dancing horses

dancing horses

Monday, December 11, 2017


My day job is as a manager in Health care. I pride myself that I am not a micromanager. I believe that people know their jobs and often know the best way to get it done. In keeping with my Star Trek metaphors I am more of a Picard:

I tend to take that approach to many things, including riding. It's not like I am not involved or give direction but, rightly or wrongly, I don't naturally try to guide every single step. I think a horse in trot should be able to carry forward in trot without nagging from me. 

After the close encounter with the grouse my ride the next day was fabulous. Carmen was with me the whole time and I was very pleased with her. I kept the schooling short and sweet. 

Sunday was raw and cold. I was waffling about riding but decided that I would regret not riding so I put on some warm layers and got Carmen ready. In the ring she was a bit tight but really not noticeably different then every other day. After getting a relaxed walk I warmed up the trot and then asked her to pick up a canter. 

We were cantering through troll corner when suddenly she jumped sideways, then leaped forward and we were in full-on bolt. I could not get her to slow up. I did not say 'whoa' and I don't know why- in the moment it completely left my brain. Instead I got into a half-seat and steered her through a circle making it smaller and smaller until I could get her stopped. It felt like minutes but probably wasn't. 

I took a deep breath and forced my heart back into my chest. That was a job in itself- my heart had clearly determined to find a new home. One where the person realized that she was on the other side of middle age and had taken up more sedate hobbies. Like knitting or cat collecting. 

I took a deep breath and went back to work. With a decidedly shorter rein. I have no idea what startled her but suspect it was the grass rustling. I was not getting off. 

I put her back to work asking her to bend and listen. She did another bolt int he same location which I  expected and was ready. I pulled her into a one rein stop. Or I tried. We actually were cantering a 5 metre circle. I gave her enough rein to not fall over (and I hoped fervently that that wouldn't happen) but was not letting go. She was NOT carting me across the ring again. 

It started to spit rain and that turned to ice pellets. 

I didn't care. My ass was in the saddle and I was staying there. 

I essentially went into micro-manage mode where I was controlling where all of her body parts were. At times it was downright ugly. I still didn't care. There was nothing there to cause the spooking (well nothing that wasn't always there). We were schooling goddamn it. Which makes me sound angry and I wasn't . I was a bit flustered, definitely frustrated by not angry and my emotions were under control. 

More and more her ears were flicking back to listen to me. More and more as I put a leg on to ask her to bend or move over or leg yield or shoulder in she listened. When she stiffened and/or ignored the aid I made it stronger until she yielded. 

I was bit brought down by the ups and downs of our rides lately. I do know that Carmen is used to me backing off when she gets really agitated and I am trying to change that conversation. Sometimes that means I am engaging more in horse shouting then whispering. And if you want to lecture me about that come on over and I'll put you on her. So much of riding is feeling the moment and trying to give the horse what they need even if they don't know what that is. Parenting was very similar. 

I had been truly frightened by what happened. My first thought was that Carmen had never done that before. My second was that she had but I was usually off by the second leap. I stewed on it for a bit and sent a text to Karen (my life coach whether she wants to be or not): 

After reading that I felt better.  

But I really like straight lines. 

Saturday, December 9, 2017

The Adventures of Teresa and Carmen: In Which we Meet a Grouse

There's a Grouse that lives in our woods. I know because I have startled it a few times walking the dogs. In keeping with Grouse behaviour is waits until we are just on top of it and then takes off in a loud flurry of flaps. It's quite alarming.

They are pretty
I have often wondered what would happen if/when Carmen and I encountered it.
this is pretty much how I pictured it going down
On Saturday at 12:15 I had the chance to find out.

But first let me back up a bit 
(cheap ploy to build dramatic tension but also to put in context). 

December has been warmer than usual and Thursday was beautiful. When I got hoe from work the sun was shining and it was lovely. I should note that by 'lovely' in Canada I mean about 10 degrees and no wind. If you are dressed properly it's perfect riding weather. I quickly tacked up Carmen and we headed to the ring. 

I had one of those wonderful rides where everything is smooth and easy. Carmen was relaxed and forward. She looked at a few things but nothing else. I am getting so impressed with our canter-it's so much straighter and our transitions up and down have improved so much. I put her away feeling really happy with our ride. 

Friday was also lovely. However, that morning there was a large machine coming down the road cutting the brush in the ditch. They were cutting just along the edge of the property (which is too bad because I have lost my privacy hedge). 

not actual machine but very close
The horses seemed to be okay with it so I decided to ride anyway. My farrier was coming that afternoon and I wanted to ride before he came. By the time I was on Carmen the machine was past our property and down the road.

Still, it must have unsettled her enough because she was completely different. She was spooky and bolty. I put on my big girl pants and rode through it all. There ware a couple times when she flatly refused to go into troll corner and I flatly refused to accept that. When she started to back up I gave her a smack and got her forward. It wasn't a battle the whole time. I was able to practice some walk-canter-walk transitions, shoulder-in/haunches-in etc. In the end we were practicing our lengthened trot across the diagonals into the corners. I could really feel her understand about lengthening her frame, not speeding her pace. I did a few free walks into the corners as well without any issue. 

So I decided to drop the gate and head out for a small walk in the woods. It would be our first in about a  month (hunting season). Carmen was impatient and fidgety at the gate but walked happily enough to the right and around the field. I was prepared to hop off if things got confrontational but she seemed happy enough to stride out. 

Just as we were coming along the woods and towards the path that goes into the trails the grouse flew up. 

Carmen threw up her head and leapt forward about 4 strides. She came right back, let out a big sigh and carried on. 

I know. 

In the woods she was a bit uncertain going through a stream - we've had a lot of rain and the dry stream bed was running. I let her stop and consider the question. 
Carmen: I am not sure it's safe
Me: It's just water moving. It will be fine. 
Carmen: But we might get swept away. 
Me: It's only a couple inches deep. Trust me. 

And she did. I put my leg on softly and she stepped forward and in. While she didn't freak out she did walk briskly and breathed out when she stepped out. We did the trail and came out by the manure pile. We had to stop and consider the old trailer and shovels. Walking up the hill to the barn I asked her to lower her head and stretch out over her back and she did 

While I would have liked a less dramatic schooling session in the ring I was happy with how things all worked out. 

I'm pretty sure I heard you cutting up apple pieces. 
(if you want to see a fabulous drawing of a pheasant and horse meeting go hereEmily Cole's illustrations)


Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Welcome Back

I was able to take Monday afternoon off from work. Cynthia's daughter, Ashley came out to ride Irish.  I could tell right away that Carmen was more of like her normal self. We had a nice ride. Not that she wasn't spooky in some areas but it wasn't anything to worry about.

I had left the poles up and I am really enjoying playing with them. I like how they give us something to think about. I'm learning to not try to micromanage her over the poles and let her figure it out on her own. She really was starting to figure out that sometimes she needed to contract or extend her stride length. I think she quite enjoyed the cantering over them. Or maybe that was me. Hard to tell but fun was had.

As we were riding, Ashley's friend, Julia showed up. She had brought a helmet and hung it on the jump standard outside of the ring. Carmen took one look at it and decided that it had materialized and was clearly up to no good and most likely dangerous.  She spooked into the middle of the ring and I dissolved into a puddle of giggles.
Julia looked at me and smiled.
Me: Oh Carmen. You are something else. 
Carmen:  I saved us. I do it all the time and you have no appreciation of it. 
Julia:  She looks so proud of herself
Me: Yup. Wanna buy a horse? Three dollars and she's yours. 
Carmen:  humph. 

We carried on riding and she was very good. Nice and forward, although I would have loved to be have her neck a little longer. At first she was trying to figure out why there was this person standing in the ring but not giving instructions.  She was clearly puzzled. After a bit I stopped and asked Julia if she wanted to hop on. Turns out that she did. I did my usual disclaimer which is that I can't promise that she won't fall off.

Ashley was riding Irish and he was feeling quite perky and happy to be out. Ashley had him going really well. I think that they both needed each other.

Carmen and Julia did very well together. I gave instructions. I had to be careful- every time I stopped walking Carmen would stop too. That was fair- it was all based on our groundwork and her responding to my body language. I enjoyed watching Carmen go. I can see a real change in how she was going.

Watching her go I felt a sense of pride - she has lovely movement naturally and I have had a lot of help but in the end I'm the one in the saddle and it feels good to see results. 

Sunday, December 3, 2017

She Tasks Me

(props if you know the inspiration for the blog title- I welcome my fellow nerds)

Saturday was the last day of deer hunting season (with a rifle, muzzle loaders and bows are still allowed for one more week).  I know I'm going to sound like I am anti-hunting but I'm actually not. My grandfather was a hunter his whole life. When he was a boy hunting often made the difference between eating or not. I like to say that I'm not anti-hunting- I'm anti-idiots-hunting.

We have no hunting signs up on our property but I am still very careful. I walk the dogs in orange vests and make lots of noise when we're in our woods.

I know that is a long intro into the horse part of the post. Sorry. The point is that often during our rides the horses can hear people in the woods. Carmen is not a fan of this (for that matter neither is Irish).  I know that it's legit to be worried about the noises in the woods. I also know that for horses there almost always is a legit reason to be spooky.

I am working on recognizing that there is something but not being okay with her being distracted and not listening.  And that is not easy. I find myself sometimes thinking 'it's okay that she didn't bend through there, at least she didn't bolt'.

Nope. Not anymore. I am not accepting her to slightly do what I'm asking.

Stay with me. I'm going to tie this together.

With Saturday being the last day of hunting season there was a lot of activity in the woods around us. We even heard a couple shots that seemed close but probably were not.  So when I brought Carmen up to the ring I figured she might be a bit tense to start. I left Irish out in the front field which may have been a mistake. Anyway, when I mounted Carmen flatly refused to go past B/E towards the bottom part of the ring (close to the woods). And by refusing I mean spinning and bolting and generally throwing a fit.

I recognized this state- essentially there is no horse brain to reach- it's all adrenaline and self-preservation. Irish was running around his field as well which didn't help. Although she's not normally reactive to him.

like this
After trying to ride through it I hopped off and had to bring her back to the barn to get the lunging equipment. We headed back to the ring and I spent a long time on the ground getting her to tune in and listen.  We spent a lot of time in the part of the ring close to the woods. Finally I felt confident to get back on and ride her. 
Which I did and it wasn't bad. It wasn't great either. There were moments. She took exception to the lunging equipment on the ground by the gate although she was there when I put it there and went by it at least a dozen times before suddenly losing it: 
Carmen: WTF is that? OMG. 
Me:  Oh FFS, it's been there every time we've gone by. EVERY.TIME.
So I spent some time working on that. Finally I reached a point where I felt we had done some work and I hopped off. 
Which brings me to today. I wondered if some of Carmen's issues was related to her wanted to be by Irish. So today I brought Irish into his stall to eliminate that part. I brought the lunging gear up to the ring. I thought that having to dismount yesterday and head back to the barn was a bit of reward for Carmen as well. 
I also set up some poles for us to play with: 
I have to say I really like this configuration of poles. It gave me so many options to play with them.  I stayed focussed on what I was asking of her and keeping my seat relaxed. I wasn't always successful but I managed to fix it each time. Even once when we were cantering wildly and I just pulled my legs off so my set went into the saddle. That made such a difference. 

It was interesting to work with Carmen over the poles.  We started just walking the outside both ways, then a serpentine. After multiple trips she began to melt down between B and P. I wasn't buying it but couldn't get her to not jig. So instead I put her in a trot 10 m circle at P and made her work. I then asked her to walk and by then she was happy to oblige. 

The poles gave her just enough to think about but not enough to give her reason to pitch a fit. I liked having them to guide my figures. It also kept me focussed in the ring and not on all the things that Carmen could spook at.  I played with leg yielding, using the poles to guide me. 

Partway through the ride it began to lightly rain, but I refused to stop. In the past riding in the rain with Carmen was flirting with death. Now it just added a bit of spice to everything. Cause you know- we don't have nearly enough of that. 

We had some nice canter work over the poles - she actually does better then at the trot. I brought her to a walk to have a rest and she gave a dirty spook at R by suddenly spinning away. This usually unseats me enough. Now they just unbalance me. As I got my balance back I gave her a smack with the crop. 

Before you say 'now Teresa, you can't punish a horse for a spook', I don't believe that this was a true one. First of all we had been by there so many times by then. Carmen also has a history of spooking when she's tired and thinks we should be done. She took exception to the smack but we got ourselves back together and carried on. The spook didn't end the work, instead I picked up a trot and we went back to work practicing our trot lengthens. They felt pretty good across the diagonal. 

We finished with some much better work then the day before and I was happy for us to finish on some nice trot-halt transitions. 

I prefer indoor arenas- much less dangerous

Friday, December 1, 2017

Steady as She Goes

Sailing a boat calls for quick action, a blending of feeling with the wind and water as well as with the very heart and soul of the boat itself.  Sailing teaches alertness and courage, and gives in return a joyousness and peace that but few sports afford.~George Matthew Adams

I would quibble with Mr. Adams or at least require that he add in horse sports. However, I seem to be on a nautical theme as late. Sorry about that. 

Knowing that winter is appraoching and it will impact my schooling I've been trying to sort out what my priorities are for riding. 

What I've decided is that it is creating a calm and steady dynamic between Carmen and I. From that I can build. However, it won't really matter how wonderful her trot lengthen is if I can't get it reliably beause her brain is all over the place. 

This requires such awareness of my mind and body- I need to be calm and steady and make sure that my seat is with her not tensed against her. It sounds so very simple but the body reacts in all sorts of subtle ways when the brain thinks it's in danger. 

It is getting easier. I am definitely less worried. Cynthia came out to ride yesterday (on a sad note she will be moving to the other side of the country but let's put that aside for now). 

The same old spots were creating difficulty and I had to just keep my seat relaxed and my brain on the task. It was interesting- she would come and go in her attention but I stayed steady and kept bringing her back. She did one small spin away from some rustling grass and I just sat it out, gathered up the rein she pulled out of my haand and we carried on. 

I'm really taking the fun out of this. 

We worked on some leg yields and shoulder in. She kept with me and we managed to get some half-decent strides and some really really nice strides. All depending on where her brain was.  I had to be a bit insistent at spots where she was sure that she just couldn't because of all the danger but nope, here we go. 

We finished up with some beautiful canter work. Her canter is really coming nicely undersaddle. It's very powerful which makes it difficult for both of us - it's so easy for her hind end to dump all her weight onto the front rather then to pick up and carry. I played with shortening and legnthening the stride on a circle and that seemd to help. I could feel her start to understand the 'ask'. Although she wanted to use my hands as a prop to help her carry herself. 

We also had some true and proper free walk where she was marching over her back and over-tracking with her feet. Cynthia looked over and said 'hey that's new!' And it is. We even practiced riding it into the scary corners and I refused to pick up the rein in anticipation. 

If I can keep building on this steadiness next year will be so much better. 

let us take a minute to appreciate how lovely she looks in her
new saddle pad. :)

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Smooth Sailing

Hark, now hear the sailors cry
Smell the sea and feel the sky
Let your soul and spirit fly into the mystic
~Van Morrison~

the joy of living near the ocean- being able to take photos like this

I didn't really have explicit goals for the weekend. I just had a 'sort of' plan. I think that that was a good idea because it allowed me to enjoy the time and not get caught up in whether I was meeting any specific goal. 

I am sure that you are all shocked that I could be super-obsessive about goals and achieving them; but I have been known to be a bit intense. 

What I did want to do was to break our pattern of tension when I'm riding. It's become so that I can predict when Carmen will start to spook or act up. So instead of a goal of a calm ride, I decided that I would just ride and school. 

Sure enough, when I first mounted I felt her tense up. As we approached the far left corner (the one she spooks as in every ring), I felt her tense up. I flatly refused to copy her. I left my legs dangling and ignored all the scary things she wanted to notice (like the diffirent coloured dirt, patches of sun, crack in the door). Instead I just rode like it was all fine. 

And so it was all fine. Our rides were nice and productive. I worked on what she was doing in the moment. I spent a lot of time getting her to stretch into the bit. And on Sunday was able to get some pretty consistent transitions without her stiffening her lower neck and hollowing. 

I also discovered that her canter has become strong and powerful. Nothing like riding in a 20 x 40 arena to realize how quickly a corner can come up! 

Karen rode her for a bit on Saturday. It was great to watch them work together. Carmen started off as 'I just can't do shoulder in, it's impossible and you are mean for asking me to' to 'oooh I can do it!'. When I hopped on after to cool her out she was so soft and relaxed over her back. It was lovely. 

It was wonderful to spend three days riding and working on things without pressure or an agenda. I could do a little leg yields, then switch up to something else. 

On Saturday Karen, Janet and I went out for lunch and then to Bits N Bridles tack shop. Where I found a very special saddle pad: 
Carmen: "hmm, that might just be fancy enough for me"
While some individuals may think that I have a saddle pad problem I know that it's perfectly normal to have about 15 pads. After all I have 2 horses so it's really just 7.5 each. Right?

Anyway, I have had my eye on the Baroque saddle pads for a while. Last year I had decided that if I had a good year of showing with Carmen I would buy one. Of course by the end of the year I hadn't gone to one show. 

All for very good reasons and I have no regrets. It was time (and money) well spent. But I had a plan and so while I could have bought the saddle pad I decided not to. You may think I'm silly and that's okay. It made sense to me. 

However, this year has been a huge success for us. I know that Bits carried these and I was not disappointed. I fell in love the blue and black one. I am impressed by the quality of them as well (fashionhorse.com).

As you can see it looks perfect on her. I rode in it on Sunday and she was so good. I'm sure that would be lots to fix if I was getting a lesson but she was trying hard to figure out what I was asking and I was trying hard to give her what she needed.

Obviously it's the magical saddle pad.

It really was a perfect weekend. There was so much laughter and sharing the joy that horses bring us that completely recharged my batteries. Riding is becoming fun again. And not just every now and then but all the time. Having another eye watch us go and give some advice was wonderful. Watching others ride was fun.

I even got to ride Karen's stallion. He's amazing and so powerful- I call him a Ferrari! I had him cantering and I couldn't figure out how to get him stopped (I didn't want to haul on the rein, he's trained to respond to the seat) but I never felt in danger. Just like, uh oh, where's the brake pedal? 

I am sure that Carmen felt the vibe as well. She was so calm and relaxed through it all. I had to laugh because on Friday she nickered to Kalimo (Karen's stallion) and raised her tail (I realized she must have been in heat!) but on Sunday she pinned her ears at him and her tail was firmly clamped. He didn't seem to notice either way.

The mare who walked off the trailer calmly and meandered out to her field later on sunday is miles different from the mare I had last year or even this spring. She has a confidence now that wasn't there before. And maybe I do too.

I definitely want to have a few more of these weekends over the winter: horses, friends, food and shopping. How could it be better?! 

Sunday, November 26, 2017

From the Ground Up

I am back from what was a perfect weekend. There were wonderful friends, beautiful horses, delicious wine and food. Oh god. So much food:

Saturday morning there was a Dr. Suess challenge thrown down and Chef Jim did not disappoint. 
yes, we even had a 3 layer santa gingerbread cake that Karen won at an event.
it was amazing
authentic Thai dinner. 

There was also shopping but I shall save that for a different post. 

I am sure you are all dying to know how Carmen and I made out. 

In short, we both had a wonderful time. 

In this post I want to talk about the ground work. Karen has the perfect indoor to do liberty work. I haven't done much of it with Carmen- my ring is too big and has far too much grass. I thought that I could use the ring to play. 

On Friday when we arrived there was no one there yet. I put her in her stall and unpacked. I then relaxed for a bit in the tack room before taking her out into the arena. I let Carmen get used to the place and move around as she wanted while I made myself useful by cleaning up some poop. 

I then picked up the lunge whip and we began to play. I know that I have done a lot of work with Carmen on ground work and lunging but I was amazed at how she responded to my body language. She stayed in a circle around me and moved with me as I moved. If I stilled my body (like a half-halt) she would slow down. If I pulled back from her she would stop and turn in. I was blown away. 

I did a short video. It was hard to get because with the phone between us she was much more uncertain. She went from Canter to trot and to halt all from body language. 

I spent time each day 'playing with her in the ring. 

Practicing our ground tie. I was able to get 20 feet away and
all around her. 

Karen has a large ball she uses as well with her horses. I got it out to see what Carmen thought of it. She walked right up and sniffed it. She seemed to like rubbing her nose on it. I asked her to play catch with me. Based on her facial expression in the video it seems that she figures it much easier to just humour me. 

I set up some trot poles to play with when we were riding. I asked her to trot over them. The first time she went around on the rail. Which was perfectly fine. The next time around I drew back from her to bring her off the rail and with just a brief consideration she trotted right over. 

On Saturday evening I wanted to tackle the wash stall. Carmen would not go near it any time I was there (she was the same at Stacies). I tried to get her in before but I failed. I was also disappointed with how I tried- there was far too much pressure. That was last year. I had done some thinking and decided to tackle it like I would trailer loading. I decided to do step by step and not move ahead until I had relaxation at the step I was working on. 

I started with walking her by it a number of times. We then stopped by it. I then walked in a step but let her hang outside just looking. Each time I released pressure by walking away. The whole time I didn't care if she went in or not. I was totally chill. I would ask her to come in a little bit but didn't fight if she didn't want to. I just assumed it was too much and backed off. In about 15 minutes she walked right in and stood there totally relaxed and checking it out. I wanted to do a happy dance but thought that might be a bit much for her. I praised her heavily and put her back in the stall. 

I was so impressed with she and I connected over the weekend.  I was able to see how much she has come to look to me for direction and how much she trusts me. I have learned so much from her on how to control myself. 

That would have been enough to make the weekend a success but the riding was pretty spectacular as well.