dancing horses

dancing horses

Friday, September 22, 2017

Changing Patterns

If you've been reading along you will see that I have had a lot of 'wins' with Carmen this season.

We have had a successful show season and each clinic I went to added a bit more into our training.
definitely doing more of these clinics next year
Having regular lessons with Shanea has been invaluable. I do believe that to progress you need to have a consistent trainer so that things build slowly. 

If I had to think about who has changed more this year - Carmen or me, I don't think that I could choose. I have had to be more conscious about it for sure. 

It's hard to change patterns though and it takes serious mental effort on my part to not fall back into tensing and grabby hands when I feel that she's a bit spooky. I have been determined to not break my left wrist and put the rein against her neck when I feel that she wants to fall in. At times you will even hear me say that to myself over and over. Putting the rein against her neck was a temporary solution for when she would bolt to the inside. Now it just encourages her to drop her shoulder and not carry through the corner. 

Interestingly enough our bigger issues continue to be our ring. Which makes sense given that's where we had really set patterns of behaviour. I am finding it easier and easier to not tighten and grab when she tightens. When I do I catch myself and relax my seat. I inevitably find that she relaxes when I do that. 

see- no trolls here

Changing my mindset about troll corner has been a real turning point. I don't think I would have seen the pattern if I hadn't taken her off property and encountered the same issues in the same corner. Knowing that has helped me to ride more boldly and clearly into it and expect that she will carry on. 

Not that she does always. Last night we were cantering up on the right lead into the corner and then we were going to the right and sideways (canter half-passes are not going to be an issue). I didn't tense or get upset but I don't let her choose the way we go so I pulled her around to the left to go back. Somewhere in there she did a flying change (good girl)  and we cantered back to the left. My mindset/tension never changed. It was just a blip- oh where were we? 

Our rides are not exciting or anything to truly write about. We're working on our first/second level stuff and the only thing that's a bit of struggle is the trot lengthens. Last night I felt she sit back on her hind end and lengthen a bit in the trot. It was't a big one but she received lots of praise for it. 

Our rides are short and easy these days. I try to get a few things established and then end. We go into the woods on a regular basis. Even when she's more excitable (like last night with the breeze and cooler weather) she is still trying to listen and figure out what I'm asking. Rarely do I get the sense that she's completely tuned me out. She may be distracted but will come back with a leg aid or my voice. 

Changing patterns is hard. But it is possible. We're living proof. 

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Out And About

The lesson with Shanea was not the only fun thing I scheduled. Saturday I had made some special plans to meet up with my friend Nancy. Let me back up.

A few months ago when I was struggling with Carmen, Nancy had sent me an email suggesting that we get together and ride the trails are the place where she boards. Her horse, a big beautiful warmblood named 'Bo' was a great companion horse because he was just always so calm. I contacted the owner of   Coveside Stables to see if it was okay with her that I haul in. I used to ride a horse there a long time ago and she remembered me. She couldn't have been more kind about letting me come.

I really wanted to take her up on but with one thing and another it didn't happen. Last week I sent her an email to see if she was free Saturday and she was! The owner was also okay with me coming and so it was all scheduled.

In the morning I loaded Carmen on the trailer. Actually she loaded herself and I had to hold her back - as soon as she saw the trailer she was all 'let's go!'  and did not take kindly to my telling her that she needed to wait for me. The ride was short and I pulled into the gates.

the view leaving the property
Coveside is probably the most beautiful facilities I have ever seen. It overlooks the Chester Basin so the views are incredible. There are rolling hills, many rings for dressage and jumping. They have a large barn and attached arena plus extra barns and buildings for storage. Every year they put up temporary stalls for their shows. And best of all they have built miles of trails. All impeccably groomed and only for horses. I didn't take a lot of photos but check out their website and you will see what I mean.

I pulled up to the barn and unloaded Carmen. She walked behind me into the barn on the rubber pavers and into a large, beautiful stall and looked around as though to say 'finally'.  I turned around to get my stuff but it was already out- Nancy and one of the workers had unloaded my saddle, bridle etc for me. I then parked the trailer in the parking lot and came back to the barn. 
barn and arena
Nancy introduced me to the guy who helped and then to Rose- 'all grown up'. I knew Rose when she was young it was great to see what a lovely young woman she had grown into even though I can't believe all that time had passed. 

After a brief chat we tacked up the horses, went into the indoor, mounted and walked out of the indoor (red door in the middle of the photo above). I didn't walk her around or lunge her. I just got on and off we went. 

And we hit the trails. Bo and Nancy were perfect companions. They ambled along in front of us at a nice steady walk. Carmen was amazing. She was obviously looking around and a bit excited but normal horse excited. Not stiff or spooky at all. 
those ears- one was on me at all times
I let her have a bit a rein and we just walked. I loved the woods trails- they were so varied in the type of tress. Some had a lot of ferns others were mossy and still more with strewn with pine needles. I told Nancy that I expected to see a hobbit at any moment.  My inner 12 year old was over the moon and kept giggling. There were numerous wooded bridges and I wasn't worried. The first one she was a bit spooky once she realized that there was something underneath. By the third one she was all 'meh' a bridge.  At one point we came close to a public trail and Nancy called 'hello' to a couple walking above us (most likely to warn the horses). I called hello as well and Carmen didn't even blink. 
Nancy took this with her phone. I wore my vest to be safe

We went up and down hills which was a great way to work her hind end. There were some rocks along the path that Carmen looked askance at but, again, it was just normal horse ('are these okay? I will go by but will keep my eye on them in case they turn to be rock trolls' ) behaviour. 

We then came into a huge field and the hay had been cut so it was free to use. Part of me wanted to go for a gleeful gallop but I restrained myself. Next time I told myself, this is all about making it low key and easy. Nancy and I chatted the whole way. We both agree that riding out is the most fun part of riding. Her little West Highland Terrier kept us company- occasionally going off to hunt squirrels. Carmen was completely not bothered by this little white terrier popping up in various locations. I loved watching her run around being all terrier like. She was definitely less white when we were done. 

and then with my phone. Pretty sure this was my expression the whole ride.
Carmen "could you calm down please, it's embarrassing'
We ended up coming out near the front gates and by the dressage court. We headed back into the woods and came up to the barn. I think we were gone between 60-90 minutes. I put her back in the stall. Nancy hosed Bo off and turned him out while I went to get the trailer. Carmen was not too impressed when I came back My friend! Where's my friend? But settled as soon as there were people around.  The ride home was uneventful. I hosed her off at home and turned her out to catch up on all the grass that she missed. 

it's not fancy but it's my slice of heaven

 As I was cleaning out the trailer Ed came up and said "How was it?"
"OH MY GOD I HAD SO MUCH FUN" I may have been squealing. I was definitely grinning.

He smiled and said "you have been saying that every time you come back. You are having a great summer with her and I am glad. You earned it".  This is why I love this man.

It may sound silly that I was so excited about trailering off property, riding out and then returning. I know lots of people do this all the time. But two years ago I considered it a good ride if there were fewer then three bolts in a ride. Last year we spent hours on training to get her rideable. I will be eternally grateful to Royce and how he helped us. This year I wasn't even sure I should show and look at how that turned out. I will be eternally grateful to Karen, Johanna and Shanea for getting us ready for that. Last year I would not have believed that I could have done something like today without a lot of lunging and 'managing' of Carmen. Yesterday I hopped on and said 'let's go, this will be fun'. And she believed me.

I am finally getting to do all the things I love on a horse that I love and for me that is truly special.

Thank you Nancy for taking me and Jackie for letting me enjoy your beautiful property.

Friday, September 15, 2017

My Zen Unicorn

Carmen's mellowness is continuing and while I am enjoying it I am also struggling to figure how to ride her.

I have skills to ride spooky Carmen, zoomy Carmen and even resistant Carmen.

But lazy, Zen Carmen is confounding me. Don't get me wrong - I have ridden lazy horses and I know how to ride them. However, I don't want to teach Carmen that her mellowness is wrong. Getting after her seems to be not quite the right thing. So instead I am trying to build her forward out of the mellowness. It sounds good but I am really just making it up as I go along.

So the lesson I had today was perfectly timed. When Shanea arrived we were just getting into the ring. I explained about how she's been lately- mellow, not-spooky and lazy. As we chatted Carmen stood there looking like she was having a nap.

We started off working on leg yields- first towards the rail and then adding in zig zag lines. It helped me to understand how to use the outside rein for straightness- I have a habit of over bending her and then trying to get her to go sideways. Part of that was to keep her from looking out and then spooking. But I don't need to do that now.

Shanea also set up some trot poles on one side and a single pole on the other.  What I like about Shanea is that she's all about being correct and she insisted that I set her up for the poles about three strides out and then let her go through but I wasn't allowed to be 'floppy'. All of this is true but as Carmen began to use her hind end and lift her back it was a lot of movement.

Did I mention it was hot? Carmen and I were sweating. But we weren't done.

Shanea had us pick up a canter and once that was established canter over the single pole. By this point Carmen was forward and energetic. She was also, not spooky excatly, but starting to look around. I just kept riding her forward and worked on keeping her up in the bridle. The nice thing was that she was taking the bit and moving into the bridle.  We then cantered down towards the pole. The first time over I was all look at us- we're JUMPING over the pole. This is so much fun! But what came out was more like 'squeeee'. Shanea laughed at us. We kept practicing coming up. Shanea said that it was cool because at first Carmen was a bit unsure and then her ears came up and she was having fun.

umm, there's a stick in our way


It was a fun lesson. I love working with Mellow Carmen. Part of me is thinking that adding some jumping into our routine would be fun. Not that we'll be doing anything big. At least not on purpose.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Who is this Horse?

Sorry- no recent media so I used this photo from my last lesson in August
Since I h our last show about how Carmen I've been taking a more laid back and relaxing approach to riding. I've been focussing on enjoying our time rather then accomplishing any specific goal. I think that Carmen has been enjoying the down time and she's responding.

Yesterday I came home from work and tacked her up. It had been a bit of a stressful day and there are no signs of it letting up until November. I had no agenda in mind- I just wanted to lose myself in the rhythm and enjoy being outside.

When I headed up to the ring I could hear a loud metallic clanking and banging but couldn't see where it came from. I texted Ed to ask if he could see it but he said he had no idea. After the first spook Carmen seemed okay so I mounted and we walked off. As soon as we started walking she began to blow- a sign of her relaxing herself. I have spent a ton of time getting her to blow and here she was seeking it right away.

Troll corner was a non-issue. She had one spook and I don't even know what it was. As she spun away I simply said 'Oh dear did something scare you?' We circled back and it was not problem. I am doing so much better with riding relaxed but not passively. Which seems to be exactly what she needs.

We did about 40 minutes of walk and trot. Carmen was not excited or hot. In fact she was positively sedate. At some point that may also be an issue but for now it was just what I needed.

I walked her over to the gate and she stopped while I reached down to pick up the board. She walked forward 3 steps as I directed and waited for me to drop it. I then backed her up and moved it some more. She waited each step for my direction and then we walked out.

Instead of heading to the barn I turned right and went around the fields and into the woods. This would be our second solo hack. I took my time and chatted to her the whole way. That was mostly to warn any wildlife that we were coming. She was definitely alert but not tense. We did a couple trails and then went around the bottom of the field and up the hill. The only thing she looked askance at was the garden. It's almost done and the dead plants were piled up.  But she still walked by it.

I dismounted and just then a huge dump truck piled high with garbage pulled out of the woods across the street.  Phew. It was quite the sight going down the road.

I am so impressed with this change in how she and I are working together. I think that last puzzle piece fell into place at the last show. You know- the show I was freaking out about. Competing has forced us out of our comfort zone and drilled down to specific issues. Each time I travelled off-site for a clinic or a competition I learned something new. I feel that I'm no longer trying to convince her to listen to me. Instead she's looking to me. Obviously she still have opinions- she is Carmen after all but we are feeling more like a partnership.

I am getting comfortable saying that Carmen is a horse who can have a big spook but she's not a spooky horse. I hope that makes sense to you but it does to me.

Who is this horse? She's mine.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Country Life

I stayed true to my word and backed off the training this week. Instead I focussed on catching my breath and enjoying life on the farm.

The siding was completed a few weeks ago and I am thrilled with how it turned out. I have wanted the siding done since we moved in and it's nice to see that task completed. I just need to pick a striking colour to paint the door.

I have been spending time with Guinness and working on our obedience. He's feeling much better and back to enjoying life.
being happy is what they do best
We are signed up for an 'Urban Dog' course. It's to help dogs be civilized in public settings. Since Guinness is becoming barky at strangers I'm thinking that is will useful but we may end up in remedial class.  

But in other ways he's becoming the companion dog I was looking for. I've been going into the woods and working on more trails and he's been keeping me company. 

I am happy with the trails that we have. There are now four short paths that join up with each other at different points.
the path to piece
There has also been a young porcupine that has moved into the woods. I am fine with co-existing but Guinness not so much. The other night I had a text from Ed: 
"how can I get a porcupine out from under the deck?"
"How did it get there?"
"Guinness chased it"
"Leave it alone and it will leave when things quiet down."
An hour goes by and I get another text: "how do I get quills out of Guinness?". 
This time I phoned and talked Ed into how to remove a few from his chin. 

Today I was down at the manure pile and Guinness was quite excited about something under the shed that is down there. I call it the 'spider shed' because it's overrun with giant wolf spiders. "If you get grabbed by a giant spider you are on your own". I wasn't worried because I figured whatever it was would stay safe under the shed. I heard him get more excited and when I came over I saw he had quills stuck in his nose and muzzle. 

Sigh. I brought him up to the house and grabbed some needle nose pliers. Fortunately Amanda was home and I figured she could help. I used one of Ed's ties to make a muzzle but Amanda and I couldn't hold him. He weighs over 70 pounds and is strong. Just as Amanda and I were sitting on a heaving, panting dog Cynthia and Andrew walked in. Their faces went through numerous changes while they understood what they were seeing. Cynthia joined in and with three of us we could just hold him long enough for me to get the quills out. Poor Guinness he was howling - I think the ones in his nose hurt. 

I hope that this convinces him to leave the porcupine alone or else I will have to catch it and re-home it farther away. 

Remember I said that I might take two weeks off without riding? 

Yeah. Well I made it to today. Which, you have to admit, is pretty good for me. 

I do enjoy riding this mare

Cynthia came out to join me and we headed up to the ring. Carmen was very very good and I worked on us having a  relaxing ride. Suddenly I heard Cynthia calling my name. Irish had a bee in his bonnet and was having a bit of melt down. Carmen and I stood in the middle and I called instructions to her. However, when Irish refused to go forward and threatened to rear. He can't rear but I worried that he might try and fall over. I dismounted Carmen and handed her to Cynthia and then mounted Irish. Within 10 minutes he was much calmer and settled. Every fall he gets himself worked up and then settles. I dismounted and got back on Carmen to finish our ride. We decided to not go in the woods given Irish's mood. 

I'm just going to let that sink in for a minute.

The horse that I have spent countless hours of blood, sweat and tears (not to mention money) was the calm one. The 'been there/done that' 17 year old semi-retired horse was a snorting, spooking fool.  

Carmen is a puzzle for sure. Irish's antics didn't affect her in the least. I have noticed that in the warm up rings at the shows too. The only time got upset by another horse and rider was when a rider was using a whip rather harshly. That upset her. But otherwise she's not fussed by another horse being agitated. Birds however are an entirely different story. 

Life here might be quiet but it's never ever dull. 

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Sit Back and Enjoy the Ride

I was not only happy after our show weekend, I was also exhausted. I was grateful that I could simply park the trailer to unload the next day. It was nice to take my time and not have to be pressured for anything.

Cynthia came for a visit and we tacked up the horses. Carmen gave me a bit of a stink eye but I had a plan for our ride that did not really involve schooling at all. I told Cynthia to do what she wanted and let me know when she was done. I simply wanted to walk Carmen and stretch out our tired muscles. I started off with a nice walk and then added in circles and changes of bend.

In truth I was just enjoying the ride. It was nice to sit in the saddle with no agenda or plan. I was completely unconcerned about the corners. Meanwhile Irish was having a ball. I was pleased to see that he was sound in front and appeared to feel good.

We moseyed towards troll corner.
Carmen:  I think I'm going to be scared. 
Me:  no you aren't scared of it. 
Are you sure? 
I have this memory that I am worried. 
Not anymore. It's fine. 

Irish trots by: Guys! Guys! Look! Hey Guys! Look at me go! 

Carmen: Geldings are so silly! 
Me: I think he's having fun. 
Carmen:  It's embarrasing. Oh those bushes. Could be dangerous. 
Me: Nope. We are warriers and can deal with any monsters that come out. 
Carmen: Have you been watching Wonder Woman again? 
Me: Maybe...but it is an awesome movie. 

 I can totally see the resemblance

We carry on walking and stretching.

Irish and Cynthia canter on by. Wheeeee! 

When Irish and Cynthia were done Carmen and I dropped the gate. Carmen tried to rush out so we spent some time leaving and coming back and then standing in the gate. Once she decided to stand like a civilized beast (FINE!) we walked on.

We walked out on the trails taking our time and chatting. Sometimes Irish led and sometimes Carmen did. It was a great way to finish up the weekend.

My plan is to give Carmen a bit of break from the training. She and I have worked pretty hard since April. The weather is actually helping- it's too rainy to ride. I had thought about not riding for 2 weeks. We shall see how long I last with that plan. But I think this fall we will continue our lessons but also go and play as well.

Anyone want to play with me?

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Slaying Demons- Day 2 Show Recap

BTVS- best show ever
After the first day of the show I was sitting in the tub at the Bed and Breakfast I was staying at and I began to think about Carmen's issue with the corner. At first glance it makes total sense- in the show ring that area lead to a 'tunnel' to the main entrance and it's lined with plexiglass that both reflected and was transparent. But when I lined it up with my ring at home and the ring at Five Fires it seemed to coincidental that the area between E and C was scary.

What if, I thought,  it's not fear. What if it's something else? 

I began to form a hypothesis. What if instead it was learned behaviour? Horses are good a making associations. That's what we use to train them. What if I accidentally taught Carmen that being tense and running away was the thing to do in the ring?

Not on purpose, obviously.

So that meant I needed to tackle it differently. A fearful horse is somewhat unpredictable and difficult to control. But learned behaviour requires a different approach. I decided that the next day my approach would not be 'don't be scared it's fine'  but would be more an expectation that all would be fine.

I hope I'm making sense, but it made sense to me so I decided to go with it.

I also tried an experiment of trying Omega Chill. I followed the instructions of giving it 30 minutes before tacking her up and leaving her alone to let it work. I'm not sure that it worked but she seemed calm when I tacked her up. I lead her out and mounted and she immediately tried to walk off. I asked her to stand still and she began to back up. She was clearly wound. I rode her forward into the warm up ring. I figured that she hadn't had her turn out since friday and was feeling a bit up. It didn't help that the weather was cool.

In the warm up ring Carmen spied a rope that was coiled up on the kick boards and began to spook and try to run away. I suppose I should have been frustrated but I actually welcomed this. It gave me a chance to work through this behaviour before I was in the ring.  I immediately began to use the approach that Rachael showed - when she ducked away I began to irritate her and bring her back to the spot the opposite way to the way she spooked. As soon as she faced the rope I took off all the pressure and rode her forward. I am sure that the others in the warm up thought I was crazy. But after a while she actually put her nose up to it and blew on it. Which raised a bunch of dust with her puff of air and she jumped back. I couldn't help myself- I broke out laughing. After that she was much better about it. I ignored her giving it the stink eye- as long as she carried forward I was fine.

Before I knew it, it was time for our test. I marched her right into the ring and up to where the judge was. She spooked (as I predicted) and I repeated what I had done in the warm up ring. I managed to get about 3 trials of that before the judge rang the bell and we were on. Our scores were from 4 to 7.5. The four was because of her being tense in the corners and there was a photographer standing at B. I felt bad for the girl because I could see that she was trying to be unobtrusive but hey, that's what shows are about. I simply rode my mare, corrected when she was off and spoke softly to her when she was good. I didn't care what the judge thought- I knew I needed to get her to listen to me in the ring. This time in our collectives Carmen got a 7 on gaits (yay) and 4 for submission (not yay) but I got a 7 for rider (so yay again). Final comments: "some fairly good moments today, however tension issues in test reduced final score today". Yup. I agree. But I still felt good about the schooling.

Here's a video of the test:

Final Score 59.808

Once again our tests were close together. I dismounted for about 10 minutes and then got back on. In the warm up I focussed on getting her bending and listening to my aids. I wanted her to be supple and I wanted the response to my inside leg on to be established so that it would be more successful when I needed it. Just before I went in I did a few canter transitions and we headed back. 

At X I saluted took breath and asked her to go. And do you know what? While there was tension and looking she did not try to scoot sideways. Well I lie, she thought about it but as soon as I put my leg on she responded. When we picked up our right lead canter and had to go from E to C I could feel her backing off and wanting to not go into that corner. I sat up and said 'oh we are going and it's all fine'. So we cantered through and I was so happy. We had so much momentum that we missed the trot transition at C but I didn't care. I had the result I wanted and it was worth losing that mark to get her to canter forward. We headed to E to do our stretchy circle and I was all 'here, have some rein to stretch into'  and Carmen was all 'oh good now I can have  good look around'. But I kept her trot steady and our circle round. I picked up the reins at E and we headed to A to turn up the centre line and do our final halt. I squared my shoulders, put a huge smile on my face and we trotted with purpose up to X and halted. I gave her a huge pat. 

Our scores ranged from 5 to 7 (no 4s yay!) and we got a 6.5 on submission! Final comments: 'fairly good start to test. Fundamentals are in place. Keep working on improving accuracy of test. '

We have fundamentals!

Final Score: 63.63
When I picked up my test I did a dance of joy. I have spent 2 years slowly getting rid of our demons. This show I felt like I had slain the master. I can always get through to Carmen but sometimes it's a battle. When she's really tense or worried she is incapable of listening and goes into self-preservation mode. This time I asked her to come with me and she actually did. It's not perfect but this was a huge step for us. The demons are getting chased into the light one by one and shrinking into small little pests. 

do we look happy? 
That I brought home 3 seconds and a third was the cherry on top. But I can honestly say that I felt like I had won the championship. 

Next year Carmen we can go for prizes.....