dancing horses

dancing horses

Sunday, October 22, 2017

The Brain is Connected to the Hind End

I was not only able to arrange for a lesson with Shanea on Saturday, a friend also came to watch and take photos. It was an excellent lesson and she even took video*!

Carmen seemed to be a bit tense in the barn so I decided to lunge her first. I finished up just as Shanea arrived, so good timing. I spoke to Shanea about how Carmen had been quite challenging in the ring recently with lots of spooking.

We got to work right away, essentially working on the answer always being forward. When Carmen gets tight and tense I tend to tense and shorten the reins. Mostly because I like to live. But Shanea wants me to push her more forward (not faster) so that she's carrying herself.

As we worked on that I could feel how well it worked. This clip starts right after Carmen did a big spook in the corner.

You can see how tight she gets in the corner but as we work she relaxes more. While there's a lot to improve in my riding (isn't there always?), I see that my hands are less 'bouncy and I'm not over posting as much as I used to.

Essentially getting Carmen's hind end engaged is the key to getting her brain in the game. I knew this from before but knowing and putting into practice are two very different things.

I really wanted to work on leg yields. They are 'easy' for Carmen as long as she is relaxed. Shanea wanted me to put more 'sideways' into them now. It was interesting - she had me get Carmen started and then when she was going put on both legs. I had not been told that before but it really worked - Carmen kept going sideways and forward. It felt like floating.

Our canter work is coming along. She's carrying herself straighter and I'm doing somewhat better at laying off the inside rein.

Both Cindy and Shanea noted that her trot after the canter was nice and forward. Which is good because it felt fast to me and I might have been shutting it down.

By the end of the ride we were both sweaty and tired.

Me: 'okay, so what should I do for my homework?'
Carmen: 'I shall nap now'
Before you feel sorry for tired Carmen- she got to go out in her field (after a good groom) while I still had a long list of chores to complete.

This weather is great for continuing schooling. I am going to make the most of it.

(*I'm putting the videos to be honest and show where I am as a rider. Any advice is welcome but I have a trainer helping me and she's the one I take advice from. )

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Working on First Level

I've not been riding with the same intensity as I had been earlier this year. I am actually okay with that. Work is busy and I have a rather large, sometimes goofy, puppy to train.

yes, I took Guinness to a local brewery. We both approved of the Jesus Murphy Red
In my rides I start off seeing where she's at in terms of suppleness, attention and tension. And then from there I figure out the warm up. Sometimes it's for her body to get it relaxed and flowing.

Sometimes it's for her brain to get her focus on me. Sometimes that discussion takes a long time. Sometimes I have to be really firm with it.

But I refuse to end the ride until I get to work on some piece of first level. And this is not about being driven (although heaven knows I can be that). It's about not making the ride about being ridden. We've been there and done that. Carmen can be reactive. And, frankly, sometimes it seems to me that she looks for things to spook at. It's not unusual to hear me say 'uh-uh' when I can feel her planning to duck. She's learning that I will follow that up if she escalates and is actually responding to just the verbal (so yay, progress).

Things that we are working on are trot-halt-trot, lengthens (those are hard but are getting easier). I do baby counter-canters (to quarter line and back). Those are not hard for her at all. Cantering into the corner is a whole 'nother deal.  Simple changes through trot are old hat and she barely registers them. Leg yields are 'okay'. The straightness part is the problem- it's so easy for me to get her crooked.

It's fun to be working on First Level. I know she has so much talent and that the limiting factors are me and her tension. But we're on our way.

I'm sure as she's grazing she's thinking about how to improve her First Level moves. Right? 

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The Contradictions of Carmen

Heads up: this post is going to ramble a bit. It feels like a good time to summarize where Carmen and I are right now and my musings might help me to get some clearer understanding.

 October continues to be a spooky month for Carmen. After a stretch of pretty calm rides I am not sure what has changed. Perhaps her last heat of the year? Or the (theoretically) cooler weather? I feel like I am at a point that I can seperate out behaviour from training and I don't think that it's the weather. She is feeling more twitchy in general which makes me think 'heat'. I may explore using Regumate next year to see if it helps.

Essentially Carmen understands what is being asked of her and if she doesn't understand she will look for the answer. But if it doesn't come soon she will get pissed off and I need to regroup. I have grown to appreciate what riding such a reactive horse has taught me. Irish taught me to sit a buck and Carmen is teaching me to sit a leap. Carmen's bucks are small little things that make me giggle. Her leaps though- those are athletic and strong. Sometimes it feels like I'm being hit by a bus. I have learned that when she tenses to sit up and back and be bold. Not tight and perched like I want to do. I still do the perching thing but now I catch it sooner and sit back. It makes an amazing difference.

My rides on both Saturday and Sunday were 'interesting'. Saturday was with Cynthia and this time she was spooky at the opposite corner to Friday. Sunday I was by myself and the corner had flipped back to K. Sunday was also a foggy day and I noticed that as soon as I got on she was pretty sure that going to the far side of the ring (at A) was a big 'nope'. I don't accept her 'nopes' anymore because in Carmen's world it seems that if I avoid a place it becomes a spot that we never go because that's where bad things happen'.   This is where walking the line between and insisting and not fighting come into play.

Carmen: Irish can you tell if she has a halter or a carrot?
Irish: You are on your own.

After the first couple times by 'A' a squirrel started cursing in the woods and she gave a big leap forward and tried to run away. I know that if I shut down the bolting early I can keep a lid on it. It's like if it works the first couple times then it's an option for the rest of the ride. This time I managed to get her stopped in about 2 strides (go me!). As I'm bringing her back to me I am also speaking to her: it's a squirrel Carmen. My god, it weighs less than a pound. Get a grip. 

 And one point on Sunday after we'd gone past A for about the 20th time she pitched a real fit and tried to run off. I find that this is where I have to be clear about the ask and not get frustrated. In this case I was asking her to spiral down from a 20 m circle to 10 and then leg yield back. An exercise well within her repertoire and one that I find helpful to focus her. This time when we hit the 10 metres she was determined to look at the woods and had a tantrum when I said no. The tricky part is to release as soon as I get what I want and not hang on.  We then picked up a canter and I asked her to lengthen and shorten her stride going to the right while maintaining straightness. I wasn't expecting much - which was good because I didn't get much. That wasn't the point- the point was to say 'hey focus on this please'  And it worked. After that she settled quite a bit.

nope, don't wanna go there. 

What would never have occurred to me is that I could have feisty rides on Carmen and still decide to drop the gate and go for a hack. Saturday was simpler because I had Irish and Cynthia as back up. Cynthia had a jacket hung on a standard outside of the ring and that had caused some issues for Carmen. After I dropped the gate I walked up to the jacket, picked it up and delivered it to Cynthia in the ring. Going out with Irish she is happy to lead or follow- it doesn't matter. I was able to ride with a long rein.  We picked up a trot coming home and Irish had to canter past us (whee I am a race horse!). Carmen just asked 'Should we canter?' and when I said no, we could keep trotting she was fine to let him canter away from her.  Sunday in the woods she started a little tense but quickly relaxed and we walked out and home at a sedate pace. Even by the spider shed.

It seems strange to me that she is so much calmer when there are far more things that can 'surprise' us. My only theory is that she has had no bad experiences in the woods and the demands are so much less so she can chill. I have thought about hacking first but I think I'm going to leave it at the end for now as the 'reward'.

Carmen is starting to enjoy meeting others at the barn. A friend of Ed's brought our his grandchildren for a visit to see the horses. As always, Irish is the greeter for this but Carmen was quite intrigued. One girl just loved her and Carmen let her stroke her face and was quite tolerant of the sudden movements. I think she surprised herself.

these human foals are quite lively aren't they Irish? 
I am liking that I can reach through to her even when she's trying to shut me out. I am liking that I'm not frightened by it anymore. I like that I feel that I can honestly evaluate if I should dismount- not because of fear (although heaven knows I don't want to get hurt) but because it seems to be the smarter choice. 

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Friday the 13th: Lesson Recap

Yes I know.
Like, who books a lesson on Friday the 13th?

Turns out that I would. I never even thought about the date- I was only concerned about the weather and it was going to be beautiful. The night before I had thought that I would ride but I was too tired. Instead I decided to do some ground work. I took her out of her stall and right up to the ring.

But she was off. Just a wee bit, but still not right.

I checked her over and then noticed her right foot. I picked it up and saw that her shoe was twisted and partially off. She must have caught it fooling around in the pasture.


I called my farrier but I wasn't holding a lot of hope since he lives far away. He told me to remove it but I wasn't comfortable with that. But I remembered a friend who does his own horses and sent out a plea. He came the next morning to remove, straighten and reset the shoe.  I am eternally grateful to him for doing that. (note to self- see if you can learn how to do this). Even better was that Carmen did not seem the worse for having a twisted shoe.

I get on Carmen about 15-20 minutes before Shanea arrives to do a warm up. Carmen was a bit spooky at the far end of the ring (down by K). Little sparrows were flying around feasting on late fall berries.

Well I saw little sparrows. Carmen saw small winged velociraptors.

I was doing a walk leg yield when Carmen spied Shanea walking up the hill towards us. She suddenly wheeled to the left and tried to leave. I have figured out that to deal with this I need to bring her around but opposite to the way that she tried to leave.

Other then that our lesson went really really well. The goal was to get her forward and relaxed through her back so that we could get her working from behind. Not that those are completely discreet things- they are very inter related.

Shanea complimented me on my inside hand- it no longer crosses over the whither when she's tight or trying to bulge in. I thanked her and told that it still took a lot of conscious effort to not do that. Unfortunately my inside hand is still rogue in the canter- it wants to take too strong a contact. It will also do that at the trot but I'm really struggling with it at the canter.  I believe that it's a hold over from when she would gawk to the outside and then bolt. It was to try to keep her from looking out.  Which is not a bad thing but it's adding to her being crooked and not helpful.

We did a lot of work on the canter getting it forward and straight. Carmen wanted to fall to the inside down the side by the trees so Shanea had me turn her down the quarter line and leg yield her over to the rail to keep her straight. Which is why my leg was back in this photo below. Probably too far back but look at her stepping through:
see me working on keeping that left hand forward?
It's not easy. 

see- too much left hand and causing a head tilt. sigh. 
The canter is our homework to work on being straight. 

We also did some work on the stretchy trot. Getting Carmen to stretch over the back without falling on her forehand or jerking the rein from me is not easy. My task was to not let her go too far- just enough to keep her balance. It really forced me to use my seat to keep her balanced and not let her get fast. We had some really nice stretches, as well as some crappy ones. But it seemed that we were starting to figure it out. 

not bad- just a bit behind the vertical, I need to encourage her to get her nose out more
The nice thing is that I don't worry about giving her rein even when she's up. Not that she won't spook but I don't worry about it and so my seat stays relaxed and so she rarely does. 

Our trot work felt really really good over all. Shanea has me riding her forward into contact and this helps me to not pull to get the contact. The more she seems to suck back the more I urge her forward and give her a place to go. That positive ride gets her mind on me and not on whatever she's worried about. 

not a bad shoulder fore, I like how she's listening and moving softly

more push from behind (compare to below)

not quite through here- she's not so sure she wants to trot to where the birds are 'lurking'
you can see her tighten her top line and step shorter

going forward with confidence

We finished by playing with some trot lengthens. Because of my rogue inside hand I was interfering with the flow and giving her a head tilt. But still she tried.  
We did have a couple really good lengthens (for her level of training) where she coiled up with her hind quarters and then stretched out and really elongated her frame. 

It was a great lesson. As I was cooling out Shanea said 'I wish you should see your smile right now'. 
I love the trajectory we're on right now. It's so much fun. 

Monday, October 9, 2017

We're Going and We're Going to Have Fun Damnit!

Years ago, when the children were small, I made plans for us to go the beach for the day. Alec asked if he could invite a friend and I said sure. After he phoned he came and said 'Kyle* says he wants to go to the lake not the beach' (*name changed to protect the not so innocent).

I explained that we were going to the beach and that Kyle could come or not but I wasn't changing my plans. Then Amanda's friend wanted to play video games rather then go to the beach. Before I knew it I was embroiled in this discussion and getting more peeved by the minute. Finally I snapped "We are not going to the lake, we are not playing video games. We are going to the BEACH and WE ARE GOING TO HAVE FUN. Now get.in.the.car'. 

Perhaps not my best parenting moment. But once we got to the beach much fun was had and everyone was happy. 

Which really proves that mom is always right

As you know, Carmen has been a bit of a dingbat lately. So putting her on the trailer to go out for a trail ride might not have seemed like the smartest move. 

I didn't care. We were going. 

And we were going to have fun. 

As always, Carmen loaded and unloaded just fine. As I took her off of the trailer a young woman said 'oooh'. I looked up to see her looking at Carmen with unabashed admiration. 
'Do you want her?' I asked, 'Because yesterday she was FREE'. 
Everyone laughed in sympathy. Horse people, they just understand. 

I groomed Carmen before we left so all I had to do was throw on her tack. 
do not let this expression fool you- she was completely relaxed in the stall,
just not happy that I was interrupting her snack
Nancy and I headed to the trails. The fall colour is hitting it's stride and the woods were beautiful.

Add caption
Carmen started off a bit tight and tense but soon relaxed with a happy expression and a long rein. I could feel the tension that had built up between us dissipating. We walked, trotted and cantered along the trails. Nancy and I chatted lightly. We both love going into the trees. We went into a big field and walked by some houses. Carmen could have cared less about the back yards, she was too busy giving some white rocks the stink eye.

On the way back we stopped to play in the hunter ring. As soon as we entered the ring Carmen gave a big spook at some decorative flowers. She was back to the tense, tight spooky horse of yesterday. I just kept working her. There was one moment when I was cantering and then she took off towards Nancy but there was a jump in the way and I was all 'No no no! We are not jumping that!' I managed to steer her around and got her back to control.
I took this driving out- this is the ring we were playing in
As soon as we were back in the woods she gave a big sigh and relaxed.
So happy here

I shouldn't be surprised but I am. It just seems weird to me that the ring is the scary place but the woods are fine. But I am happy that we both love going in the woods.

A post shared by Teresa Alexander-Arab (@teresaalexanderarab) on

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Drama Llama Ding Dong

oh oh oh oh
I got a girl named Drama Llama, Drama Llama Ding dong
She's everything to me
Drama Llama, Drama Llama Ding dong
I'll never set her free
For she's mine, all mine

Today was the day we were having Thanksgiving dinner; the kids were coming and so was Ed's mother and sister. I had everything planned to the minute so that I could squeeze a ride in before everyone came. I was prepared for Carmen to be a bit of a idiot after yesterday but she was really mellow in the barn. 

However, up in the ring she began to ramp up again. Now, in her defence, it was very blustery and the  biting flies are fierce this year. In my defence, it's been windy lots of times and the flies, while nasty, don't seem to be a real problem when she's grazing.  However, there was this one big gust of wind and we found ourselves in a maelstrom of leaves. 

This was the final straw for her. Clearly I was crazy and she was having none of it. I spent some time trying to get her to pay attention to me and NOT let her gawk to the far field. This just pissed her off. 

Now I could totally ride this out and work through it. But I didn't have time. Instead I dismounted and headed to the barn. There I removed the stirrups from the saddle, hooked up some side reins and headed back up to do ground work. I don't normally lunge in side reins but I wanted ot make it clear that she doesn't get to look to the outside and that, yes, she CAN actually trot forward with a proper bend. I know that she's had them before and she was perfectly fine with them. They really weren't tight- they just came into play when she tried to llama or turn to the outside. 

I'm glad that I did that because it was a faster way to get her tuned in. After lunging I did some basic ground work of yielding her quarters and shoulders, leading and ground tying. Now the mare that just .could.not.horse was able to stand like a rock while I flipped the lunge whip all around her. 

And I had time to come back to the house, shower and finish cooking. 

I had been neglecting the ground work lately (bad me) because I've been enjoying the riding so much. Clearly I need to make it a priority again. 

Tomorrow we're heading off property to go for a hack in the woods. And I am not worried about it. However, I'm ready to get my not-drama-llama back. 

Hopefully by tomorrow. 

Saturday, October 7, 2017


This weekend is Thanksgiving in Canada. I love having a long weekend- since I don't work on Fridays having Monday off is wonderful. The weather has been beautiful allowing me to get a lot done.

this is the view on my morning commute. Don't hate me

I am enjoying my rides on Carmen. I forgot how much I enjoy just schooling. Cynthia came out on Thursday and we had a short ride followed by a hack in the woods. Carmen led the whole way without a blip.

Saturday was warm and sunny- a perfect morning. I washed towels and hung them on the line and then went and got Carmen ready to ride. She was perfect. It was one of those rides where everything aligns and it all seems so effortless- leg yield, shoulder in, trot poles, walk-halt transitions, simple changes. We were just in sync. I dropped the gate and we headed down into the woods. She was alert but clearly happy. As we came out of the woods I asked her to trot up the hill- she dropped her head, lifted her back and power trotted up the hill. I dismounted feeling completely happy. Carmen seemed pretty happy as well.

Today was another beautiful day but I waited until the afternoon to ride. I had a lot to do so was planning on just a short ride. Carmen however, had other plans. She was spooky and tense and clearly not so in the mood. Gone was the soft and willing Carmen of yesterday. However, also gone is how this used to get me tight and tense. Instead we just worked. And worked.

Here's an example:
I had set trot poles on the center line. The plan was to trot over them to C, turn left, trot back, turn right. As soon as I started down the center line Carmen went into Llama mode, fixated on C where clearly danger was lurking. She was so fixated that she tripped over the poles because she wasn't watching her feet and then got pissed over the whole thing. I asked her to halt at C facing the letter and we had a five minute discussion that no, I did not mean sideways. I then stepped the exercise down a bit- doing a figure 8 each time approaching C and changing directions. First at a walk, then a trot. Then we did the poles which she executed perfectly.

She did a bolt when we were doing a shoulder in and as I rode it I found myself rolling my eyes. In the end our ride was 90 minutes. Which is a big difference from the 30 minutes I had planned. But I wasn't getting off until she was listening. I refused to believe that she was scared because this was home and yesterday C was fine. Today she just had a bee in her bonnet.

After I gave her a bath. I figured it was my last opportunity. She was completely relaxed and I dropped the lead line while I soaped her up and then hosed her off.

Before I would really bummed and think that it meant that nothing had changed. Instead, I realize that there are just bad rides. It's not about whether a ride is bad or good. It's about whether I can handle the good and the 'bad' and just figure out what she needs.

On another note I found one of my flickr photos being used for article on how to take photos to sell a horse: Horse Nation: A Picture is Worth a Thousand Bucks

Kind of cool.