dancing horses

dancing horses

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Riding the Wave

Anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm ~ Publilius Syrus 
The Picton Castle leaving Lunenburg

After all that I've been writing about how winter has forced me to stop riding I was able to ride this weekend! The weather was mild this weekend and dry. Yesterday the ring was too hard to ride on but today it was perfect. I dragged it to make sure but the footing was lovely.

Cynthia came out to join in the fun. I spent a little bit of time lunging Carmen but she was pretty calm and tuned in. When I mounted she immediately stiffened and began to rush her walk- her head was stuck up like a giraffe and she was clearly ready to bolt.

At one time that would have made me worry and I would have either started to direct her or hopped off.

But not now. I wasn't really bothered by it. I knew that she wasn't as freaked out as her behaviour would suggest- 20 seconds ago she was very calm. I think that I have finally found how to maintain my calm when she's losing hers. A bit chunk of that is the tools I learned from Royce if the shit hits the fan and others from lessons on having my seat in the saddle and be clear in my instructions.

So I took a deep breath and asked her to walk a 20 metre circle slowly and with bend. How she felt about it was up to her. When she jerked her head she would hit the bit but I did my very best to not be the one pulling. I let her find me.

I asked her to trot and she did her salsa dance - hips in, hips out, front legs flinging. I just corrected the straightness and asked again. And again. I was upset or worried or even frustrated. A few times I laughed at her- not in derision but at her silliness. Once I asked her to bend and she ignored my leg. I asked again. She pretended that nothing happened. I took my inside leg off and gave her one thump with my heel.

Insulted she leapt into canter. Fine. I let her canter a few strides, brought her back and then asked for a canter. Well- that was some drama and then more drama and then we cantered. I warned Cynthia that our steering was not to be relied on. Once she got into canter she didn't really want to stop- I let her go and we circled up and down the ring.
I found the on switch I called to Cynthia,  but the off switch is broken.  I could have muscled her into a halt but I wanted her to figure out that my asks are actually good things. I know I can stop her if I need to - now I need her to learn that what I ask is okay. So I let her canter on for a bit and when I asked her to come down it was soft and easy and no big deal.

After that she was much more relaxed. I think that Carmen will be one of those horses that will question the work if she's given time off. Last year it would have taken many rides and/or a ton of work to get her back into work mode. This only took about 20 minutes.

My goals for any rides I get in this winter are not to work on new things but to just reinforce old learning. I want her to travel straight and listen to what I'm asking.
Even I told her If we're leg yielding towards certain death. 
No one is going to die

In the end I had a horse that was maintaining her straightness through the transitions and it felt really nice. I finished up with playing with the turns on the forehand again. I found with Irish that working on these fiddly things at the end of ride made them fun and part of the relaxation. All I had to do was lightly touch her behind the girth with my leg and she would turn as nice as you please.

I hope that as we progress on our journey she won't think that the work is up for discussion. But for now I'm gaining confidence in my ability to ride her.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

A Couple Updates and Some News

There's not a lot of excitement around here- January is not the most exciting time to live in Canada. Unless you ski. Except that you can't ski here - there's hardly any snow.

With all the thaw and then freezing Irish developed an abscess.

handsome but high maintenance
He likes to run around and I think he probably bruised his foot. You may think I'm a horrible owner but I did nothing to try to 'help'. Irish has had many abscesses over the years (he's prone to them) and I've tried poulticing, soaking etc and nothing has ever made a difference. Now I turn him out and let the walking help it to burst. He's on a daily dose of previcox and can't have any more painkillers. Anyway, he's better now. He spent a lot of time dramatically showing me his foot and how sore he was. I told him to stop running around like a fool over nothing and he was insulted.

Both horses have a hay rack in their stalls. Since I installed it, Irish won't eat the hay that falls to the floor of his stall. When it builds up I take it and put it outside in the paddock. Irish immediately goes over and starts eating it.

Horse logic.

Carmen is minding the lack of being worked. Now, after her supper she wants me to stand at her stall and scratch her. I'm enjoying that she's missing the work but I suspect that it won't carry over to actually wanting to work.
I miss this view

Ed and I are looking at replacing the flooring in our upstairs bathroom. It's quite worn and stained - it's been like that since we moved in but it wasn't high on our priority list. Now it's time. It's fun to go and look at flooring and then paint colours. 

And now for my news. I knew that we were going to get another dog but wanted to give us time to come to terms with losing Belle. I did a lot of thinking on what kind of dog I wanted. I love Border Collies but two seems like too much. I wanted a dog with intelligence, drive and energy. And one with protective instincts. There are a number of dogs who suit that bill and I settled on German Shepherds. Then it was to find a puppy. I looked at older dogs through rescues but they all said something along the lines of no other dogs, or cats or children. I can't risk d'Arcy nor my cats or horses. I can raise a puppy to fit into our family. I did some research and sent a ton of emails. FYI dog people are a lot like horse people in not returning inquiries. However, I found a breeder who was very responsive and answered all my questions patiently. 

So in a few weeks one of these little brown bundles will be coming home to Oakfield Farm: 

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Art of the Flail

Keeping fit in winter is not easy. Especially when you work. By the time I get home and deal with the chores it's too dark (and cold)  to walk unless I want to drive into town and walk the streets. I do find that unmotivating. When I found that the local firehall held Zumba classes twice a week I was excited.

Zumba is a lot of fun- the dancing takes the grind out of the exercise. I also have found that it has been very good for my core. To be honest, my core has always been pretty much non-existent. After my first winter of going to class I was in a riding a lesson and the instructor said
  'engage your core' 
'Uh Oh'  I thought 'here we go' 
 (by which I mean I will stiffen my torso in a feeble attempt to engage my core and then be told that I am too stiff and to relax and it will become a cycle of futility. ) However, to my surprise, I actually felt an honest to got muscle in my core tighten and do what she asked.

 I don't always make twice a week depending on work but I try. The last two classes, while fun, didn't feel like a great work out to me. So after class I approached the instructor and asked if we could have more cardio in the routine.
'More cardio? What do you mean?'
I explained that I wasn't feeling my heart rate go up like I had in the past.
'ah' she said 'do you wanna know what the problem is? '
'Uh Oh'  I thought (yes I think that a lot)
'when I look out at the class I see you not really going for it. ' And then she modelled what she saw.

I went home and thought about that and realized that she was right. I was trying too hard to get the moves right and not look like an idiot so I wasn't putting myself into it 100%.  I have often been guilty of that in my riding too  (see you patience was rewarded with the connection to riding).

When I ride (especially when I show) I want to look like this:

But I'm afraid that I look like this:

I end up trying too hard to be perfect. There's nothing wrong with wanting to be perfect per se, but it can keep me from really going for it becasue I'm waiting for it to fall into place. And, to be honest, because I don't want to make a fool of myself.

I'm pretty sure that I'm not alone in this. I have heard over the years various horsewomen (and ones that I profoundly respect) express feeling sorry for their horses because they are not good enough. And we've all had the unsolicited feedback from someone that makes you feel like everyone is watching and judging you.

I remember the one and only time I showed Irish 2nd Level. We were not ready to do it at a show but I set it as a goal and I really wanted to try it. We did and our score was in the 50s. As I was expecting. The judge's comments were that we were not ready to compete at that level. I am really glad that I did though becasue shortly after that Irish's neurological issues came out and he's retired. I have no regrets over showing at 2nd but I would have a ton if I had never tried.

I have decide to embrace 'The Flail'

While I am striving to be perfect I will not be afraid to make a fool of myself trying.

Armed with this new resolve I went to my next Zumba class. I was going to bring it. And I did. (I also apologised to those poor individuals around me). Aso, just FYI, if you challenge your Zumba instructor to make it harder, she's going to take that challenge seriously. I gave up trying to look like this:
And decided I was okay looking like this:

As I result I'm sure that I looked completely spazzy. But I kept my heart rate up for the whole class and I definitely felt it the next day.

I am going to try to take this resolve into my year with Carmen. We may not be pretty (well she will be) but we'll be trying. Anyone else want to join me in embracing the art of the flail?

Sunday, January 15, 2017

2017 Goals- Doing All the Things

Since Friday, winter has returned to it's normal January temperatures and my ring is now frozen. Since it doesn't look to thaw anytime soon I figured it was time to put my goals to paper, well pixels really.

I am feeling pretty ambitious so I have dubbed 2017 the 'Year of Doing All The Things'. I am likely to get all of them done but I like to have ambitions.

what are you thinking, exactly? 
Since I can't ride I want to maintain my fitness level and possibly raise it. I will keep up with my fitness classes, walk/snowshoe regularly and curl (okay I know that curling is not heavy exercise but every little bit helps at my age).

Continue to grow my relationship with Carmen through spending time with her grooming, doing groundwork, etc.

I also want to take Carmen to another barn if I can for a weekend of work. This is dependent on a)someone letting me come and b) weather being cooperative.


Lessons: As soon as weather permits I want to get back into regular schooling and lessons with Shanea. My plan would be for weekly-biweekly lessons working

Showing- I am going to take Carmen to a few shows come hell or high water. I don't care if all I do is trot her down center line, salute and hop off.  There's a series of schooling shows that I want to go to:
Scotia Series Dressage shows:

  • May 13-14
  • July 8 & 9
  • August 5 & 6
  • Oct 28 & 29
I'm hoping to do all of them but if I get 3 out of the 4 I will be happy.  The location, Five Fires also allows you to trailer in for a day and work in the ring for a minimal cost. I am hoping to do that in April to get her used to the facility. 

There are also a few Gold/Bronze Dressage shows that I would like to go to. The first one in June I may not be able to (I might be away) but the one the end of August should be doable. 

There's a fun show in my local community to raise money for breast cancer. I would like to go to that too and have a bit of fun. It's a western show but low key and fun. I think it would be good for her. 
Irish is ready to hand over the baton 

Hacking: I want to make hacking a regular part of our training. Some on my property and some off-site. A stretch goal would be to join up with members of the Atlantic Canada Trail Riding Association for a training ride. 

Johanna is likely coming back this year and I want to at least one with her. There may be others that are of interest. The goal is miles and exposure. 

These two like each other. 

Hobby Horse Farm has a week 'summer camp' every year. It's a beautiful place. If Carmen and I go we may even join the jumping lessons. What could go wrong? 

This is Irish and I way back at summer camp- I finally got him to go through the water
(despite the danger of crocodiles lurking in the reeds)

I think that Shanea mentioned that she might have some summer clinics too so I shall see what those options are. 

I want Carmen and I to take trips to my other horse friends- for a couple hours or couple days I don't care. I think the more miles she has on her the better she will adapt. 

Whatever else happens this year I want to have fun with Carmen. I want her to learn that the world is not a scary thing and that we can have fun together. Last year was a learning year for us and that required us to be closer to home.  I want 2017 to be our debut into the larger horse community. 

As part of that I am thinking I may kidnap my niece for 2 weeks to a month. There is joy in sharing a love of horses so I hope that it will work out. 

All of this is with the caveat of not overwhelming Carmen or bankrupting myself. I may decide to change up some things but putting it down helps me to be more clear and playful. 

2017 Ready or not, here we come! 

Friday, January 13, 2017

January Thaw

Today was a gift.

After our fabulous and fun ride last saturday we were hit with snowstorm and a large amount of snow. However, the temperatures warmed up starting on Tuesday and it began to rain. Also, because of the warm temperatures there was a fog and that really ate the snow. To be honest I thought that the ring would be too soggy to be of use. This morning, after feeding the horses, I went up to the ring and found that the footing was perfect. There were just a couple puddles but the base was firm.

I sent Cynthia a text saying that the ring was perfect but she answered that she was too busy and couldn't come. We were meeting up later for dinner but I thought that this was a mistake. So I sent one more message:
"I will point out that it's 10 degrees and the sun is shining. 🙂"

"I will just leave that there" I thought to myself but she didn't respond.

The view out my side door- the grass is still green! 
When I went out to get the horses both started running around the field like fools. I waited until they settled and then went and brought Irish in. He was really puffing hard so I took off his blanket to help him cool off. 

I tacked up Carmen and headed up to the ring. 

But wait I hear you say. You haven't ridden in a week, Carmen is a hot and reactive horse, it feels like spring and it's windy out. Is riding really a good idea? How did the ride go?

Well, gentle readers, it went way better than you might suppose. First of all I started off with ground work. Second I was fully prepared to only do ground work if it seemed unsafe. However, she seemed okay and I hopped on. 

Carmen was definitely tense and ready to be a hot mess. It does seem that I continuing to unfazed by this and just kept riding. A few times I felt myself get quite tense in reaction her tenseness but was able to relax almost immediately. Which is way better. As a result the ride went very well. It wasn't long and it wasn't fancy. All I wanted to do was reinforce the basics and keep it simple. I hopped off quite happy with everything and Carmen seemed the same. 

After I put her away I dragged the ring. Just as I was finished I had a text from Cynthia asking if it was too late. Of course not I said. So she and Andrew came down. While Ed and Andrew constructed things in the garage Cynthia and I rode. 

This time I didn't lunge, I just hopped on. It was a lot windier now. Carmen was very confused by all this and began to have a  mini-meltdown. 
Carmen: Have you lost your mind? We've already done this! 
Me: I know but we can do this again. 
Carmen: I don't think so!
Me: I'm pretty sure. 

After a few tantrums and threatening to spin and run away I pushed her up to canter and let her just go forward and get over herself. That helped a lot and I was able to work on leg yields, serpentines and transitions. We rode everywhere and let her come to terms with the fact that we can use all 4 corners of the ring and not die. 

In the end I stood her in the center of the ring and practiced turns on the forehand. These go better on the ground- usually under saddle she over reacts or ignores the leg cues. This time she responded to the lightest of touches and was super responsive. I was thrilled and gave her a ton of praise. 

She was much more relaxed after this ride and her eye was softer.  

how is being ridden twice in a day even allowed? I'm pretty sure
that it violates my contract. But more treats would be nice...
I will have to do more of this when we start back in the spring otherwise I might run into trouble at a show.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Winter Frolic

Before I had the saddle fitting I had ridden Carmen (in Irish's saddle) and things were definitely on the right trajectory. What was most telling in that ride was that she started being very tight and spooky and I just kept working on the plan. At one point she bolted and I was unable to stop her right away. However I was completely unfazed. I yelled to Cynthia- sorry no steering (we were heading right for them) and turned her in a circle. Once she calmed a bit I kept the canter going up and down the ring until she was ready to slow down and then I kept it going a bit more and then we went to trot and walk. She snorted and blew out and that was the end of her reactions. Somewhere along the line I have become used to her reactions and have learned to ride them. Phew. We had a good schooling session and finished with a hack around the fields. 

Friday we had a bit of snow (about 6 cms) but it was light and fluffy snow so was a bit higher. It was the kind of snow that you can sweep instead of shovel. Cynthia and Andrew were coming that night our curling game (we're in a friday night league) and I sent her a text: "if you stay over we can ride in the morning in fluffy snow".  And that's just what they did. Ed asked me how I could ride if the ring was frozen. I told him that in this kind of snow the ring is the base and the snow is the footing. 

The morning was beautiful- the air was cold but still and the sky was stunning (promising the winter storm that was coming Saturday night). After a couple cups of coffee we got dressed and headed out to the barn. I was looking forward to riding in my saddle now that it fits. 

I lunged Carmen first and she was a bit silly. However, it was not too serious and I only lunged her for a few minutes. At first she was a bit a 'up' but calmed down after a bit. Irish was feeling quite perky and his whole face was proclaiming 'yay, let's have some FUN'.  The first time Cynthia asked for a trot transition he hopped straight up in the air and launched into his trot. It was adorable. I told Cynthia that when he was younger and did that it was accompanied by a squeal. 
most adorable snow horse ever

I don't know why I get so excited about riding in the snow but I do. It's like I'm a kid again and I'm all "look at me, I'm riding a horse in the snow and it's AWESOME'.  The footing was perfect. I simply went for a ride and wasn't worried about schooling or training- it was all about the fun (I did continue to reinforce being straight though). After a bit Carmen began to blow and relax and then, oh my god, actually began to enjoy herself. I grabbed my phone and took some photos of Cynthia and then hander it to her to get some photos of us. 

ignore crappy position and look at adorable chestnut ears and the view
I lost all track of time but we finally called it a session and dismounted. Both horses were looking pretty cheery. I took Carmen to a spot where we normally have a graze after a ride and she immediately dove into the snow to grab some of the grass. 

We turned them out and went into the house. Ed was making brunch (bacon and eggs and toast) and I realized I was starving. 

Later Ed and I headed into Halifax to meet up with our kids and go to a Mooseheads Hockey game. We went to the nearby pub for lunch and then the game. Amanda and I bought matching Mooseheads hoodies. It was a good game but unfortunately, Ed and I had to leave the game early because the winter storm started a bit earlier then expected. It took longer to drive home but as long as you went slow it was okay until just about the end. I was happy to get home. (and to the driver of the pickup that drove on the wrong side of the road to pass the line of cars following the snow plow - you are an asshole). 

After I gave the horses their evening care I came back and made myself a hot chocolate and baileys and reflected on my day:
  • riding in the snow
  • lunch in the pub
  • hockey game
  • driving in snow
  • hot chocolate and baileys
Does it get more Canadian than this????

Friday, January 6, 2017

In Which Ed and I Go For a Walk in the Woods and d'Arcy finds a Treasure

The day I had the saddle fitter in was the last warm day- the ground is frozen and my ring is not useable. It's snowing out my window right now but I hope that we might get enough so I can ride. Fortunately I dragged the ring on Wednesday so there wouldn't be any ruts.

However I digress.

It is a good time to think about my goals for 2017 (I swear that there's a post coming). One of my main goals is to do more hacking with Carmen and make more use of my property. Today Ed and I headed into the woods to mark out trails to cut.
part of my woods, not all is this 'open'
I have about 10 acres of woodland and I want to cut out numerous paths that loop back on themselves so that I can use them as part of my regular training. Today seemed like a good day- the ground was hard and the leaves were off so it was easier to see paths.

d'Arcy, of course accompanied us. As we were in part of the trees I spied something that shouldn't be part of the woodland landscape. It turned out to be a jolly ball. When Steele was young I bought this in a desperate attempt to keep him from getting into trouble and eating all my fence posts. At some point it disappeared. What I think happened was that Belle stole it (she was notorious for taking and hiding toys) and hid it in the woods. There likely is whole cache of balls in these woods too. d'Arcy was thrilled.
this dog is so easy to make happy
Ed and I managed to get some trails mapped out so that he can start to cut them down. We might rent a woodchopper and use it to make some footing. I'm kind of excited about the whole idea. 

On the way back to barn the  horses were outside eating hay and I decided to see what Carmen thought of the ball. I know that I have been doing lots of work to get her to be more relaxed about new things. When Rachael was here Carmen wanted to play with her paper and stuff so I know she's getting less worried about stuff. I stood outside the fence and slowly lobbed the ball into the paddock but not at the horses. 

Carmen looked at it and took a step towards it and then stopped. Irish gave a sigh and went over to check it out while she watched. 

He gave it a good sniff and then went back to his hay. He does take his job seriously. 

Carmen came up and gave it her inspection. 

This seems so mundane but in the past her response to anything new was always 'no'. I like to see her gain in confidence.