet me half-way. And the 3/4 of of the way. And then we were riding around and it was easy.

In the end it was a very good ride. There was no drama or big spooks. A couple little ones but nothing to write home about.

We rode around the field and I gave her a loose rein and we trotted part of the way.

But the joy of riding was missing. Which is not what I want. I know, though, that the joy will come back.

I just need to figure out how to be all 'whatever' but joyfully.

How hard could that be?

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Sandbox Games

I want to start mixing things up with Miss Carmen. We're using the ring- although there is still 'dramatic corners' I'm sticking to my plan and working through it.  As much as I love dressage I want to do more than that with Carmen. I do have this idea that we can play at Working Equitation:
We are a long way from this (if ever). But we can take baby steps. I now have 6 poles, two jump standards, 4 cavallettis and a bridge. Time to start making use of them. So on Sunday I put some obstacles in the ring.

First:  I set up an 'L' with poles so that there were many options: ride straight through, walk the L forward, back through one branch, back through the whole L. `

Then I set up two jump standards about 10 metres apart. I put a towel on one. Options for this obstacle were: pick up the towel and carry it to the next standard, weave around the standards, do 10 m circles with the standards as the middle (either just one or a figure 8).

Cynthia and Irish joined us for the fun. The first part of the ride was just to warm up and get her listening. My plan was not to focus on just the obstacles but to incorporate them into the ride. We had our issue at troll corner but nope, not playing that game, we're just working here missy. So she soon settled into it.

And we played with the obstacles and she was completely cool with it. Even backing between the poles. I had to dismount once to straighten them because backing in a  straight line is hard, apparently. We even backed the whole L. It became obvious that this will require work.

What was interesting was how I could use these obstacles interspersed with the schooling and how this kept things fresh and different. It helped to keep her attention and minimized the drama.

After a bit I rode over and dropped the gate from her back. I've been working on this for a while. I can pick up the board and slide it forward a bit but she keeps walking and I have to drop it and come back to it. Then we added in walking out and going over the bridge with the work in the ring. This was all fresh and new for her and she wasn't sure at first what she thought about this change.

But it was fun for me and she seemed to get with the program until Irish and Cnythia left the ring. Then, all of sudden troll corner became incredibly scary and she wasn't going there. Like really wasn't going there. As I was riding this out (yes you do go there missy so get your arse up there) my brain was making connections that had only been hypothesized before:

It's not about the trees or the grass or the leaves. It's about feeling stressed in the work and the trees are the excuse. 

Not like 'the dog ate my homework' excuse- I think she gets tight and then things set her off. Like trees blowing. However, I am much better at riding this out and realizing that the tree was not the issue but Irish leaving was enabled me to tackle it better. Instead of focussing on the trees in troll corner I focussed on keeping her working under me no matter whether he was in the ring or not. We went back and forth past the open gate and I ignored it. Cynthia was great about going in and out and Irish didn't care one way or the other.
this is us going through troll corner at our lesson

Once I had her back with we called it a day and headed out to hack around the field. She was relaxed and I was able to ride her with a loose (not free) rein. Which is good- I want her to associate the hacking with relaxation.

Heaven knows we don't need more excitement in our lives.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Friday's Lesson- Lateral Work

I had arranged a lesson with Shanea on Friday. I meant to be up the ring warming up before she came but we had a mix up in the time so I was tacking up when she arrived.  I had brought out my tests from my show for her to review so she read those while I finished getting ready.

It was a beautiful spring day- sunny with a light breeze. Carmen was being quite spooky on the approach to troll corner as the bushes were fluttering in the breeze.  The goal was to get her to ride forward when I ask. Which is something easier said then done. I am getting better at riding her forward and not being tense. But of course I am tense at times - which doesn't mean I don't know that I"m not supposed to be. To honest at this point it's not about being afraid but frustration at times. Again- don't lecture me that frustration has no place in the saddle. I know that too. But being human it will creep in at times.

I realize that I'm making this about frustration when it wasn't really. There were moments. Shanea wanted me to work on free walk and we walked across the diagonal and I tried to give her a long rein but I could feel her getting tighter and her head came up with her neck locked. Shanea asked me to drop the rein and I said 'no'. I don't usually say 'no' to someone coaching me but I wasn't feeling safe in the moment and was not dropping the rein. I don't care if she bolts forward but she's far more likely to drop her shoulder and spin sideways and I didn't want to eat the dirt.

Again, I realize that it's all sounding negative. But it really was a good lesson. We worked on using shoulder fore to keep Carmen focussed and on the aids and not on what she wanted to focus on. For me we're making real progress in getting her to listen even when she thinks she shouldn't.

Shanea took some photos on my phone and here are the good and bad.

Here we are with Carmen being clearly behind the leg. You can see her retracted neck and her hind legs out behind her. I'm sure my leaning forward is not helping. Not tipping forward when she gets tight is a work in progress with me and one that still requires conscious thought. I have the inside rein against the neck so she doesn't duck in (which she really wanted to do). I don't know if this was just before one of her spooks inward but it pretty clearly telegraphs how we look right before that happens.

About 1 minute later and much better. We're in a shoulder fore and she's moving forward. Her hind leg is reaching under her. Her neck is still a bit short but she's reaching for the bit so I'll take it.  The struggle is if I give the inside rein she will turn her head and look at what she wants rather then carry it forward. But as we worked it got better and softer and easier.
 It was an interesting exercise: come out of the corner in shoulder fore, right that for a few strides,  straighten her for a few strides and then ask again. It was much harder at the walk then the trot. Most likely because the forward momentum in trot helps and at the walk there's more time to think about things.  I could feel how this exercise helped her to relax and shift her focus to me rather then other things. It's not a new exercise for me - Karen uses it as well for much the same purpose.

I like this photo. I will be much happier with myself when I let the rein out a bit. It feels like a good length but I think I could give her more. Her weight could be more back on her hind legs but frankly, I would have been thrilled with this photo not so long ago.

 Here we go: relaxing into the work and getting our heads in the game.

I love this one. I think I'm even smiling.

We finished the lesson working on leg yields. It was fun to do. No video (I'll try for next time). Our work on this has changed from 'just go sideways' to controlling where the haunches and shoulders are. She's become much more adjustable it the moment and it's really to feel how a shift here and there and have her adjust in response. 

 Not bad- she's reaching and her hind legs are not too far behind.
 Totally over bent (cut off my inside hand) and so unable to carry herself correctly
But I love this one. 

Overall it was great lesson with lots of things coming together. I was quite happy with it and I've been really enjoying my rides on Carmen. I know that sounds contradictory to what I wrote above but I really am having fun. The times I'm not are now the exception instead of the rule. 

Which is great because we've another show coming up in a couple weeks. 

I can't wait. 

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Well That's Better

Tuesday was too freaking hot and humid to ride. I decided instead to paint some more poles and try to not drip sweat all over them. 

shortly after this photo it rained. Of course it did- paint AND laundry?
I pretty much cursed myself. 
Wedsnesday was much cooler and a better day to ride. Cynthia joined me after supper. I walked Carmen up to the ring and mounted. Immediately I began to walk her all over the ring. She was a completely different horse this day. Soft and listening rather than stiff and pissy. We worked on changes in bend and transitions. Her leg yields were soft and flowed nicely. She looked at a few things but nother major. I was giving her a walk break walking beside Cynthia and I said "Look at this mare- completely relaxed and happy. This is NOT the mare I rode on monday"

Right then she gave a littel 'eek!' and scooted a few feet sideways. I laughed 'there she is!' And I then put her back on the rail and back to work. (Carmen: it's no fun if you're laughing at me'). 

I began to ask her to half-halt and bring her hind legs under rather then string out. I worked on getting her trot and walk shorter and longer. Not by a lot but she responded off my seat. I then asked her to canter and once we had that going nicely I asked her to shorten it and then let it out. I could feel her figuring out how to shift her weight back rather then string out in the canter stride. And shd didn't break. I asked her to counter canter a shallow loop- no problem. Down the short side I asked her to shorten and then let her out down the long side. I could feel her legnthen (just a wee bit but sitll!) and I gave her a tone of praise. We even practiced a canter sepertine and it didn't suck. 

I was so happy with her and I'm thinking she felt the same. Cynthia dropped the gate and we rode over the bridge and down to the barn. I wanted to hack out but the blackflies became really bad so it seemd better to end at the barn and go have a glass of wine (priorities you know). 

It seems to me that that ride I had on Monday, although hard, was an important lesson for both of us. I need to keep my expectations of Carmen even when she's not sure she wants to play the game. 

Carmen: You know if didn't have so many dogs you'd be able to be faster with my night snack instead of checking on those puppies so much
Me: You're right. If I didn't have the puppy I could probably ride you EVERY DAY. 
Carmen: Neiver mind. 

What do you mean 'not have me'? I htought you loved me!
Of course I do- you are the best of puppies. 

Monday, June 12, 2017

Follow My Lead

I came home from work to 36 degree temperatures! I wisely decided to wait until after supper to ride. By then it was a cool 31 degrees and humid. The horses were sleepy in their stalls but Carmen gave a nicker when I came in. I spent some time braiding her mane to help her stay cool and then we headed up to the ring.

We started off fairly mellow with the usual alerting around troll corner. But I wasn't worried and we went to work. Slowly Carmen became more tense even though I was not (I swear on a stack of horseman's manuals!). I could hear small creatures in the brush and I'm suspecting that some dear were circling (they bed down in the tall grass by the ring. What started as a plan for a quiet, short ride quickly morphed into a lesson on listening.

I no longer work on getting Carmen to be okay in spots of the ring. Instead I work on schooling and where is not relevant. It's like a dance where both partners want to lead. That never works well - in dancing or in riding. 

I'm fascinated by how I don't get upset or scared by shenanigans. I guess that is the lesson that Carmen is teaching me. I found myself tonight staying focussed on the plan and I didn't let any mare tantrums deter me from the exercises. If we were working on bend on a 10 metre circle I insisted that we ride the 10 m circle with bend and not speeding up. This is new for us. I have let shenanigans interfere in the past so I'm not surprised that my drawing the line on this leads to some resistance. Resistance is not bolting (yay), more like if I ask her to circle and she ignores my bending aids, if I tapped behind my leg with the whip or gave a kick she would spin away and be all offended. I simply put her back on the circle and carried on, despite the drama.

The sequence of drama with Carmen often goes like this:

I think scary things are over there we should avoid at all costs.
I am NOT going there!
Okay, I will go in the general vicinity
Fine! We will go there but I will be bent to the outside and ready to flee
Stop asking me to bend or I will FREAK OUT. I'm warning you
Okay we bend going through there but I will keep an eye cocked and go as fast as possible
Okay, I am going slow. Are you happy with how you are crushing my spirit?
Hey, they is easy, I don't understand what all the fuss is about.

I rode much longer then I planned but I wanted to finish with her walking slowly around the ring- not rushing. I realized that I was holding her in the pace I wanted but that is not a good plan for the long run. So I asked her to slow and relaxed my hold. If she sped up I asked again and upped the strength of my aids until she slowed and then relaxed again. Carmen needs to be in self-carriage and she cannot do that if I hold her. I have no idea how many times I circled the ring. I was starting to worry if I was going to be late for work tomorrow. Finally she gave me what I wanted- a slow walk and didn't speed up.

Life with Carmen will never be boring but there was also some very good work in our session tonight as well. The leg yields were excellent and she's starting to adjust her bend with the softest of aids- when she choose to. The trick is to convince her to let me lead.