dancing horses

dancing horses

Friday, May 26, 2017

Rain Delay

I had planned originally to give Carmen Monday off but the weather was too nice. Cynthia joined me and we had a nice ride. Carmen was tuned in and we were able to practice our learnings from the clinic. Tuesday it rained so I let her rest but Wednesday was lovely so Cynthia joined us again.
someone doesn't care about the rain, he has toys and
is ready to go

Carmen was more spooky and energized. Cynthia observed that a day off is not always a good thing for Carmen. She is right- Carmen is a horse that gets better the more she is worked. But I cannot ride her every day so we will adjust our training accordingly. Also, missy is becoming quite fit and is willing to trot and canter for a long time without getting out of breath.

It wasn't a bad ride by any standards. I had to be a bit more firm in her spooky spots because there is no way that I'm going backwards. I refuse to avoid any parts of the ring. The biggest struggle was not in getting her to Troll Corner but to not rush. I was walking her out and it was becoming an issue. I finally ended up doing a 'wedding march': walk, stop, walk,stop until she finally decided that she should actually walk slowly. I've introduced a wee bit of counter canter- just the most shallow of loops. She finds it easy- until she stiffens worrying about the corner- then she loses her balance and breaks to trot. I don't worry about it- it will come.

I had booked a lesson for Thursday. Next week is not looking good for riding with work commitments. I had Carmen up in the ring doing some lunging and groundwork when it started to rain. It didn't look like a sprinkle so I quickly called Shanea and she said that it was pouring where she was so we decided to rebook. So it was a short session but still a good one.

Today was my day off and also a day of torrential rain. To be honest I was okay with it. I was feeling a little under the weather and I believe that my body is telling me to slow down. I can get a bit intense and my body will shut me down if I don't listen to it. So I spent the day puttering and reading. I think I needed it.

I can return to work refreshed and ready to get back in the saddle.

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. 


Saturday, May 6, 2017


On Thursday there was a webinar on leadership at work. There was a section on resilience. The current belief now is that we need to recharge our batteries in order to be effective at our work (I use the term 'work' loosely here to mean whatever tasks we need to accomplish whether we are paid or not).

For me that is easy- it is the time I spend with my horses. I remember how lost I was when that disappeared- I didn't know what to do (http://journeywithadancinghorse.blogspot.ca/2015/01/finding-joy.html). And lately it's been the time I've been spending in the saddle. 

I mean I'm actually wondering who is this horse?  It's not that she's not noticing stuff - she misses nothing. But she's letting me decide what to do about it. A couple days ago I was riding and we could hear an ATV in the woods nearby. Carmen alerted me to the other side of the neighbour's field and we both saw the ATV going fast through the trees and over the hill. I could feel her tense under me. I put my inside leg on and asked her to bend around the corner. She immediately relaxed and went back to work. She trusted that it was nothing to worry about. 

Even her spooks are different. In that same ride she noticed something in the grass and spooked but in slow motion. It was hilarious we very slowly and carefully did a sidepass. I couldn't do anything but laugh. Now we can actually train and work on things. I can practice walk-trot-walk transitions all around the ring and not lose the task to excessive worrying and spooking. I finish every ride feeling happy and completely recharged. 

Today Ed and I picked up a round bale of hay. The horses were in the stall and I thought that Carmen would run off when we backed the truck into the aisle. Instead she stayed and watched- calm eyed and then reached out to sniff the truck. 

On friday Cynthia came out and brought our friend Libby. Libby and her family have been going through a horrible ordeal- her step-daughter developed a massive infection after giving birth. For days it wasn't clear if she was going to live. Somehow she survived but she's not out of the woods by any means and is facing amputations. It's scary and heartbreaking and exhausting. I cannot even imagine what the family is going through. Here's a link to the Go Fund Me if you want to know more.  Libby used to ride all the time and stopped a few years ago. She watched Cynthia and I ride and I invited her to get on Irish when Cynthia was done. She put on a helmet and hopped on. 

I watched Irish work his magic. He knows when a person needs him to be careful and he was so quiet and attentive. As they went around he gave her some of his peace and when they were done she looked much more content. He helped her recharge her batteries so that she could be there for her family. 

The time with the puppy helped as well. Guinness was quite taken with her.
I mean who couldn't feel better spending time with this sweetie? 

I wonder how people who don't have horses recharge? It's a total mystery. 

Thursday, May 4, 2017

A Work in Progress

Sometimes I love when I'm wrong.

Let me explain.

I wanted to fit in one more lesson with Shanea before the show. Based on her schedule and the weather report (seriously rain- you can stop now) we set it for Wednesday after work.  When I got home it was really gusty. The wind would calm and then blow really hard. In the barn Carmen was a bit tense. She actually scooted once (I think in response to the cat coming up the driveway). I put her back and was finishing my groom when the wind started blowing an empty water bucket right at her. She began to dance in place rolling her eyes at me
Help! It's attacking. DO SOMETHING.
I got the bucket and put it out of the wind. I was impressed that she didn't take off but stayed where I had ground tied her.

By now I was resigned to a lesson on a tense, spooky horse. After all that's how she is in this weather. And also, the grass is long enough to wave in the wind.

However, up in the ring she seemed to immediately relax.  As we worked it was clear that she was well in her comfort zone and while she was looking at the waving things she wasn't overly concerned. Could it be? I wondered. After warming up on the lunge I mounted and we walked off. I was able to pretty much walk her everywhere with no fuss. There were spots were there was some fuss but she is Carmen after all and I cannot take her for granted.

After we were walking for a bit Shanea arrived and we started our lesson. I explained what we had done in our lesson with Jane (and can I say how nice it is that Shanea completely supported my taking lessons from someone else).

Then Carmen and I proceeded to start one of our best schooling sessions ever. It was amazing- she stayed with me the whole time and there was no drama or disagreements. We had a few bobbles but she came right back to me as soon as I asked. The few spooks we had were small and easily handled. I've noticed that I don't react as strongly as I used to- in fact a few times I didn't 'react' other then to put her back on the aids and we carried on.

I'm going to share some highlights and some photos. The photos were not chosen becasue they were perfect. I'm guilty of trying to pick just the best ones to put in the blog. Not because I want you to think that I'm perfect (well maybe a little) but because it's a risk when you post photos that you will be picked apart and/or that someone will leap to wrong conclusions. But I worry that we start to think that horse training should always be perfect and easy That the rider and horse are always happy and keen.

That's not true. Horse training is hard and it often looks terrible. So here are my photos- some of which are good moments and some that are not. And I'm okay with that because that's the truth of where we are right now.

keepign the outside rein and giving the inside
The key for Carmen is to keep the outside rein at all costs.  I cannot be giving it away because it is our anchor and keep us on task. That means that when she bends to the outside I have to give and take the inside and not throw away the outside. Since I've been working on that Carmen has begun to trust it and  as soon as I steady teh outside rein she steadies. The give and take of the inside is a work in pogress and I have to be prepared to be as firm as I needed.

Giving the rein for her to stretch will sometimes result in her grabbing the bit and pulling and/or going behind the vertical.
The tricky part is to keep riding forward when she sucks back becasue she really shortens the bottom oher neck and tighten. The bending helps there too.

We introduced the idea of the free walk on a long rein. That is hard for Carmen because she needs the contact to feel safe. The first few times were not pretty as we approached the corners. Shanea talked me through how to use my legs to provide the contact through gentle pressure and not throw the reins away but keep my connection. I'm not sure how I did with that but as we kept working she began to understand the 'ask' and tried.

This is as good as we got and frankly I'm thrilled even though it probably wouldn't 'score' well in a test. The truth is that at our show our 'free walk on a long rein' is likely to be a 'free-ish walk on a long-er rein'  I love how she has an ear on me and is trying (also note that wind is blowing her tail sideways). 

We did a lot of work on staying straight. Our homework is paying off in this. It's not that we're peferctly straight all the time but we recover it muchc more easily - even at the canter. Working on the quarterlines has showed me how much support she needs to stay straight and we're cheating going on the wall. We may not pass a sobriety test at this point in time. 

what is this 'straight' thing?
We did some work on canter as well. It's coming along. At first it was a bit compressed and not very forward (especially going towards the far end). But it got better and better. 
really  not sure about where we're going but doing it anyway. 
Even though she was uncertain she listened and went anyway. And then I felt her change a gear and she started taking the canter to the bridle. I was so excited I let her do it but then she got over powered and lost control of it so we had to get it back. Oops. I need to help her find the forward and help her balance the power she has. A few times she threw her haunches in but listened to my seat and went straight without a lot of flailing or drama. 

My phone died at this point so there are no pictures but trust me- it was lovely. 

Being able to use the whole ring without the big battles has been so useful. Having Carmen tune into me for direction and trusting me is incredible. My attitude has improved as well and I'm less judgemental about her worries. When she's soft everything is so fluid and it's easier. I love how trainable she's becoming.

I'm pleased with the photos that show a good moment and I'm pleased with the ones that don't. Becasue we're working on it. 

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Clinic Weekend Part 2: Persistence

Where was I?

Oh, right- I had eaten two breakfasts and taken Carmen to the outdoor.

 I spent the morning chatting with others. This is why I enjoy horse events. As much as I love having my horses home I miss spending time with other horse nuts enthusiasts. I was really enjoying watching the others have really good lessons. I have ridden with Jane a few times and I love her teaching style- she is tough and positive all at the same time.

Carmen and I were scheduled for right after lunch which was perfect- I could lunge her and get warmed up before the lesson. I grabbed a quick bite and then got Carmen ready. She was pretty focussed during our lunging. Jane came out as I was finishing up and watched us for a bit. She asked if I ever used side reins. I have never used them with Carmen - before I'm not sure how she would have taken them. Jane thought that they would help Carmen stay focussed. I didn't explain that Carmen was being brilliant compared to other times. But I can see her point and I may try them. I will confess to being a bit on the fence as to their usefulness.

I brought Carmen over the mounting block and Jane asked if I needed help. I told her I didn't and of course Carmen shuffled away when I stepped up. I hopped off the block and brought her back and she stood still.

And then we worked our butts off. Jane noted that when Carmen was being looky to the outside I turned my body to align with her rather than for the way I wanted her to go. It took a long time for me to align so that my shoulders were turning towards the inside instead of the outside. As with anything new, it felt like far more turning then it actually was.  As I was improving I could feel how this helped Carmen to turn and not do her bend-to-the-outside-and-spook thing.

Also, stay off the inside rein- I could ask her to bend but then release (not a new lesson for me but hard to get embedded). Other then the shoulders (which was huge by the way) it was repeat of things I know but forget to do: keep my legs at the girth, don't push her above her paces and give to let her follow the bit.

The arena at Five Fires is beautiful- light and airy but there is a lot to look at. And Carmen was being quite spooky about the ramp and  the observation room and somewhat spooky about C (there was a strip where she could see outside). Other areas that came and went were the opening between the kkckboards and the wall and other things that I couldn't see but were a concern to her.

And we weren't allowed to avoid any of it. Jane helped me to understand that Carmen locks her jaw and neck and then can pretty much go wherever she wants. I had to keep the outside rein and get her to bend o the inside and move forward- not faster or slower but at the same pace. This came in handy down by the ramp because she had decided that 'hell no, I'm not going there and you can't make me'. Turns out I can; but I wouldn't have been able to without Jane coaching me that I was doing the right thing I just had to stay the course. That's  hard to do when your horse is freaking out and you are demanding that she bend her neck and move ahead. I tend to second guess myself that I'm doing it all wrong and ruining my horse. But I trust Jane and I followed her instructions and it worked.

But do you know what? She didn't bolt and we worked through it. I'm making it sound more confrontational then it was (I think). We worked up and down the ring and addressed issues as they arose but didn't drill anything. As soon as she improved we moved on to something else. We worked on getting her to stretch to contact and not be inverted and to use her hind end and step into my hand. We did lots of patterns and changes of direction which were good to keep us thinking.

Jane had me alternate between sitting and posting trot to the right and then asked me to cue for canter and it worked really well: instead of the fussing about the first canter depart she just popped into with no fuss. And she stayed straight. To the left, the first time I asked she kicked out but that's because I asked to hard and she (rightly) lodged a protest (or a 'mare-pinion' as I've taken to calling them).  I asked her again (lightly) and there were no issues. Cantering to the left up at C created some issues so we were repeating what we had done down by the ramp. It was interesting to feel it working. Up to now with our canter she would be all over the place but establishing the whole 'inside leg to outside rein' was really helping us.

She did do one big spook as we were cantering by C but that was totally my fault. I felt her suck back and I totally dropped everything so she had no direction. I was able to regain it and carry on and I called to Jane 'that was my fault- I let everything go' . Jane said 'that's right but it's great you realized it'.  Love that she didn't call me dumb because it was a dumb move. But that was a small bobble and we carried on. I need to drill it into my head that Carmen needs me to ride every stride with her - not holding but with intention. If I drop everything and expect her to carry me she won't. She doesn't know how. At some point I might get away with it but not now.

Our lesson ended soon after that and I was thrilled. Carmen and I schooled in every part of the ring despite our bobbles and I felt like I had some tools to use when we return to show. I didn't become frightened or frustrated or any other negative emotion. Jane is so calm she helps others stay calm but I also think that I have made strides in that direction.  I also established some patterns in the ring that I hope will help us school through issues (if they arise). Because that is my goal in the show- to do the best we can but not be afraid to school when I need to and not care about the score.

I cooled Carmen out and then put her in the stall while I packed up. Nancy helped and I simply threw everything in the dressing room. It was NOT as neat as it was when I arrived. I thought about asking for help to load Carmen but decided to not assume I would have an issue. And she walked right on as cool as a cucumber. The drive home was uneventful and I was much more relaxed then I had been coming there. I'm hoping that my anxiety is getting under control.

When I got home Irish was inside being fed supper and he started yelling his head off as soon as I pulled in the driveway. Carmen answered him but waited for me to back her off and was very calm.

I am thrilled with this first trip off the property and how we both handled ourselves. We are not anywhere near perfect but we're not the train wreck we were last year and I will take it.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Clinic Weekend Part 1: Trust

I'm  going to apologize but I have too much material for one post (unless you want the War and Peace of all posts).

Friday morning Carmen and I had a short ride before leaving. I thought that it would help us both if she was a bit tired for the journey. Our ride was pretty good- we're definitely growing in consistency in our training.

I finished packing the trailer and ate a quick lunch. Carmen self-loaded on to the trailer which I was pleased with since this was our first trailer trip of the year. The drive was uneventful. If you don't count my anxiety about trailering. I was exhausted by the time I got there. But Carmen travelled beautifully and unloaded like a dream.

Here's the thing that got me excited: In the past every time I take Carmen to a new place she requires a lot of persuasion to enter the barn. She will balk and often I need someone behind me to assist. It can take a long time to get where we need to. That happened when she first came home too. This time she walked behind me. When she would hesitate I would stop briefly, let her look and then put a gentle pressure on the the halter. As soon as she yielded I released. It was a testament to the trust that we have built up that she walked quietly (albeit tentatively) behind me, past all sorts of bags, horses, and barn 'stuff' and into her stall. After getting her bedded in and relaxing, I sat outside her stall and ate some egg sandwiches I had made. Carmen hung her head out of her stall and we kept each other company.

After a bit I took her into the arena to lunge. Five Fires Equestrian Centre is relatively new venue and it has a beautiful indoor- light and airy:
photo from the website

There's a para rider who rides there and so there's a ramp for her to use to mount. Underneath makes good storage. For Carmen it was very freaky. As was the observation lounge windows. Another spooky spot was the far end where there was daylight showing out of the door. I was thinking that I wasn't riding because I was all alone but then a young girl came and was riding a really cute little bay QH. I quickly tacked up and headed back in. Carmen was spooky in the same areas but I was able to gradually ride her closer to the 'scary places' and there were no big spooks or bolts. I didn't ride her long but I was thrilled with how she was willing to trust me. 

I put her in her stall, left some hay to be given to her later and headed to my friends' house to spend the night. They had supper waiting for me so technically I had two suppers. It was great to catch up on what was going on and see how great they are doing. I headed to bed early and ended up sharing my bed with one of their dogs on one side of me and a cat on the other. It was very cosy. 

The next morning I gassed up the truck and bought a coffee and yogurt to take with me. I had already had a muffin and coffee at my friends house so I technically had two breakfasts. I'm essentially a hobbit. 

At the barn Carmen nickered when she saw me. I fed her and picked out her stall and then hung with her drinking my coffee. She tried to steal the granola topping for my yoghurt. After I took her out to the outdoor ring - which will be the warm up ring for the show. I was so impressed with how quiet and calm she was in the outdoor. She was curious but not worried. We lunged out there briefly and I then put her back in her stall so I could watch some lessons. She called a bit in the morning but was not too bad. 

exploring the outdoor

I was thrilled with how relaxed and curious Carmen was. She wanted to meet everyone and was generally just on her most charming behaviour. I was starting to really look forward to my lesson.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Operation 'Do all the Things' is underway

Back in January I wrote a blog post about my goals for 2017 with Carmen.  I've started with the regular lessons. But those goals also included showing and going off property.

I sent in my entry for the show May 13-14. This weekend there's a clinic at the venue and I signed up for it. I really like the clinician and I think it will be good to expose Carmen to the place without the pressure of the show. I'm going today, riding tomorrow and then coming home.

Last night my mind was reeling with all the things that I don't want to forget to pack. I think I need one of those lists on a wipe off board so that I can relax. I so admire the bloggers I read who seem to be able to pick up and go without all the excessive planning that I feel I need to do. I think once I get going it will get easier.

Wish us luck. I will tell you about when I get back.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Positive Energy

I've been doing some thinking lately about energy and how critical it is to the riding/training experience. This has probably been brought home due to my last three rides on Carmen and the fact that I think far too much at times.

With Carmen I am always trying to find the line between 'not avoiding' and 'not confronting'. Starting with the groundwork I can quickly identify the potential 'trouble spots'. I don't want to fall into the whol chicken/egg discussion but I look for where Carmen seems more relunctant to go and/or is doing far more looking. Once those are identified, when I get on her I am trying to feel where the point of her openly objecting will be and then cutting that argument off before it begins.

For example, if the trees blowing in the wind at A are a problem, when I head down to that area I am feeling for her reactions and before it gets to the "NO!" I cut across the ring. Over time we get closer and closer. In this way I'm working at maintaining the positive forward energy but not putting her in the place of feeling overwhelmed. Over time we get closer to that end. If (as I used to) just stay on the 'safe circle' we never get to that end and she never stops fixating. If I get on and say 'damn it horse we're doing down there because it's all fine' we end up in a fight.

Now that we have started navigating the ring better I am putting more emphasis on the actual training pyramid. I start off with looking for forward, positive energy. Carmen is a fit and athletic horse. She can can move fast but it's not forward and it definitley isn't positive. She can be stiff and spooky and bolty. When she's slow/balky it's not positive either. Obvioulsy what I want is a horse that when I put a leg on  she goes forward and steers.

I've ridden her three days in a row: Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. On Sunday she was relunctant to trot and move forward (the whole mare in heat thing). My crop had fallen out of the holder so I would have had to dismount to get it and we all know that I'm lazy. I decided to work through it. The goal was gentle cue-no response-kick-response repeat until she was going forward with the gentle nudge. It was interesting because she went from ears back I hate you to ears forward sure let's go.  All in the space of 5 minutes. We had to repeat that couple times over the ride and each time we ended up in a good place.

On Monday the weather was a lot warmer and she was not keen to go forward at all- on the lunge or under saddle. My habit is to lean forward when a horse is behind the leg but I've been working on that I just focussed on sending her forward. Because she felt a bit stiff to me as well I spent a long time at the walk just getting her to stretch and bend and loosen up.

Once we had forward things were going really well and it became apparrent that I need to address straightness. You see, when Carmen is not sure that she wants to go towards a specific spot in the ring (on monday this was the small trees where birds were fluttering in and out) she will throw her haunches in and then follow in. It's gets worse the faster the gait. So we were cantering down the long side, then her haunches went in and then the rest of her follows and we're looking a giant C going down the quarter line.

 For whatever reason my body thinks that the right response is to pull on the inside rein and push with the inside leg. While getting stiff and grabby.

That's the wrong answer.
not from this ride but see the siffness in her neck and posture?

Everything becomes stiff and flailing and I feel like a sparking wire rather then an enclosed system. I decided to address it this ride becasue it's getting to be a problem. I came back to walk and down the long side insisted that she keep her haunches on the rail by using my inside leg to my outside hand and only using the inside rein if she went to look out (she had to keep her eye on those little feathered demons- they may be small but they are clearly dangerous). At first she overbent her neck and did all sorts of wiggles to avoid going straight down the line but I was insistent in my corrections. Once we good at the walk I did it at the trot. If I lost it completely, I came down to walk, fixed it, went back to trot. I don't want her thinking that the straightness or the gait are optional but I can't always fix both at the same time. As we went along I was able to keep the trot the whole way around and maintain the straightness or a slight shoulder fore. I tried it at the canter. The first few times I had to drop down to trot and even walk, fix it and go back. I think that we've gotten into the habit of this and I need sort it out. I tried to keep it simple- a few strides of straight canter, then trot.

 In the end I had a horse who was soft and foward. The energy was positive- it was frenetic or frozen. If I put my leg on we went and if I stilled my seat we slowed. When this mare is listening and not tight everything feels so dang easy. Even when the cat springs out at troll corner and makes her jump in place. We just held it together and carried on and then we stood for a while looking at Chester until he was like 'what? Why are you guys staring? It's weirding me out' 

postive energy
Which brings me to Tuesday. I took the afternoon off and decided to ride. It was still sunny but the wind was cold and brisk. Carmen was much more on edge from the beginning but I decided to ride anyway. We all know how she is with stuff blowing in the wind. On the 'old' Carmen I would be expecting some major spooks and bolts. I decided to see if I could turn this negative energy into positive. I decided that if I could get through the whole ride without a major blow up or bolt then I would count that as a success.

It was not easy. Walking was a disaster becasue she was too distracted by the universe. I asked for a trot and she shot forward. Which is better than balking but still not great with the stiffness. I just kept wth the program: asking for transitions, changes of directions and that she listen to me. I wasn't going to be upset that she was worried about the waving tress but she still had to listen to my inside leg. I wasn't afraid to kick her with it either when she blew me off. Interestingly enough this didn't piss her off. It was more like 'oh right. You're still there'.

I played with straightness again and we practiced some small leg yields both away and towards the fence. It was not always pretty (it probably was mostly not-pretty) but we got it done. And do you know what?

Her spooks were very minor - flinching rather thant spinning.

And there were no bolts. Not one. There were times where she was contemplating it but I made sure that i had the outside rein (sometimes quite firmly) and didn't grab the inside. I was pleased by this because it could have been a disaster and set us back. Instead we worked thrhough it and no one died. I did opt to not ride the bridge that day though.

I'm find that this concept of positive energy is really helping me work with Carmen. It's moving me away from the 'go but don't go that fast' idea which was probably frustrating her. I don't know if that makes any sense to you guys but it's working for us.