dancing horses

dancing horses

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The First Lesson of the Year

I have to explain the title a bit.

In my head there are three different years:
1. The socially agreed upon January - December.
2. The school year of September to June (at least that's how it is in Canada).

But the most important one is:

3. Horse riding year. It's the most important one of all. For me it starts in March when things start to thaw and I begin to want to ride.

So the lesson I had in January was the last one of the year and the one I had on Sunday was the first lesson of the year.

At first I wasn't sure if it could happen it became quite cold Saturday night,  but the ring thawed enough that we could make it work.

Normally, when I start back riding I want to get things going before I have a lesson. However, if you recall the last two years things have started out well but then quickly spiralled downward. While I'm not sure that this would happen this year,  I decided to play it safe and see if we could avoid all the drama.

I started with ground work and Carmen was a bit excited because she was all alone. But not anything too bad. Just as I was finished up the ground work Shanea arrived. We chatted about how things have been so far and then I hopped on and we started working.

The whole lesson was about the half-halt. We started with the full halt.

Nice and square. Note how bundled I am- the wind was bitter but once we started working I completely forgot about it. I have a hold on the inside rein- Martin was playing in the next field and she really wanted to keep her eye on him.

It was really neat to teach Carmen to rebalance through the half-halt. There was a bit of confusion at first and I needed to sort out how to make my aids the right volume. As we progressed both of us figured it out and I could really use the half-halt to get her to slow down and tune back into me even with spooky and scary stuff going on.

There were a few places that she was quite looky and she even gave a few big spooks. What was interesting to me was my reaction. Even when we flew sideways I went with her and my heart rate accelerated (of course). But I immediately went back to work and I did not have the post-spook reaction of anger/fear. The only way I could explain my attitude was of 'this is interfering with our work'. I didn't even worry about what it was that was spooking her or try to avoid it. Even when the neighbour starting revving his ATV (I think it was an ATV). When that happened she got quite tense (fair enough) but I didn't back off and I didn't ramp up with her- I just kept to task.

While the photos and videos show lots to work on I had some of the best trot work ever on her. It was effortless to sit to and needed very little to adjust or steer.

some lift though her back and bringing her leg under. 

'lets not bulge in' :) 
There's a lot of fitness to build yet and I need to figure out what the heck is going on with my inside hand but I was over the moon about the whole lesson. Shanea and I set up a regular schedule.

Later that day we went to visit my son and his new puppy. There was puppy mayhem everywhere.
such innocent faces what could they possibly get up to? 


And after all that excitement Guinness had 'puppy class'. He was the cutest, smartest, best behaved puppy there (of course you wouldn't doubt that, would you?).

That night Guinness and I slept like logs. I dreamed that I was at a show with Carmen and the judge gave me a -2 for my riding score on the test. Not that I'm worried that I won't ride Carmen well. Nope. Not me).

Saturday, March 25, 2017


On Friday my FB feed popped up with one of those 'memories'. It was the 2 year anniversary of Carmen arriving home to stay.

As you can see there was a LOT more snow (that was one of the worst winters I've ever known) and Carmen looks a little shocked.

However, Friday was much nicer and Cynthia came out so that we could ride. It was chilly but not that bad and the ring was fine. Carmen was a bit tight and reactive so I made myself a sponge. Once she was settled lunging I got on. One thing I had always been taught (or at least the last few decades) was to follow the motion of the horse. I was trying but Carmen was all over the place with her rhythm, head, body, etc. My contact was all over the place. I finally realized that I was looking for her to stabilize so I could follow and all I was doing was making us both unstable and pissing her off.

I took a deep breath and said 'I guess one of us should be stable and I think it's up to me'. I settled myself into the saddle and put my leg on - not squeezing, just there. I shortened the rein a wee bit and settled my hand. For the next several minutes I worked on making sure that my seat was loose and my hands maintained the same amount of contact no matter what. When she sped up I asked her to slow, when she gawked I asked her to come in and voila. I had my horse and we could go to work. I started on the middle circle and gradually made it bigger.

Cynthia called over 'she looks like she saying 'I don't really want to listen but I will". Which pretty much sums up how she felt. As we went along she began to loosen and blow relax. In the end I had a trot that was floating and we were all over the ring.

I was very happy.

This morning dawned sunny and warm (with 'warm' being a relative term - like 3 degrees and no wind). Cynthia and I went to get ready and ride early. Carmen was a completely different horse. In the barn she was mellow and happy. I lunged her and it was immediately apparent that she was relaxed and tuned in. I think you're going to have a good ride Cynthia predicted.

And that's what we had. It wasn't anything exciting (yay for boring rides) but it was exciting for me because:
1. we could ride anywhere in the ring right from the start.
2. her one spook was in place and then she carried on
3. there were no protests/balking/kicking.

She was just a horse being ridden and it was all fine.

don't let the snow fool you- it was lovely out

Happy Gotcha day Carmen. I hope you are as happy with me as I am with you.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

What the Hell March?!

Remember my last post where I was able to ride two whole days in a row?

Yeah, well, Sunday night we had a winter storm and it dumped a bunch of snow followed by ice on everything. It caused our first puppy class to be cancelled.  Tuesday and Wednesday were warmer but the snow needed to melt and then the water needed to drain from my ring. It usually drains well but everything was soggy.

That was okay- we were all enjoying the warming temperatures. It was lovely to putter in the barn in just a hoody. It was good for Guinness to because he could be outside playing and enjoying himself.

Why yes, this is a great stick. Why do you ask? 

Then today happened- the temperatures plummeted to -12 with a strong north wind making the windchill -20.  The horses were not impressed. The dogs were not impressed. The cats were fine- they just stayed indoors.

Every time Carmen saw me she gave me a look that expressed volumes- this is not acceptable you need to do something. It was completely weird today- the sun was warm and my ring was perfectly thawed and rideable but I couldn't feel my face.

What is this white stuff? 

While it makes it harder in some ways I'm glad that I have a puppy to play with. he's keeping me amused.  He's getting into the routine of things in the house and in the barn. He knows that when I feed he can have his carrot. Is there a horse person with a dog that doesn't eat carrots?

I'm very careful with Guinness around the horses. Irish is very curious and wants to get to know this new addition. Carmen is less amused. I have been working on short training sessions and he's catching on pretty well. He will come when called and even leave something that has attracted him (like the cat). I'm careful to not make it sound mean or angry. I'm okay if he thinks about it - that shows me he's understanding. He can sit and go down on command. 'Wait' is coming. I am his 'person'. When he's hurt or upset he runs to me for protection.

So I'm managing to stay amused but this weather is getting tedious. I am ready to get training - both puppy and horse.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Whistling in the Dark

This weekend Carmen and Irish returned to work. The weather was not perfect but Cynthia and I decide that it was good enough.

a beautiful frosty morning but I want it to be warmer

Saturday was cool but calm. When I went to get Carmem I saw that she was in heat. Oh fun. The first heat is always interesting. In the barn she was wired and started to act all tense and reactive. I decided to not join her in this mood and kept to the program. In the barn that was her standing, ground tied, while I got her ready. A couple (minor) corrections and she was behaving. Still tense but behaving. On our way up to the ring she was a bit bargy and tried to pass me. I just repeated the ground work I had learned from Royce- this is where I expect you to walk and I set the speed.

In the ring I focussed on me being calm and clear in my intentions. I didn't let her tenseness create my own. Instead of being a mirror reflecting her tension I decided that I was a sponge absorbing her tension and letting it flow away. I know that it sounds a bit 'new agey' but it helps me.  I had a plan and I wasn't going to be derailed by a dramatic spanish mare. And this is what I love about ground work- all the practice that we had been doing really pays off in these moments- in very little time she was settled into a rhythm and tuned in.

When I got on the tenseness returned but I'm used to that. We started working and, again, I kept to the program. It was kinda like this:
Carmen: oh my god- what's that?
Me:  it's Chester (cat). We're bending on our circle
Carmen: but if I bend I can't see- LOOK AT IT, IT'S MOVING!
Me: nope, not trotting. Walking, with bend. 

Whistling in the dark. 

And this really works. I work hard to not tense myself or start gawking at the same things wondering which one was going to create the big leap-spin-bolt. And because I kept with the program she really didn't have a choice but to join me. In the end we had some beautiful trot work- leg yield, changing across the diagonal. She was taking contact and moving forward in her lovely floaty trot.

cute puppy photo to break up the wall of text

Sunday was cooler and there was a raw wind. But Cynthia and I decided to persevere. Carmen was definitely more tense and required more careful handling in the ring.

Not more careful.
More focus.

I could see that she really wanted to bolt- but other than a stutter, flail, ack moment she listened. I mounted and we went back to work. The more success I have with putting on a brave face, the easier it is to be brave.

Whistling in the dark. 

It's not the same as lying.

When Carmen's walk would get really quick going by something that was clearly very dangerous and why was I not paying attention I thought 'if we were not worried we would have a slower, more relaxed walk'. So I slowed the walk. I figured if I couldn't get her to walk slow because she was worried, maybe I could get her to be not worried by walking slow.

I hope that makes sense, because it worked. Not right away and not without some, ahem, discussion but it worked.

When I felt that things were going well I asked her to canter. That was a bit of a flail - I think because of her being in heat. I gave her some rein and laughed, asking her to come forward. And she did.

I cooled her out and then hopped off.  She stood there and closed her eyes while I rubbed her neck.

There's a lot to work on but I'm pleased with her taking of contact, her transitions and her willingness to listen. I didn't have those things last year so this is a good place to start.
it must be the tiara. 

Saturday, March 18, 2017

The Ides of March

Warning: this post has no real theme, just some random updates and such. Continue at your own risk of boredom.

Spring time is always busy on the farm. There's the usual clean up from winter, the fixing of fencing and seeing what needs to be done as the weather warms. It's also when I start getting really itchy to not just ride but to get more serious about training.

The weather has not been cooperative- it's been cold and snowy.  Slowly, things are getting a bit more temperate but I'm finding it hard to want to ride when it's cold out. It's easier to keep going when fall turns to winter then to start up in spring unless it's warm(er).  I know once I start it will be easier to keep going.

Having a puppy has added an extra layer to the equation. Guinness though is showing signs that he's going to grow into a great dog. There's been a few nights where he slept right through which has been nice. His 'come' is improving, 'sit' is pretty much perfect and 'down' is coming along. He knows the drill in the barn and other than wanting to coming into the stall with me when the horses are there, there is no trouble.

Plus he's seriously cute:
d'Arcy teaching him the 'cute and innocent' look

Why is she stopping?
She does it all the time when she has that black box 

finding treasures
I'm trying to figure out how to get him to let go of things- the other day he grabbed my glove. With my other dogs I would have a treat, say 'drop' and when they dropped the item to get the treat I would take it. But he seems to have a strong drive to hang onto things- I offered him a treat to exchange it and he was like 'nope, mine now'. And he loves his treats. I wonder if it's because of his bloodlines- both parents do 'shutzhund'.

This is my new favourite photo of him:
so very serious
Last night we were out for our last bathroom break and he heard something down the road (probably racoons) and he got between me and it and started to growl. We start a puppy class on Sunday and socialization will be important. I want the protective instinct but it needs to be manageable. We will start with puppy class and move on to obedience and other work.

Carmen is doing well. She had her birthday last week so is officially 7 now. The vet came to do the annual check up and shots. He thought that they both were doing well. I was pleased with how Carmen was with him- not wary and worried like last time. Both horses had their teeth floated. He started Carmen without sedation because he prefers to not sedate. Irish never needs it and he did just a bit to help her learn that it's okay. Then he sedated her and finished. Both had some points but not too bad. 

The same day that the vet came we had two old windows replaced in our house, so it was a chaotic day ending with the house looking like a bomb went off. However, the guys did a great job and were good about the dogs. Guinness was out with me for most of the day and went into his kennel when the vet came. 

How's your March going? 

Thursday, March 16, 2017

The Princess Tries Out a New Tiara

I would not be described as a 'Tack Ho'. I tend to have one bridle per horse and use it for everything. When I first got Carmen I bought her a bridle. However, this summer it was clear that it was not the best fit for her head. Not that she complained but I wanted to replace it.

I spent this summer trying to find something that appealed to me. When you prefer to be on the bargain side of things this presents some difficulties. Plus I'm fussy. I don't like things over the top but I didn't want really plain either.

This pretty head deserves a pretty bridle

Two weeks ago I was killing time on Facebook when an ad popped up for a company called Solo Equine. I clicked on it and was surprised to find out that it was a Canadian site. The website promised quality leather for reasonable prices and a money back guarantee. I liked the photos of the 'Solo Silhouette' bridle and it was on sale for $155.  Acting on impulse I decided to buy it:

photo from the website

As I was paying I realized that this company was just weeks old so I was taking a real chance. It also had 'patent leather' accents and I was worried that I was getting something that would look plastic and cheap.

I needn't have worried. The communication from point of purchase to arrival was excellent. I was messaged when it was ordered, filled, sent (with a tracking number) and two messages that it had been delivered. I knew it arrived when I received a text from Ed "what did you order". 

I came home and did my chores first before opening the box. I was so impressed with it right out of the box. The leather was of lovely quality.

It was still a bit stiff and new so I put it together to see how it looked. I was happy with it- I didn't think that the patent was too much. I thought that Carmen might appreciate the tiara:

After dinner I headed out to try it on. I didn't add the bit - I just wanted to see if the head pieces fit.

I think that it fits quite well:

what are you doing to me? 
Shortly after I took this photo she shook her head her mane popped out. I had to laugh. As you can see the nose band needs to form a bit.
I need cookies if I'm going to model

As you can see it comes with a flash attachment but I suspect I will be cutting that holder piece off.

I like how it tapered on the side - it shows off her refined head.

To be honest I liked everything about this bridle, except for the reins. It came with the cotton reins but I will just swap out mine.

I brought it back to the house and conditioned the leather. It's now hanging up and waiting for use. If you are looking for some tack I would suggest that you check out Solo Equine (and no, I'm not getting anything for this post).

Now if I could just get the weather to cooperate....

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Eventing Bingo

Me: Hey Carmen, would you like to play a game of bingo with me? We could win a fabulous prize! 

Carmen: What are you talking about? 

Me: Emma at Friday Cat Eventing is hosting a contest. We were assigned a bingo card and we need to get a line. We might win a $25 gift card from Riding Warehouse. It's all about eventing. 

Carmen: What is eventing? 

Me: It's a competition where we would ride a dressage test, jump a cross country course and then a stadium jumping course. 

Carmen: Jumping? I'm a dressage horse, not some rowdy hooligan. 

Me: Well fist of all it's fictional. Also, do you remember when we first met? The other horse I tried, Agente, is doing eventing......

Carmen: Well I didn't say I couldn't do it- let me see this 'bingo card':

Me: So let's start with the warm-up. 

I want to start keeping you relaxed and focussed on me

Carmen:  But there's this horse that keeps cutting me off and breathing the same air as me. I have to show him who's boss so I pin my ears and kick at him to get him out of the way....

Me:....and before we know it we have one end all to ourselves and the steward is glaring watching us carefully. And now it's our turn to go in. 

Carmen: And of course you don't need any of those nasty crops or spurs...

Me: Which means that when I asked you to go into the ring you flatly refused

Carmen: Well I had to check for trolls first....

Me: And the gate person had to lead us in. It was embarrassing and I was wishing that I had brought my crop. The bell rings and we trot down the centre line and slam to a halt at X. 

Carmen:  And I notice the judge for the first time and I jump 10 feet sideways from the halt and try to run away. 

Me:  That gave us a '4' for that movement. But we keep it together for the rest of test and we have some really nice movements. 

Carmen: And then we do the cross-country course and I totally rock it. 

Me: It was pretty fast though- I barely remember it. But we survive and now it's time for the stadium jumping. 

Carmen: I don't see the point of the meandering course and I decide to take a short cut to the gate. 

Me: Yeah, that's called going off-course and it's not allowed. 

Carmen: I did try to tell you that I'm a dressage horse. 

Me:  Yes you did. I thought it might be fun to try something different. 

Carmen: But you were proud of me, right? 

Me: Always. 

See- I can jump when I want to!