dancing horses

dancing horses

Monday, May 22, 2017

Dancing on Sunshine

Over the last four weekends Carmen and I have been away three times. Each time we have gotten better. This weekend was a clinic with Johanna Beattie Batista.  We travelled on Friday and had lessons Saturday and Sunday.

I waffled about a lesson on Friday but I was concerned that it would be all about Carmen's reactivity so I decided to use Friday to school her in the ring. 

I needn't have worried. She was actually mellow and relaxed getting ready and was very very good in the ring. There's a lot to look at both in and out of the ring. Inside there are stalls on one side holding equipment for ring maintenance and for therapeutic riding. Outside there's a vast expanse with trees, grass, horses, a river and golfers. It's not that she was 'fine' with all of it. She wasn't. But she went along with me saying that it was fine and we were able to actually work all over the ring with a few minor spooks. 

After our ride she and I explored

After a pleasant evening of pizza and chatter I went to my friend's place to stay and we had a great chat. I fell asleep almost immediately. My lesson was at noon so my morning was beyond civilized for a horse event. Karen fed Carmen so I could relax over coffee and then head to the barn. Carmen was happy to see me.

The wind was wild all weekend. Like gale-force winds. I couldn't lunge her outside to warm up so I decided that we would have to do it in the lesson.

Johanna wanted to know my goals and I told her that it was to work on Carmen stretching to the bit. She watched me ride and then immediately stopped me to fix my seat. It turns out that I wasn't letting my pelvis move correctly with the movement: forward and neutral. Instead I was moving it neutral and back. This was preventing Carmen from using her back correctly. I practised it at the halt and then we walked off. 

Carmen immediately became calm in the bit and then began to stretch to it. 

see how she's retracted in the neck and tight through the back? 
Can you see the difference in this one? He's stretching forward and taking a gentle contact

Johanna also taught me to not hold my elbows at my side but just in front of the vertical. This makes it easier to follow the movement with my shoulders. And it really did make it easier. But it was hard to remember since I've spent so much time being instructed to keep my elbows at my side.  I like Johanna's teaching style. She stops you to explain something then tells you to go and experiment with it. As you do that she will call instructions to tweak it or comment if you are doing it right. It's very specific feedback and without a lot of extra verbiage. Just the way I like it. 

I have to say that I had the best walk and trot work with Carmen. She felt truly forward and as light as a feather. In fact it was hard for us to control her power. It was like I had unlocked her and then it was too much for her to handle. When I asked her to canter it was immediate and forward and, wow. just wow. 

It was just the right lesson at just the right time. Through all of it Carmen was tuned in and attentive. I may or may not have laughed and smiled with delight when we nailed our transitions. 

Day 2 was the same with some more work on things like bend. I realized that when I ask her to bend she speeds up. I  had been letting her go fast and then try to get the bend. That was wrong. I needed to slow her down and get the bend. When I did that it was much easier for both of us to travel correctly. It was interesting because the wind was even worse than the day before and it was colder. Carmen was more worried about the sound of the wind hitting the arena (I don't blame her) but as we worked she tuned in and we both forgot about it. 

The exercise was simple- but doing it correctly required focus, timing and using my body properly. I left the clinic with just the homework I was looking for and knowing that I had to key to unlock her acceptance of contact. There's more photos and probably more to write about that will find it's way into the blog. But the photos speak for themselves. 

Someone asked me what happened to Carmen. I said that she was becoming the horse that was always underneath all the insecurity and reactivity. 

Now we can start dancing. 

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Going to the Dogs

I will have a clinic update with photos, I promise.

But not tonight. (spoiler alert it was awesome).

I wanted to give you a quick update on some other, non-equine events.

My son is away for work and we are looking after his puppy, Ripley. She is the same age as Guinness.

I'm not gonna lie- adjusting to having TWO puppies was not easy.
Guinness: Help! She's killing me. 
Ripley: RAWR
Me: sigh
The first week drove us nutty. While I was dealing with one the other would get into trouble. I was getting really frustrated- I had arranged my life around work, farm chores, training Carmen and training Guinness. I didn't know how to fit her into my routines. Ed and I learned to work together. After one day I looked at him said "Thank god we didn't have twins".  He looked at me in horror at the very thought.

Things are better now- they are used to each other and much less wrestling is happening in the house. Ripley is a sweet puppy but she is energetic and sleeps much less than Guinness. She loves to follow us around the house and watch what we're doing.

We have no idea what her breeding is. I am sure that there is some hound in there based on some features, plus she 'roos'. If you have any guesses let me know. I'm thinking of getting some DNA testing while she's here.

from the front

side view
Guinness is growing up to be a very solid dog. He needs lots of sleep but he's growing a ton. He still is sweet and smart. I have us signed up for Level 1 obedience. It should be interesting. 

d'Arcy is handling it well, although the cats think we've lost our minds. He's taking on the role of old, experienced dog who is not going to take any guff from these young whippersnappers.

I may or may not be counting the days until my son returns. In the meantime I am learning to enjoy life with two puppies. Mostly. 

Guinness- I got the stick
Ripley: no, you're doing it wrong. Let me carry it.
Let go!
No, you let go! 
Me: sigh

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Please Ma'am- I Want Some More

Since Carmen and I have come home our rides are going so well.  The last two ones I walked her up and hopped on. I did not need to lunge or work her 'through' anything.

I think we have an understanding of each other. I am fine with her worrying but the listening is non-negotiable. She is still not above spooking when she feels that she has done enough work. I'm doing the 'spooking leads to more work' approach. I have confident that I know the difference between a genuine 'EEEK' vs a 'eek I cannot possibly work anymore'.

But now that I'm not spending 40 minutes working on getting her attention I need to figure out what do now. I realized that yesterday I was feeling a bit frustrated because our transitions were not 'through' enough for me.

I then realized that 2 weeks ago I was trying to get her to steer reliably.

Turns out I want more. I'm feeling much more relaxed with her even when she's being a bit tense or spooky. And when she does spook (which is now much rarer) it doesn't take much to get us back. Our canter work is much straighter too.

And she's happier. Not always and sometimes she gets a wee bit cranky. But it's not really serious and I try to listen to her. It's feeling like a partnership.

So the timing is great for the clinic I'm in this weekend. It's with Johanna and I am hoping that she can give us some exercises and homework. Last year we could only walk - turned out to be saddle fit.  Then I can start back again with Shanea- we've been having some scheduling difficulties.

Dressage- it sucks you in and makes you want more and more. 
I'd say wish us luck but I really mean wish us a great learning experience. 

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Show Take Aways

I'm still riding high on my experiences at the show. I've been mulling things over and trying to learn from this experience to improve my next one. Before I get into that let me share that I had the best ride on Carmen tonight. She was soft and forward and willing. It was magical. There was no troll corner, no scary zombie birds and no lions advancing in the grass. It took me a while to figure out what to do! I usually spend much of the ride getting her on the aids that when she started there I was caught flat-footed. But we improvised and it went very well. Leg yields- sure. Baby shoulder ins at the trot? Okay. Compressing and lengthening stride? That took a bit but man she tried.

Here's what I learned from the show:

1. I need to buy a watch.
Seriously. I don't own one- haven't for years but I kept bugging the ring steward 'what time is it?' So I need to pick up a cheap on to keep in my show kit.

2. Packing that extra pair of boots was smart.
My zipper came apart on Sunday in my first test. I had thrown my schooling boots in and I was glad I had. I got them out- cleaned them quickly and rode in them.

3. Carmen does better with more work.
I'm used to horses getting tired as the show progresses. I was even planning to scratch the last class if I thought it was too much for her. But she seemed to thrive on the work and, although tired, was not too tired to play the game.

4. I need to figure our my routine.
I am an organized person but it is very routine based. At the show I don't have my routine worked out so I kept walking back to the truck or trailer looking for things. At one point I was convinced I had lost my cell phone (in fact I was convinced I must have dropped it in the port a potty). I found it in the spot I had check 4 times. Sigh. I had rips in the space-time continuum.

5. Carmen is ready for me to up the ante.
I mean we were in a ring surrounded by a moat, trees, waving cat tails, machinery and was fine. We rode up to into the show ring by ourselves. She was hesitant and fine. So there's no need for her to be worried about my ring. This may be why my ride tonight was so good- I was expecting her to be good not scared.

6. I ride better when I'm focussing on supporting the horse than in trying to look 'pretty and perfect'.
I was able to be proactive and work with her issues. I believe this was what allowed her to improve.

And last- I still enjoy showing and can't wait to do it again!

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Show Update

Oh my- I have so much to share and say and I'm exhausted. I'm not yet sure if I will put the weekend in one post or two but let's see where it goes. Let me at least tell you about the tests.

The show was at Five Fires Equestrian Centre, the same place as we did the clinic. And let me just say- this is the perfect venue to introduce green horses and/or riders to dressage competitions. Everyone was supportive and helpful and friendly. The classes were well paced, the judge was kind and gave constructive feedback.

My first test was at 9:49 and I wanted to start the warm-up at 9. Part of the whole experience was about the warm up ring too. My goal was to have her relaxed and listening. Karen came to help us warm up and read my tests. My friends Cynthia, Ashley and Nancy also came to cheer us on and provide moral support. The mounting block was set up so that the horse was to stand between the fence and the block. Carmen was having none of it so I brought her to the other side and mounted that way. There were some poles on the ground at one side and those poles plus the mounting block were identified as being dangerous. FYI earlier that morning we had walked around the warm up ring and she had sniffed those poles with no issues. So I wasn't buying it and we were going to work through it. A few shoulder ins and some taps of the whip and it became a non-issue. There's a lot more to say about how we did it and what we did but I won't bore you.

The ring is surrounded on three sides with a drainage ditch with water. There are also cattails, brush and grass. Bits of machinery and farm equipment are there. All things that would conceivably cause Carmen issues. She couldn't have cared less. I was super impressed with how she dealt with the other horses being there. It took about 23 minutes (according to Karen!) for her to start to listen to me and not argue about who got to make the decisions.

Karen snapped this picture of us in the warm up:

When it was time for our test we walked up to the ring. To enter the ring you walk through an area that has the judge's stand, spectators and the observation lounge on the left. Karen led the way and we walked in.

Our first test was Training Level 1 and our scores ranged from 2 to 7.5. There were definite spots that Carmen was having issues with:
A- you can see a sliver of the outside as you go by the door; clearly an entrance for trolls.
The ramp - just too much to see there.
The observation room windows
And the little sliver of sunlight dancing at B.

We had discussions at every one of those points. And I was not giving up. It was a schooling show so we schooled. Our score of 2 was at movement 5: 'working trot between B& M'. The comment says 'resistance in corner.' Which is how a nice judge phrases 'horse slammed to a halt and tried to run the other way while rider hauled on rein and pony-club kicked her through it'. Our 7.5 was for our trot circle at the middle. And I have to say I was quite pleased with it. Our score for that test was 51.3 and somehow scored us First Place. I loved the judges comment: "between the challenges there was some real quality! Keep it up!' Frankly I was thrilled we got over 50.

I should mention at this point that I didn't collect the tests until we were done. I didn't want to change my game plan at this point which was about the miles not the points.

For our second test the warm up was shorter and much easier. We also lined up between the mounting block and the fence with minimal fuss (it is the little things). Funny story: we were cantering down the long side and startled a crow which flew up out of the long grass (you may recall that Carmen spooks regularly at crows). Her head flew up.
Carmen: OMG a crow!
Me: *digs heels in* Let's GO GET IT! 
Carmen: Yeah! 
We chase the crow down the long side for a few strides.
Carmen: *stutters her hind legs* Wait...what are we doing? 
*crow flies off in a huff and I give her a pat.

Our second test (Training 2) felt a lot better. We still had issues at the areas above but our scores ranged from 4 to 7 with a lot more 6's. Our total was 55.96 which netted us second. I was so happy to have gone up. The comments was "Some much better work this time. Horse needs to be more solidly in front of the leg so you can sit up and ride into the corners". I did laugh at that - no kidding! 

I was very happy with our first day at the show. Later that evening I took her out to lunge in the arena and I made her work in the spooky spots and did not allow her to hesitate at all. She was super brave and sniffed the evil death ray of sunlight. Hey, it's not dangerous at all- it's just light! No kidding.
I felt encouraged by the other riders/spectactors who took the time to say encouraging things to me. Everyone was very understanding of our shenanigans and were cheering us on.

unlike this cat who is judging you on your failure to impress 

I have photos from the first day (not the second). They were taken by Ashley:

I went to bed at 9.

The next day I had my plan to get us ready and warmed up. Carmen felt different this morning. She was tuned in from the beginning of our warm up. I was by myself today and decided that we could do it together and if we needed help I would ask for it. But we didn't need it. She walked up to stand outside the ring and walked in with some encouragement (you can see the phone above we walk on the other side of the stage). I made sure she saw the judge and that we walked in our spooky areas. The judge rang the bell and we started out test.

And we rocked it. She went everywhere I asked. She hesitated at our spooky spots and I tapped her a few times with the whip but that was it. Instead of arguing she trusted me and did it. When we did our final halt at X I saluted and then said YES! I gave her huge pat and the judge a huge smile as we left. The judge said 'wow, what magic did you do? (or something like that). I smiled and said 'Patience' (understatement of the century). Our scores ranged from 5.5 (free walk) to 8 (circle at E). Our final score was a highly respectable 66.73. Judges comments: "Well ridden! Work to keep her laterally supple and forward to your leg to keep the walk correct. Great job!'

For our last test I did a warm up of about 20 minutes- just focussing on keeping her supple and listening. We were both tired but not exhausted and it was time for our last test.

And it was awesome.  Again 5.5 to 8 but a lot more more 6's and 7's. She was with me the whole way with some hesitations. The free walk and stretchy trot  were our big problems but I wasn't expecting them to be good given that she needs to much support right now. When I came down centre line I was so happy that I started to tear up. I leaned over and gave her the biggest hug. Our final score? 70.38.

That's right- our scores improved 19 points over the course of the show.

Friday I was thinking that I was nuts. I hadn't shown in 5-6 years and I just turned 53. But I had so much fun and loved the whole experience.

Even though that was not the point I am pleased to have these lovely satin ribbons. Our first together:

This photo sums up the whole experience (photo credit to Joanne Kane):
Me: OMG I'm having so much fun!
Carmen: Umm, what just happened? And does anyone have a tranquilizer gun?

Friday, May 12, 2017

Warm up

This is the weekend where Carmen and I do our first show.  I spent the morning getting ready and packing the trailer.  I then loaded Carmen.  

Whatever other issues she has she's great with the trailer - she self loads, travels quietly and arrives calm. She waits for me to unload her-it's so easy.  

I spent time walking her around and then I tacked her up. Fortunately, we were all in the ring. I llunged her a bit but then more horses came in and she was being fine so I got on. 

She was not fine with me riding. The universe was scary and she was in no mood for directions from this insane woman who clearly was too stupid to see the danger.  I stuck out the refusing to go forward , to bend.  I rode out the leaping at the patch of sunlight on the fence. All the other patches were fine but THAT ONE was clearly evil. I rode out a bolt and even  couple little rears. 

The others were very kind about our shenanigans and gave us space. Finally she came to a place of settling where I could give directions without "shouting". The other riders left and she was okay so I thought about stopping. But I took a deep breath and we rode..and she was fine. I read through one of  the tests and it was not terrible. I stopped and hopped off.  

This is why we're here- to put on the miles and to learn to trust each other in new situations.  One day she will stop feeling like she has to test everything.  Not today but maybe tomorrow ...

Wish us luck because we're doing it. 

Monday, May 8, 2017

Good Rides are Not Free

If you've been reading my blog lately you know that I have been having some really awesome rides. I was not foolish enough to think that 'bad' rides were behind us. And it's not that she hasn't been testing me periodically. Our good rides were the result of the work I did last year and being consistent this year.

Alternative Title: It must be a full moon. 

Part of me figured that once the grass and leaves came in enough to wave that there might be future issues. Today proved me right. I came home from work and had time to ride before dinner. It was windy and Carmen was definitely 'up'. I lunged her and she was definitely reactive to stuff. When I went to mount she scooted away. I brought her back and got on.

I definitely earned my stripes. She was reactive, tight, stiff and resistant. And I thought about dismounting but decided that I could work through this.

Alternative title: How to Tame Your Dragon

To be honest she didn't feel frightened to me. She felt not in the mood for this right now thankyouverymuch.  

So I started using the tools that I had in my disposal. Tools given to me by Royce, Karen, Shanea and Jane. I have to say that I think my seat is a LOT more solid then it has been. I kept to the plan that I had which was to use the ring and practice our transitions. She did a few mini bolts, lots of trying to NOT go places and calling on me to really ride. 

not so much fun to ride

I was happy that I did not get angry or scared or even upset. We had to work through this because there are going to be lots of times where's not sure or in the mood or want to do what I ask. 

And she has to do it anyway. 

Alternative Title: Just Do It, Horse

I realized that as we were going around she was ignoring my leg when I was asking her to go forward and she didn't want to. I stopped and picked up the crop. Now Carmen does not like the crop. She will kick at it or hump or shake her head. I decided that I didn't care about that. So we began the lesson of leg means go and if not then leg + crop means GO. 

Funnily enough our trot work had moments of feeling absolutely brilliant. Her canter transitions were effortless. But then it would be spoiled by sudden tension and stiffening her front legs and bouncing to a halt.  FYI- that is not comfortable. 

I tried to stay on task and ignore the grass. I understand that she doesn't like the grass blowing and we have a 2 year history of that causing difficulties. 

Alternative Title: Dramatic Spanish Mare is Dramatic

It was one of the more dramatic sessions I have had with Carmen and definitely the most this year.  But no way am I joining. Two drama Llamas are two too many. So I stuck to my plan of the moment. If I was asking for a walk transition at K and she spun away I returned to K and asked again. I wasn't looking for her to be okay with the waving grass- I was demanding that she focus on me anyway. 

an oldie but illustrative

And in the end it worked. 

Alternative Title: Stay the Course

In the end we had some reasonable work. I was able to walk, trot and canter all over the ring and have her listen to me. 

Make no mistake, if this happens in a test I will be lucky to break 40. 

But if I'm showing and she's like that and we manage to work through it anyway I will frame that test and be very happy. Because I would have earned it through my blood, sweat and tears.