dancing horses

dancing horses

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Vacations Are Not Easy

Taking vacations when you have horses and other animals at home is not easy.
Guinness: whaddya mean? Just throw the stick. Easy. 

And we're the lucky ones- Joanne is willing to housesit whenever we need her. But I feel that I need to leave pages of instructions.

I always struggle with giving enough information without, you know, sounding crazy. Guinness, Chester and Carmen are pretty straightforward. But d'Arcy and Irish require special care and it sounds so complicated when I write it out.

There's making sure that there's enough feed, hay and shavings. We always get a few round bales in the spring to augment our bales. Ed and I picked that up on Sunday before the snow storm.

In addition to getting things ready at the farm I have to figure out what to pack. You see Ed and I going on a European River cruise. Whenever I say that I feel that I sound very rich. Which is hilarious. The truth is that we got a deal and also saved like mad to take this trip.

I am so very very excited. While I cannot wait to see the beautiful cities and scenery I am really excited that the weather is going to be actual double digits. The weather has been so very cold here it's depressing.

I think I got everything critical done at work but today I left and turned off my phone. I will worry about it in 2 weeks.

It's like getting ready for a horse show. I had these thoughts to ride today but I realized that my brain was far too frazzled to make riding a good idea. So instead I walked the dogs, triple checked that I have my passport and wondering if drinking a bottle of wine by myself is a good idea.

I really hope that Shanea has a chance to ride Carmen a few times. 

See you in a couple of weeks.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

First Lesson of the Year: Tapping into the Energy

 Finally after lots of cancellations due to weather I was able to have a lesson with Shanea on Friday. I was worried at first because the day before the wind was brutally cold and fierce. Riding was impossible.

It was still windy on Friday and my ring was frozen but the sun was shining so I was optimistic that it would be okay at 1:00. I was able to drag the ring at 11:00. By the time my lesson started the wind was starting to abate a bit.

Carmen was more relaxed then our last ride. We started with walking and getting her to stretch over her topline and march. It was a bit of a yo-yo to start. Shanea has watched the Cindy clinic and was able to coach me through the bending and keeping her going. Shanea is big on using the nervous energy in a positive way.

I totally understand the principle of that- it makes sense: don't try to hold the horse but channel the energy. Execution though when you are riding 1100 pounds of tense energy is a different thing. (NB-all photos taken by Julia who came to watch the lesson).

tense, braced but ears are listening. I am not as
slumped as I look- I have so many puffy layers on.

The lesson was fantastic. My abs have another opinion on that - mostly ow. Shanea really focusses on engaging your core. I was too tight through my *ahem* pelvic region and had to relax a little more.
It really helped.

We played with lots of circles and changing of direction. Shanea commented that the timing of my aids for changing the bend has improved. Which made me think about it more which then screwed it up for a bit.

Sigh. Riding is hard.

Or perhaps, riding is easy but my overthinking makes it hard.

Still though- sigh.
I like the outline and reach. Her head is tilted because she REALLY
wants to look out of the ring. I clearly need to address this, still, baby steps
oh my god- are we actually straight across the diagonal?  

We played with lengthens and sitting trot (which is why my abs are so sore). 

I quite like this moment- forward, soft and listening. 
I could feel things starting to click in my body and with Carmen and I. I could feel her compressing and lengthening her stride. A few times it was so light and free I had to smile. I could also feel her uncertainty at this level of lightness. But this time, instead of spooking I could feel her attention shifting to me for guidance. 

After we practised our free walk and for us it was really really good.  I feel like we moved ahead in so many things. 

we can actually reach forward and down. (this was earlier in the lesson)

After I talked to Shanea and caught up on some things. Ed and I are going away for a couple weeks vacation and I arranged for Shanea to come and give a training ride or two. I think it will be great for Carmen to keep her going and I can feel less guilty for abandoning her. 

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Getting Into the Swing

I left the clinic inspired to get back to work. I do much better when I can have a schedule of riding (well anything really). I hate the start and stop that winter requires. So I was ready to use the clinic as a jumping off point for our schooling.

I gave Carmen two days to recover from the clinic. I had grand plans to do some light riding on Saturday but the weather was not cooperative and I had a lot of chores to do around the property.

Monday was a grand day though so I was happy to saddle up and see if we could actually do the thing on our own. As soon as I swung into the saddle I made sure that I was asking her to bend into the corners. It was very interesting because the ask (and sometimes insistence) that she actually bend rather then gawk around got her focussed on me so much faster then I would get in the past.  This led to a very productive schooling session and I was very happy with our work.
A pic from the lesson this week - Carmen is not a fan of those trees
blowing in the wind. 
On Tuesday Julia joined me to ride after work. It was a blustery day and Carmen was in a totally different mind set. This required lost of circles, some clear instructions as to my expectations and a few discussions. However, we rode the whole time with no spooking (just lots of micromanaging) and we ended in a positive place with her swinging through her back and ignoring the certain death that lurked outside the ring. I was worried that I was holding too tight and did my best to let go. I think the short rein is a crutch for both Carmen and I- she seems to prefer having contact then a loose rein. But that is something we need to work on and I made sure I actually practiced some free walk with her. This makes the neck rope invaluable- I can reach down and hold it while letting the rein out.

I love when I can take some learning from a clinic and apply it on my own. It makes me feel more confident that we can actually tackle this dressage thing.

how you look after your servent is insisting on riding
even though it's windy and it's the time you usually are  getting dinner. 


Sunday, April 1, 2018

Clinic Recap: There is Hope for Us After All

 Disclaimer: This recap is based on my memory and understanding of what Cindy Ishoy taught. It is very likely that I got some things wrong so any disagreements/judgements should be on me not Cindy.

Unfortunately there is no media for this ride. But trust me when I say that it was so much better than the day before.
in place of media here's Guinness -
he wouldn't leave my side when I got home.  I swear
that his body does match his head. 

On Friday I was scheduled for the third ride at 9:15. The first lesson was at 7:45 which meant that we had to get Cindy to the barn really early. Needless to say I was not as well rested as I was for the day before. However, I still had lots of time to have coffee and then get Carmen ready.

We stood in the 'on deck' area while the person before me was finishing up her lesson. Cindy told me that I could come in and walk around. I used that time to do some in hand work and get ourselves tuned to one another.

When I mounted Carmen was a bit tight and tense. She had decided that her 'spooky spot' was the round bale of hay down by A. Now, to be completely honest, I was not believing that she found this object really scary. For one thing we had been riding, walking and lunging by it for two days. Second she has one right outside her stall.  She sees it every day and walks by it every time I bring her out to groom. I truly believe that it's become part of our routine that she picks a spooky spot.

Frankly it's driving me a bit nutty. But I am determined that we will make progress on this this year. And I was happy that it was happening with Cindy there because I was looking for guidance.

Essentially that guidance was more bend and forward. What I realized was that Carmen does not want to bend away from what is spooking her and I'm not as determined with it as I should be. Bending her neck, sure, but I give up on bending her body.

So when Cindy had me insisting on bending her going past the round bale Carmen took exception and gave a little bronc in place. Cindy had me getting her forward and said that Carmen was being 'rude'. Which she was.

But don't think that the whole ride was about that- it really was just that one spot. Cindy had us moving forward, bending and changing directions. We were doing lots of trotting and cantering. I felt more balanced and with her then the day before. She felt more with me and supple.

It seemed that there were more people there and Cindy got after one person who ran up the stairs and startled Carmen. Again, I was okay with it as I need her to not expect that the universe will align for her all the time.

There wasn't anything new in terms of what we were working on- it was about forward, bend and transitions in the bend. That was very difficult for Carmen - especially to the right. Cindy spent a lot of time making sure that we were aligned and then asking for it. If we didn't get it right she never got upset, just had us go back to trot, establish the rhythm and bend and then ask again.

I thought that my right leg was going to fall off. Clearly Carmen was not respecting it. I was likely not as aligned in the saddle as I should be either. Finally it began to click for us and things began to flow. At one point I said 'ahhh' as I asked for a bend going into the corner and she actually did it and we went through the corner like we were supposed too. There was some laughing in the gallery but it didn't seem derisive- more like 'oh yeah, we know what you mean'.

We were able to change rein and do bending lines with more accuracy (Cindy is very very keen on accuracy. In that she reminded me of Johanna). Gradually the round bale became less and less important and we were doing more and more down in that area.

Aside:  Cindy was in love with Carmen's tail and said that she wanted that tail on all of her horses.
it is a lovely tail (photo by Cindy M on Thursday)

You know that feeling when you horse relaxes over the back and is tuned in to you? I love that feeling. It's like flying and floating all at the same time. The time between the aid and the response disappears until it seems simultaneous. I could feel a 'give' in Carmen. Not a learned helplessness give but more like she was willing to let me make decisions without endless debates/discussions.

I even got a few compliments on my riding from Cindy which was very very nice.

I have no idea how much time had passed but Cindy said 'I think we should leave that there'. Carmen and I both said 'thank god' and I'm not sure it was just our inside voices.

I clarified a few things with Cindy to make sure I understood so I could take it home with me and then walked her around on a long rein. And Carmen went everywhere in the ring on the long rein, even by the round bale. I could feel her look at it and then think never mind.

Aside: Usually when I ride I set my fitbit to 'workout'. That way I can track my time and heart rate. I totally forgot to do it so when I synced it with my app it showed that it thought I had been running for about an hour. I'm surprised that it didn't send me a text asking if I was okay.

After a few people came up to tell me that they saw a real difference between Thursday and Friday. One of those people was Jane, a person whose opinion I value and respect.

I left shortly after lunch to head home. As I was driving I was thinking about the clinic. While initially the timing seemed horrible given how little work we had done I think that it turned out to be perfect. Carmen and I were just getting into our spring discussion of whether she actually needed to work or not. I think that Cindy helped us short circuit that (that will be confirmed when I ride her at home tomorrow).  Even if we still have that discussion again I feel that I have more confidence on dealing with it. It's so easy to second guess yourself when you are riding alone and decide that you are doing it all wrong.

Carmen unloaded quietly and headed out to her field to relax. Irish was happy to see her but he wasn't as silly as he has been in the past so maybe he's getting used to us going away. I was so tired but I grabbed a beer out of the fridge and began to unpack the trailer. Guinness was big help by bringing me many sticks to throw. According to him I owed him a lot of throws to make up for leaving. The lovely thing about owning a trailer is that I can leave it outside of the barn and park it the next day.

Ed was out but sent me a text saying that he was brining home pizza for supper. As we ate pizza he listened to my describing the clinic like he was actually interested and didn't even yawn. Not once. See why I love that man?

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Clinic Recap: It's All About that Bend

 Disclaimer: This recap is based on my memory and understanding of what Cindy Ishoy taught. It is very likely that I got some things wrong so any disagreements/judgements should be on me not Cindy.

The clinic was starting the next day until 2:30 and I was the first rider. There were also people to feed in the morning which meant that I could sleep in and have a leisurely morning. It felt so weird but lovely to sit and have coffee with Paula and relax. I got to the barn at 10:00. Carmen was not happy because the horses had gone outside and left her all alone! 

I could have found a spot to turn her out but history indicates that she doesn't really settle so I cleaned her stall, took her into the ring to lunge and look around  and then sat down to keep her company.

A post shared by Teresa Alexander-Arab (@teresaalexanderarab) on
Don't let her expression fool you- she was actually quite relaxed with me and was happy to drop hay bits on my mead.

I braided her mane and gave her a really good groom. Braiding was not 'required' but I find that it is very calming for both of us so I like to do it. I went into the ring about 30 minutes early to walk around and get us to both relax. My friend Cindy came to watch (not to be confused with Cindy Ishoy the clinician or Cynthia who rides Irish). She took the photos and videos of the lesson. Shanea came as well to watch.

When Cindy came in she asked me a few questions- I explained that we were out of shape and just getting back into work. She asked a few more questions and then had us go out and walk around.

Carmen and I were both a bit tense. Honestly, my thoughts were in a bit of whirl:
okay, sit up and follow the movement, put your leg on, Carmen we do not spook at the door or the sign or hay or the door, how do you ride anyway? Why on earth did I think that this was a good idea? Don't even look to see how many people are here watching. 

Right away Cindy was after me to get her more bent- particularly to the right. I really thought that we had a good bend but it wasn't enough and when I look at the videos-I have to agree: what felt like a good bend was really not a bend at all.

Because it is very important to me to be honest I'm going to share some videos from this ride. Please don't be too harsh- honestly I am very harsh on myself anyway. I am disappointed in the degree of tension I see in my shoulders and arms- Carmen was very tolerant of me in that regard. I was honestly riding as best as I could. 

Early in the ride doing our trot work: 

At 3:44 you can see Carmen looking askance at a round bale at the far end. Cindy was so sweet asking people to not jump around and getting after some dogs. I said that it was okay because this was part of the reason why we were there. 

I was sure that I had completely forgotten how to ride. Cindy asked me to do a 3 loop serpentine and I  could not figure it out at all in the small ring. I apologized a lot.  At one point we had this conversation: 
Cindy: Teresa, you are trying too hard. 

Me: Yes, that is my thing. 

Cindy: okay. I really appreciate how hard you are trying to do everything I want but you don't need to think so much. Let me do the thinking and you just do what I say and it will be fine. 

That was just what I needed to hear. I could take a deep breath and let Cindy do the 'riding' for me. 

At this point I should say that I really liked Cindy's teaching style: she is clear and direct and positive. I didn't have to struggle to figure out what she wanted and I didn't need to listen to long explanations. She is also okay if there are mistakes. The says that horses at Grand Prix level have made a ton of mistakes. Don't get upset- just fix it. 

Here you can see me trying to more bend. Honestly it was a real struggle and Carmen was not too keen on the idea. I was also opening my rein far too much- an old habit that has returned. 

You can see how she likes to keep an eye out for things and spooks at a person walking up the stairs. But this was so useful because the work just kept going - there was no 'break' for spooking, just breaks when the work was going well.  

However, as we got more bend I could feel her softening and relaxing into the work. It was definitely easier to keep her on the aids and she was more rideable. Of course she also was not too thrilled with this as it is also harder. 

Cindy was really helping us with our issue of haunches in going to the right. I was trying so hard with my inside leg that I thought that it was going to fall off. 

Here is some later work where we are doing canter and some lengthens: 

We are looking more relaxed. There is a spook in that corner but we were able to ride through it with no big drama. You can see that she is a lot more relaxed over all.

I have to say that working on leg yields with a mirror is awesome. I can see how I overbend the neck.

While Cindy was not negative in her teaching style she only praised when it was warranted. So getting 'good job' or 'good riding' was something to be treasured and had real meaning. 

When we were done Carmen and I were both sweaty. The weather had warmed up but she still had her winter coat. I walked her out and then hopped off to walk her some more. I took her out of the ring and put on a cooler and took her outside to dry off. We went for a little 'hack' in hand to check some things out. 

I was really happy with session we had and I realized that this was just the bootcamp we needed. Not sure if Carmen agreed. I groomed her to get her to dry some more and then ended up grooming her more later. I was happy to see that, while she might have been tired, she didn't seem to be sore anywhere. 

Cindy didn't finish teaching until 7. I watched some really great lessons and then we all ate together. Cindy was staying at Paula's and we didn't get home until after 10. I was so tired that I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow. Pretty sure that Carmen did the same. 

Friday, March 30, 2018

Clinic Recap: Dealing With Things

I had planned for a leisurely morning and leaving around lunch time. However, I found out that if I wanted to ride in the ring I needed to be there sooner because of lessons beginning around 3:30. So that made me rush a bit to get ready.

I know that rushing and trailer loading are incompatible so I made sure that I was all calm when I went to load her.

While Carmen might have her issues- trailering is not one of them and she walked right on. I know she's worried about it because she won't take a treat when she loads but she's obedient and listening so I figure that the relaxation will come.

The drive took less time then I thought which was great. When I got there she unloaded and walked right into the barn like she knew the place. Thinking back to when entering a new place took a bit of work I was really happy.

Carmen walked into her stall with a regal air, found some hay in the stall that she deemed acceptable and decided that it would do.

she and her neighbour were quite enamoured with one another. 
There wasn't a lot of time so after letting her settle for a bit and find a spot for my things and then brought her into the indoor to look around and lunge. There's a lot to look at in the indoor- multiple doors in and out, round bales of hay, a viewing area at ground level and then above where the tack room is also located. Two of the walls are all mirrored and there was jump poles, standards and blocks to make cavalettis in a pile. 

So in other words there were multiple things for a sensitive mare to react to. 

Our ground work went really well and she was quite tuned in so I took her back to the grooming stall and got her tack on. When I was mounted and walking her around there were also people getting everything tidied up for the clinic. They were so kind,  asking if it was 'okay' if they kept working. 

I said of course. I wanted them to keep working that was part of why we were there. I didn't want anyone walking on eggshells around us. I was there to scramble some eggs. I am determined to not be the person that asks everyone to be quiet so that my mare doesn't spook. 

So I worked with Carmen at walk, trot and canter and we went all over the ring. I was trying to get a feel of where she was reactive and to be calm and ride her through it. 

It was, in truth a tense ride but not a bad ride. We dealt with everything with a minimal amount of fuss. I would have liked to ride longer and I actually could have but I felt that I was interfering in a a lesson and decided to call it. 

I was happy with how things had gone for Carmen's first time off property this year and what was likely my 6th ride. I drove to my friend's house where I was spending the night and had a relaxing evening chatting with her and catching up on the news.

 I went to bed excited and nervous for the next day. 

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Mud Wrestling

In retrospect that might not be the best blog title. I wonder if it will increase my 'hits'?

Oh well, sometimes you have to go with the most apt title and let the chips fall where they may.
I can't believe that you would imply that I would ever
engagein such a thing....

Back in early February my friend Paula asked me if I was interested in participating in a Cindy Ishoy Clinic the end of March. Cindy was a member of Canadian Dressage team that won a bronze in 1988 and she came fourth individually. She comes to Nova Scotia regularly to provide clinics.  I have watched these clinics in the past and even done an article on Cindy and Sue (the stable owner) for a local magazine.

Sure, why not?  I thought. I figured that by then we would have started back to schooling and the timing would be good to get us going.

And then the weather worsened. And despite my best hopes there was a day here and there but not enough to get in our groove.

I had hopes for last weekend and this week but honestly the ring has not been great. I did get a ride in on Saturday (it was great). Yesterday the ring was okay but not great so all I could do was walk. Carmen was happy with that and it was a good session for what we could do.

In the past I would have been freaking out about this. But I really wasn't. I figured the goals of the clinic would be to get us going again and see what I need to work on.

Today was sunnier but the wind was cold. So the ring never really thawed until this afternoon. My farrier came out around lunch time. Which was great but it takes about 2 hours to do the two of them.

When I checked the ring was 3/4 clear but there were a lot of puddles. The footing under the puddles was fine so I figured we would be okay.

picture this with multiple puddles, like 40 or so....
I started on the lunge and she was pretty good. When I got on she was initially good but then decided that the wind blowing the trees was just too much. I sat out a medium spook and got her back under me. I kept on expecting her to work and to keep her brain in the ring rather then outside.

After a couple mini melt downs she gave a huge leap/bolt. I sat it out, put my feet back in the stirrups and brought her around in a circle and got her stopped. She continued to have a fit so I decided to dismount and hooked her back on the lunge.

Honestly I think that my light riding has set her up to expect that she doesn't have to work, not really. I then began to work her butt up and down the room. She clearly needed to work out her issues and I found it much easier from the ground (although part of me was pissed at myself for getting off. I was also pissed at myself for not asking for more from the ground so I could have seen this coming. Also pissed for not being psychic and knowing always what I should do).

Once I had set up my expectations from the ground I got back on.  I am not getting off if you just 'behave'. We need to work.

And by 'work' I was just looking for a bend, forward and basically not losing her mind over possible demons in the trees. I made sure that I was really paying attention to her tension and when it happened I would immediately start a 10 metre circle.

On the plus side, puddles are not an issue for Carmen. She will walk, trot and canter through them with no issues.

When I had a lovely trot to halt transition across the diagonal I hopped off. Both of us were spattered in mud.

I sighed. Why did I have to buy a grey horse?  We are going to look like pigpen in the clinic. My girth was brown with mud- you couldn't seen any black at all.

Her tail is a mess and it's too cold to wash it. I did dip the end in a bucket of warm water. Which turned the water brown but the tail looks the same. I did manage to get the worse of it brushed off.

So two (slightly dirty) marshmallows are heading to a clinic with no real work behind us. What could possibly go wrong?

Oh well. We're going to the clinic and we're going to have fun. I'm sure that Cindy is quite used to dramatic, reactive mares. I hope to get some insights on how to get her loose over the back and tuned in as well as some ideas on conditioning.

 I have enough self-confidence that I won't let Carmen be overworked or made sore.

Me, I'm fair game.

Wish us luck.

Two marshmallows about to be toasted