dancing horses

dancing horses

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Go With the Flow

As winter creeps ever closer riding is a hit or miss affair. I have to take advantage of the weather and ride when I can. I don't mind cold but I need the footing to not be frozen and, frankly, I don't want to ride when the wind is strong and biting. Sometimes the weather is great but my work schedule won't let that work.

Interestingly I am not super frustrated by this.  I ride when I can and really, what else can I do?

Carmen is certainly energetic these days. Our rides are not bad but there is sometimes far more drama then I would like. Which part of the ring is spooky is a moving target these days. I am sure that there are hunters in the woods which does not help (not in my woods but around us).

Also interestingly I am not frustrated by this. I am trying to not buy into the cycle of tension and it does work (but is not easy). I ride out the shenanigans and make sure that we have positive work.
from October: exit stage right

What has happened to me?

In short, 2017 happened. I did a crap load of things with Carmen and pushed us outside our comfort zone. Neither one of us was hurt or died. I believe that I know what her repertoire is and it does not bother me. I've learned how sit deep and strong and not try to clamp on.

I don't mean that I'm causal or careless.

I'm just 'whatever' when she's spooky and full of praise when she's good. I'm pretty sure that I've taken the fun out of it.
We can be balanced (again from October)
But when you have done this: 

It's hard to believe that your horse is a nervous wreck and scared of the universe.

So I go with what going on and just try to figure out what we need to come together.

A collateral gain from this season is that my anxiety about trailering. I used to find it tiring but now I find myself very comfortable. Probably because I've done so much of it and because Carmen is so good about it.

This weekend Carmen and I are heading to Karen's for a fun weekend. The plan includes riding, eating, possible a tack shop visit, some wine (for me, Karen doesn't drink really) and lots of talking/laughing. There is no schedule, a brief sketch of a plan and that's it.

We're just going to go with the flow.

I can't wait.

Monday, November 20, 2017


A few weeks ago I received an email from our Provincial Association inviting me to an awards reception. At first I thought it was a generic one inviting all members but on re-reading I realized that they were saying that I had won an award. I spoke to Ed and we made plans to go (apparently if you need me to go somewhere just send me an email that I have won something). 

I actually didn't know what I had one and when I was sitting there listening to all the awards I thought that I had misunderstood the email and was going to have to explain to Ed that this was a mistake, but hey we had a nice day together. Plus we went to Ikea so it's really a win. 

Then I heard my name. Not once but twice:
Champion for my 'region' and Reserve Champ for the Province in
Training Level for the Provincial Scotia Series

I was, of course quite chuffed about the whole thing (NB: 'chuffed' is a word meaning very pleased).  But not because of the ribbons (although those are very nice and going on my wall) but about what they represent- the work that I put in. 

Back in January i wrote a post about my goals for 2017. I met all of them. Well, except for going to Hobby Horse but we did lots of other things. Carmen and I went off property to show, do clinics and to play. My main goal was to have fun with her and enjoy the experience. As the season unfolded we gained in confidence in ourselves and each other. 

So I will celebrate these ribbons- not because I won, but because I went out there and did the things.  And we totally slayed it. 

And didn't look half-bad either: 

one of my favourite things

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Ah, That's the Spot

There was something I didn't share about the Jacquie Brooks clinic: I won the main door prize! It was a free massage session for Carmen from SoulWay Equine. The owner, Mary, is certified in Equine Sports Massage Therapy.

I couldn't believe that I had won. And the timing was perfect. When you ride a horse that is frequently tense and will throw her haunches in you have to wonder if there's a part that is related to a musculoskeletal issue.  I was pleased with how quickly I was able to arrange an appointment.

Before Mary was due to arrive I brought the horses in and tried desperately to scrub off the muck that Carmen had managed to get on her neck/face. I have never seen equine massage before so I was curious about it.

Mary asked me about Carmen and if I had noticed anything. I said that I find that she gets tight and tense in her lower neck/withers and in her poll. I also mentioned that, when tense, she will throw her haunches in to the right but lately I had noticed that she was travelling straighter to the right (yay). However, travelling to the left and being straight was harder (it's never easy, is it?).

I like Mary's approach to Carmen- she was calm and quiet and constantly checking in to see how Carmen was responding.

Carmen was adorable- you knew right away if something felt good or not. Her face when through so many expressions.
what you doing back there?
Mary did indeed find tension in Carmen's poll as I suspected. Carmen loved the release of it.
oh yeah, right there
Overall Mary didn't find anything glaring or awful. A few muscle knots- a big on in her pecs and in her haunches. She said that these are normal in  training (just like people). Interesting enough there were more knots on her left side (where she was starting to struggle to be straight). Overall, Carmen's left side was tighter. 

When Mary would work a knot, Carmen's face would tighten, her eye would harden and her ears would pin. Mary would back off until she found the right amount of pressure and work at it gently until Carmen's eye started to soften. I know how Carmen felt- massage therapy treatment doesn't always feel great in the moment but it does help release. 


Mary said the didn't see any soreness in Carmen's back. She asked how often I had the saddle fitter out and I explained that I monitor it pretty closely. Carmen is really good at telling me when she's not comfortable. 

Mary recommended that I not ride that day and let Carmen's muscle settle. It was easy to comply with that request because it was a cold, blustery, raw day.

I did, however, take Guinness for a walk. He's a big and incredibly strong dog. Most times he walks on the leash really well but when he's excited he can pull me off my feet and I am just not strong enough to hold him. A few weeks ago I bought him a halti leash:
I quite like it because there is only pressure on the nose if he pulls. Otherwise it is nice and loose. He's had it now for a few weeks and is doing well with it. He takes exception to it at the start and then forgets about it. It's also working for when he decides to bark at other dogs: a quick correction and he stops.

On this walk, however, he decided to try some civil disobedience (I think he goes on the internet when I'm not home):

I.just.can't.go.on. Leave me to die
If you look closely you can see his eye fixed on me to see if I'm getting the message. I stood there to see how long he would stay and he didn't move at all. Just played pathetically in the leaves. Finally I had enough and told him to get up and get on with it. That was the end of that. 

For reference this is a photo from his baby days when I first put him on a leash and he realized he couldn't go the way he wanted:
HALP! She's killing me
Dramatic dog and dramatic horse. I wonder if there's a common thread here????

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Product Review: Dublin Performance Tights

Back in October my husband went to Arizona with his brother for a vacation. Ed's brother has a house just south of Phoenix and the two of them love to golf.  Ed is not one to spend time shopping when he's travelling and I took full advantage of this by ordering some things from tack shops in the U.S. Often finding things I want is difficult here (even trying to get it special ordered) and shipping from the U.S. to Canada is expensive.

I placed an order from Riding Warehouse and saw these breeches for a great price:
Dublin Performance Warm-it Silicone Full Seat Tights
I have winter breeches but they are too warm unless it's really really cold. I thought that I could try these and if I hated them then sell them to someone else.

(I should say at this point that I paid for these and am receiving nothing for this review)

They are now my new favourite breeches. I love them. They are the most comfortable breeches I have ever worn. They feel like yoga pants. The cut is high enough to *ahem* hold things in but not so high that you feel like they could be worn as a bra.  I have a 10 inch difference between my hips and waist and my thighs are NOT skinny. These fit like a glove- nothing bagged anywhere. The fabric is soft, with a nice weight. The fleece lining is not heavy.

But Teresa, I hear you say, how are they for riding?

wearing them at the J. Brooks clinic

I wasn't sure what I would think of the silicone- I have heard mixed reviews of people in terms of the silicone seat. However, I found it to be perfect. My seat felt still when I needed it to be and able to move when I needed to move. They are also warm.  I have ridden in them frequently since the Jacquie Brooks clinic. I love how I can stay secure in the saddle no matter what Carmen was doing underneath.  There was no bagging, no pulling, no riding up in the, well, you-know-what. 

I am planning to buy more of these breeches to see if I love the other styles. I have looked and there are no retailers of Dublin in my area. I shall have to see if I can get a tack shop to look at their products. Otherwise it will be on-line. 

Sunday, November 12, 2017


I returned from the Jackie Brooks clinic all inspired. I felt that we had made some leaps forward in our learning and I really wanted to keep going.

Mother Nature had other ideas.

The weather has turned cold and Novemberish. I don't know why it's such a surprise but it really is.

I miss this weather

So I squeeze in rides when I can.

Carmen has definitely noticed the change in weather. She's also very very fit. Not that this is an issue at this point in our relationship. Carmen will likely always notice things and I don't think that she'll ever not have opinions.

Often our rides start off a bit tense and her threatening to spook/run away. At times she will actually spook. And it really doesn't matter. Because, as I stay on task and keep us on the work she comes to me and meets me half-way.

Riding is fun. No more do I have a feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach. At times I actually laugh at her antics.

Today a young woman named Julia came out to ride Irish today. It was a cold day but fortunately the wind was gone. Both of them had a ton of energy but were using it positively. Every time I looked at Irish he was having fun.  Carmen gave a couple spooks but otherwise was nice and forward.

What I am finding with our rides is that while we might start tight and tense we end soft and loose. Today I played a bit with the canter-walk departs. Those are really coming although Carmen still believe that the 'cue-pin ears-flail' maneuver has more flair. Her canter seems to be so much improved - I think it's because I'm remembering to make sure she's loose and straight and slowing up before I ask.

I'm remembering Jacquie's instructions praise every time the horse even tries to find the answer. It's funny how much that works. Even for things that I know that she knows (and she knows that I know she knows how).

Today I played with the lengthens in canter and trot and she was really stretching out over her topline and reaching. They wouldn't score well in the show ring (yet) but she's getting the idea.  And from the idea we will can build.

I need Shanea to come back and work with us but she's away.

After the ride Julia and I went in the woods for a short hack. She was surprised at how different Carmen was in the woods. As we came up to the barn Irish picked up a canter and so did Carmen. which was fine. And then we were galloping. And then I lost steering. I called to Julia and she slowed up. I didn't mind the gallop per se but I didn't want to gallop into the barn or slip on the grass.

While I may not have much time left for training until winter stops us (although I am still thinking of taking her a few times to an indoor if I can line it up), I am still happy with where we are going.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Handy Man

Let me start by saying that I have the best husband. He has embraced country life with enthusiasm. Which is great because there are often puzzles to solve when owning a farm. 

One such puzzle involves feeding hay. I hate feeding hay on the ground. Horses make a big mess of it and then won't eat it. It's wasteful and difficult to clean up. 

Enter the hay box: 
Steele eating from the hay box that Ed made. 
That worked okay but they pulled the hay out and made a mess. Then when we got a lot of snow it would be buried. That caused some concern with me that a horse might get injured. After the winter of 2015 we ditched it and started again. 

The next attempt was the slow feed hay net suspended between two posts:

That saved a ton on hay wastage and made clean up easy. That worked great for the winter and then in the spring the horses broke one of the posts which led to safety issues. Then they did it again the next spring. 

Back to the drawing board. Obviously more study was required. 

One day this summer I walked into the garage to see Ed building something. 
What are you making? 
This is a garden box for Andy's wife. She wanted one and I said I could build it. 
I circled around it with my mind whirling. I realized that with some modifications this could be the answer I was looking for. 

We talked about it and Ed came up with this: 

It's an elevated hay box. It's large enough to fit a full bale (or more). The hinge makes it easy to lift the hay in. The legs are black because they are painted with some stuff that rubberizes them to keep them from rotting. The whole thing is made out of hemlock which is a great wood for outside. But the  hay doesn't sit there waiting for the horses to drag it out and make a mess. We purchased a slow feed hay net that is suspended between the two arms. 

Carmen modelling. Also, not impressed with how the net is slowing her down.
I'm really really hoping that this will work for us. I may have to put some metal around the edges if they start chewing on it but I'm hoping that they won't.

I told Ed that he could sell these if he wanted. I think he was intrigued with that idea. I will be his agent of course.
(I find him both)


Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Jacqueline Brooks Clinic Recap: Day 2 Balancing Point

 I don't care that she broke to trot. I care that she lost her balance ~ Jacqueline Brooks
Standard disclaimer that all errors are mine and should not reflect Jacquie's training
Overnight the temperature dropped from 'unseasonably warm' to 'cold and blustery'.  I was glad that I had thought to throw a winter coat into the truck before I left. At 6:30 a.m. it was cold! I fed the horses I was resonsible for (there was a new one looking at me plaintively but I explained that I didn't have instructions and could not help. Talk about guilt!) and headed back to the house for a warm cup of coffee.

Once it was light out I turned out Carmen and hooked up the trailer. I liked being able to turn her out. I think that it's better for a horse to be able to move themselves when possible. Carmen is not that good at being in a new turnout amd I am hoping that she gets used to it.
such a lovely setting
She was calmer this time but still happy to come back inside. I watched a few rides and took more notes. Jacquie had spent a lot of time in the clinic talking about balance. She talked a lot about building the bridge which holds the rider. The two sides are the front end and the back end. If you push too much and/or too quickly the back end can push the horse onto the forehand and they lose their balance. My understanding is that she believes that the front end needs to be warmed up and loose before you ask for too much behind. She also made the observation that horses get upset at a lack of balance and can be reactive. It sounded very similar to something that Sue leffler (CR coach) said to me as well.  Jacquie said that a horse and rider are like pairs figureskaters. The horse is the man on the bottom holding the woman over his head. If she is moving all around he cannot stay balanced underneath of her and there is no security. I liked that image. 

I braided Carmen again. I hadn't planned on putting on her ear bonnet but I made such a mess of the forelock that I figured it would cover it up. From the side she looked like she had a small horn growing out of her forehead. 

I didn't bother about taking her to the outdoor to warm up first. Jacquie said that she preferred we didn't anyway. I simply came in and mounted up. I felt so much more relaxed then the day before which allowed me to be more focussed. 

Carmen pretty much felt the same as the day before and  gave a spook as I walked off but honestly I was just her typical spin away and it was no big deal. Jacquie pointed out the value of the neck strap for a spooky/bolty horse. She explained that I could use the strap for control and not have to hold so much with the reins. This allowed me to push her forward into contact withtou worry about where she would go.

In my ride the night before I had realized how much easier it was to keep her straight. When Carmen gets tense and ready to run away she always drops the inside shoulder. I can use rein to flex her (or actually bring her head right around) but then she drops her outside shoulder and twist her neck and by then I've lost whatever the heck it was I was trying to work on. With the neck strap, when she dropped her shoulder to the right I would pick it up on the left and give a small tug. This got her to pick herself up at the shoulder/wither  and rebalance. This kept us straight and on track. Essentially the rope helped me to steer her shoulders and keep her underneath of me.

The other way we used the neck strap was to lift it up gently when she dropped her neck/chest and wanted to plow down. I could feel her lifting her shoulders, my leg brought the hind leg under and she lifted herself into self-carriage. It was so cool. I have no idea if the videos captured how it felt but it felt awesome.

Carmen and I relaxed much more quickly into work on Day 2 and we could focus on some more things- like straightness, shoulder fore, and canter. With the canter work, Jacquie really wanted the trot to slow up and the horse reach under and then ask. It felt quite exaggerated and I'm sure the idea is with time for that to become and invisible half-halt. Doing it that way really helped Carmen to step into her right lead canter (her 'bad' way) with little difficulty (at around the 1:50 mark):

 I just loved how quiet and calm our canter was. It took a lot of repititions but me to understand about the slowing up first. Jacquie kept saying 'tell her 'whoa'and  I kept saying 'easy'. I think she was getting a little frustrated as to why I would not say 'whoa' like she was telling me. What I wanted to say but it wasn't the time was I have spent a lot of time, money and effort on teaching this horse that 'whoa' has only one meaning : all four legs come to a complete and total stop no matter what gait. It's our 'safe' word. For Carmen 'easy' means 'slow up and come back to me'. That seemed like a lot to try to explain and Jacquie let it go so it was okay. I knew that adding in 'whoa' would only result in confusion. Lots of people who ride english use 'whoa' to mean everything from stop to slow up a bit. I get it and I have no issue with it. But for me I like having 'whoa' mean just one thing and I'm not going to change it at this point.

Some more rigt lead canter:
At the 10 second mark she lifts up into a lovely relaxed canter. I think it was the best trot-canter transition I have ever done with her.  Amd we were straight down the long side- no haunches in!  I loved everything about the ride: how she was listening and we were able to work together.

We finished up practicing walk/canter transitions. I was making the mistake of asking her to canter and throwing the reins away. I was to let her take the reins forward and keep the contact. Once I did that we were able to get some lovely transitions. Of course my phone died before then so you will just have to believe me.

This clinic was a fabulous experience for me. I would do it again in a heartbeat (I would have to save up first). I learned a ton and came away with some new tools and a deeper undestanding of what I need to do. I allowed myself to be pushed and it really paid off. Carmen and I, like every other horse/rider in the clinic finished our lessons having worked hard but we were not exchausted or sour. Carmen was quite pleased with herself and you can see in her demeanour that she was happy.

It was lovely to get away and spend some time in a bubble out of the larger world. I didn't hear any news and it was wonderful. Instead it was a weekend where I spent some time with some lovely horse women and my lovely girl. We had fun and learned a ton. 

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Jacqueline Brooks Clinic Recap: Day 1, Moving Outside of My Comfort Zone

This ain't no old lady sport ~Jacqueline Brooks~ 
Sorry guys- this is going to be a long post.

I was up nice and early on Friday morning. I dressed and tried to be quiet going down the stairs (not easy in an old house). Outside the air was calm and quiet. When I came into the barn Carmen gave me a soft nicker. I fed her and the other two horses (riders in the clinic who were staying farther away. This way they wouldn't have to be up at the crack of dawn). After doing my morning chores I headed back into the house where Julia had some delicious coffee brewing and was cooking bacon.

I had asked to be later in the schedule to ride for Friday because I wanted to watch a few rides first. While I like to go first in many things I have learned that it's helpful to watch a clinician I am unfamiliar with for a bit first. That way I have a sense of what she's looking for and her teaching style. About an hour in I sent Cynthia a text: 'OMG, She's an AMAZING teacher'.

I am going to review a few of the concepts I learned before I go into my lesson.
The standard disclaimer applies: What I am writing is what I understood Jacquie to be teaching. If you disagree or think what I say is wrong that falls back to me. I am doing my best to fully understand what she shared with us but you cannot hold her responsible for my understanding (or lack thereof).

1. Jacquie spent a lot of time building the riders understanding of the 'bridge'. To build the bridge the horse needs to have his shoulders free and loose and then bring their back up. She started everyone on getting the shoulders relaxed and warmed up. Jacquie described the shoulders as being two pillars with the neck and chest in a sling. As the horse warms up, the shoulders become elastic and are able to move up and down. Horses will get stuck in the shoulder and stop their back. If their back is not moving then they can't really bring the legs under to carry themselves.

this man is leaning on the cart and all his weight is on his front arms. He is unbalanced and could easily fall
2. 'Push the shopping cart': I struggled with this a bit but my understanding was that this was an analogy to help the rider keep the horse from falling forward onto the shopping cart. We were to visualize that the horse was pushing the shopping cart but he/she was not allowed to drop his head into and lean on it:

this woman  has her weight on her legs and is balanced over her core
 Funnily enough I can't find images of horses pushing shopping carts so the above will have to do. Jacquie had various riders visualize pushing the cart with their horse's chest/neck/forehead depending on what she was trying to accomplish.  What I think this helped with is the idea of keeping the horse's shoulders up and moving and staying straight. Lifting the head and neck (and not worrying about contact or frame) moves the balance up and then the push from the hind legs won't push the horse onto the forehand.

3. Everything on the training scale comes after balance.  The more the horse is balanced the quieter  your aids can be. A heavy rein always means a loss of balance. Engage your own core and bring your elbows back to help the horse find his balance.

4. 'Tell her 'good girl". I heard that a lot over the weekend. As soon as the horse did what was asked (even a little bit) they were told they were good. Mistakes were fine, 'just bring them back and show them what you want'. 

Those were the key things I came away with in my notebook. I had turned Carmen outside for a bit when another rider came in and told me that she was getting agitated. I went out and as soon as she saw me she called and ran to the gate. I brought her in and spent some time grooming her and decided to braid her. As I was braiding her mane I could feel her relax.  When it was time for us I took her down to the outdoor ring to lunge her and warm her up. She was not a fan of the far end of the ring- there were bushes, grasses and trees. Carmen took one look and was nope.nope.nope.  I used the time to do ground work and get her focussed. I didn't mount until Shanea came down with her horse. I just walked her around the far end (away from the scary spot) and worked on relaxation. I didn't believe it was time to address the far end. 

I should mention that it was a warm day. When we came up to the indoor the far door was open. Carmen and I took one look at the far end with the waving grass and trees and said 'uh oh'. It turns out that I said that out loud. Julia asked if I wanted them closed and I said 'nope, we will deal with it'

I started at the end far away from the open door. There were some issues with the ear piece as well- trying to get them to sync with two ear pieces so we ended up riding without it. By then, with the door open, seeing all the auditors and Carmen being tight I kind of lost my brain. I was having a really hard time getting myself organized.

 I had given my whip to someone when I started because she was so forward. Carmen was so far behind my leg it felt like we were going backwards. I could not get her forward. Why I didn't ask for my whip back I have no idea. None. I was trying to push my shopping cart but it was like pushing one with the brakes on and one wonky wheel. 

I am going to share some videos of my bad riding. Nicole was very kind and used my phone to take some videos. There are more on my youtube channel (if you are now bored watching paint dry feel free to check them out). 

On the plus side- look at us go by the far door. So that's a win. Ignore the stiff backed rider on the stiff backed horse. 

At one point I was so out of it that Jacquie was telling me to use my right rein and I kept hearing 'left' and of course Carmen and I were getting more out of sync and I'm sure Jacquie was frustrated when I realized. I felt like an idiot. After that things got better. 

Jacquie suggested that Shanea and I use a neck strap. I have never ever used one. The idea was that by using the strap I can affect how Carmen engaged her shoulders and lift her head without using a ton of rein. It also really really helped with preventing her from dropping her shoulder and dekeing away from things. It was, in some ways, like neck reining. 

Better flow. 

I have to say that we ended in a good place: I was able to get her forward off the leg and we were both much happier.

After the ride my brain was a bit of a mess. My memory was that I was really really awful and Jacquie was not happy with me. When I watched the videos later I realized that she was clear and consistent and gave me lots of praise (when I earned it). I wasn't horrible but Carmen and I were certainly not at our best. Jacquie is an Olympian and I am a middle aged AA making a ton of mistakes and seemingly unable to listen. How she kept her patience I have no idea. (In full disclosure I was the person who would get an exam back at university with a 97 and look for my mistake. In some ways I am Hermione Granger).

 I was outside of my comfort zone that my brain was in a bit of whirl. Between the shopping cart (with the wonky wheel), trying to stay on task, having an audience (albeit a kind one) and riding with the neck strap I was struggling to get things into a framework. So I am happy for the videos to reflect back on. It allows me to see what following Jacquie's instructions really helps. I am sure I will use them frequently. I watched some more lessons- which helped.

It was wonderful to watch horses and riders transform. Every one of them finished off so much better then they started. Jacquie maintained the same energy level from beginning to end. The first and last rider has had her full and undivided attention. Even more telling was how happy the horses were at the end. Despite working hard the horses looked loose and pleased with themselves. So did the riders.

After the rides were done a bunch of people (along with Jacquie) left to go to a local restaurant for a cocktail. I declined. To be honest my introvert self was a bit overwhelmed. I also needed to do something.

When everyone was done I quietly tacked Carmen up and took her back to the ring. Now before you judge me on this- I was not being goal driven. I realized that I needed to take what I had learned and see if I could make sense of it when I could do it at my own pace. Later that night Jacquie overheard me talking about it and was curious as to why I rode Carmen again. I explained that I wanted to see if I could figure out the neck strap and cart on my own.
"why? that's what I'm here for'
'Yes, but I only have you tomorrow and then I'm going to have to see if I understand what I thought I understood. Riding tonight helped me so that tomorrow I can get the most out of the lesson. (Jacquie looks at me quizzically) It's how I learn."
With that she let it go.

It was the right call. I was able to quietly ride and focus on how things felt without the performance anxiety. I picked up the neck strap and put it down to play with how it worked. I used the mirrors to practise being straight. During the lesson Carmen was really throwing her haunches right (as she does when tense. I am sure I contribute to it as well). In that ride I was able to find my centre and we re-connected. After 20 minutes I hopped off and felt more satisfied.

That night we had a potluck. I sat around a large round table with other women talking horses. We laughed and shared and drank wine or beer. It was a perfect way to end the day.

I am sure that Jacquie is plotting to buy Carmen and take her away to the olympics. :D


Saturday, November 4, 2017

Jacqueline Brooks Clinic Recap: The Day Before

Despite my worries I was able to get the trailer loaded, packed multiple layers of clothes (the weather was supposed to wildly variable) and hit the road. These days when I go to load Carmen she sees the trailer and is just says 'all right' and makes a beeline. I have to stop her to throw the lead line up over her back and she pretty much rolls her eyes.

The GPS found Clay Hill Farm without difficulty. I put Carmen in her stall and then took my suitcase into the house. Julia, the owner, kindly offered me a room to stay.

After getting organized and learning where to find water etc., I tacked Carmen up and brought her into the arena. It's a coverall arena with kkckboards around the side. There are mirrors on the ends which is wonderful.

hmm, I see that I have some dirt on my neck, you better get that cleaned before tomorrow
Carmen was quite excited and wanted to be very spooky. What I found was that I wasn't nervous about that at all. I simply kept riding her and keeping her on task. I was with other riders and one by one they all left. The last one (Brittany who owns the most wonderful horse 'Spiderman', an appendix QH who she's trained to a very high level), asked if I was okay with her leaving and whether Carmen would get upset.

I said the she probably would but that was fine. So yes I was brave but I also know that Shanea was coming with her lovely mare and would be there soon. I could feel Carmen being quite jazzed so I asked her to canter and let her work forward instead of sideways/backwards/etc. I realized that I have stopped being worried that I might be hurt or have a horrible ride. This means that I can just go to work. It's not that she won't spook - in fact she found some dead grass between the kick plate and the canvas wall that she thought was horribly dangerous. I didn't make a fuss- I just ignored the plant and settled on the work. I was really happy with how quickly I was able to get her settled in and relaxed.

I was quite struck by how friendly everyone at the barn was. Everyone there seemed to be happy to there and welcoming to strangers. The people riding were focussed and seemed to be enjoying their horses. Later that evening Jacqueline Brooks arrived and we sat around the kitchen table chatting. She really is laid back and friendly with a great sense of humour.

I headed to bed. I would love to say that I was ready and confident about the next day but the truth is I wasn't. But I wasn't losing any sleep over it either. I figured that I needed to trust the process. 

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Last Minute

Ed pointed out to me a few weeks ago that I never do last minute things with the horse. I usually have it planned well in advance.

Apparently I decided to prove him wrong by signing up for this clinic.

Between work and Ed away I didn't have time to make sure that everything was ready well in advance (although I did give my bridle a quick clean on the weekend).  I spent three days this week away for work.

Last night I dreamed that I showed up at the clinic without my hay or shavings and had to drive back to get it. I spent the rest of the night making mental lists even though I have a physical list that I made this year and it will make sure that I am ready.

I might be getting a bit OCD as I age.

I am thinking that this is good for me- I don't have to have everything with Carmen planned down to the last detail. We should be able to pack up and go and have it all be fine.


Carmen thinks I worry too much. Of course she's not the one having to pack or anything

Saturday, October 28, 2017

The Answer to Dressage, Training and Everything

Is more leg.

Well that might get me some interesting feedback.

I am not actually claiming to have unlocked any great secrets that will guarantee that you will achieve scores of 10 in dressage competitions.

A better title is probably the key for me and Carmen in training is 'more leg'.

A little geeky aside here: scientists have found that the actual answer to 'life, the universe and everything'  really is 42

For me that has been a great revelation brought home to me in my last lesson with Shanea. See when Carmen is nervous and/or thinking of spooking she shortens her frame, gets tight and goes behind the leg. I shorten the rein, get tight (in preparation) and take my leg off.

Funnily enough none of that helps.

What Shanea was trying to get me to understand is that when she sucks back, put my leg on, give her some rein and ride her forward (not curled up like a monkey)  to the location I have chosen.

Frankly, this takes a lot of bravery on my part. When I first started putting my leg on she got tighter and faster and was still behind the leg. Carmen is really good at being fast-behind-the-leg.

I felt it work in the lesson and I've been consciously trying to do the same in my rides on her. As soon as I feel her curl up I urge her forward. I'm not always really good at giving her the rein too but I am trying. And it really is working. And as it works I gain confidence that it will work.

I haven't been able to ride much- Ed has been away and between my job and the chores it hasn't left a lot of energy or time to ride. In the past that would be freaking me out because I have this clinic coming up:
it's getting real! And can we reflect on how perfect my ride times are? 
But I know that for Carmen the amount that I ride doesn't really make a difference in whether she's spooky or not.  Drilling her would not make the clinic a better experience for us and likely would make it worse. I had planned to ride on Friday. It was a blowy day and the first day of hunting season. When I looked out later I could see the horses by the barn. And they stayed there all morning looking really agitated. I decided that riding would be an exercise in futility and decided against it.

Today the horses were much more calm. The weather was a perfect fall day: warm sun, crisp air and no bugs. Carmen and I had one of our best sessions since our lesson. She was forward, responsive and willing to listen. Her hesitations in the corner were just that and we rode forward. I was so happy with our work that I ended it after about 45 minutes.

I spent a long time in the barn just giving a nice grooming session and enjoying spending time with her.

So that is my answer to schooling. Have you found something that really makes a key difference in your rides?


Tuesday, October 24, 2017

The Perils of Optimism

This is us boldly going... where exactly? 
I consider myself an optimistic person. I tend to believe that things will work out. This keeps me persistent when things don't always work out the way I want. the upside is that this sense that it will all work out has helped me with Carmen.

I have kept my clinic experiences with Johanna and Sue Leffler with the purpose of improving my relation with Carmen. And putting on miles. This has really paid off. I am a firm believer that money is best spent on regular lessons rather then clinics. However, on my last trail ride with Nancy I commented that I felt that I could now take Carmen to a clinic to focus on advancing our skills.

Which brings me to Jacqueline Brooks. She comes to Nova Scotia regularly to teach clinics and they are always full. I have seen Jacqueline ride and I quite like her style and how she seems to just love riding.
guess who else love riding? Me. 

In the summer I was talking to Julia (who hosts the clinics) about things in general. I mentioned that if there was ever room I would love to do one of the clinics. I felt it would be a fun stretch for us. 

An easy thing to think when you don't believe that there would be room. Unfortunately I was unable to do the Joahanna clinic this fall because of work and personal commitments. And I seem to be missing doing it. So when I saw that Jacquie was coming in early November I figured I would audit. I mentioned it to Shanea and she suggested we do a semi-private.  I thought that sounded great but figured it wouldn't happen. 

Even though I e-mailed Julia and asked if I could join the clinic, I still .believed it wouldn't happen. 

I was resolved to be graciously  disappointed.

Then I received an email from Julia: 
"Amazing news. I was just talking to Jacquie. She says she will fit in an extra lesson. You guys are in!"
um, what? 

And that is how I ended up in a clinic with an international dressage olympian in about 10 days. 

I blame my optimism. 

Truthfully, I am excited. I think it will be a great opportunity for us. 

But what am I going to wear? 

So if you are in the neighbourhood of Sheffield Mills, NS on November 3 & 4 stop on in and audit. Jacquie is a great teacher and there will be some very nice horses there. Not to mention a fiery Spanish mare.


Sunday, October 22, 2017

The Brain is Connected to the Hind End

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Working on First Level

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The Contradictions of Carmen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

nope, don't wanna go there. 

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Friday the 13th: Lesson Recap

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

more push from behind (compare to below)

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

going forward with confidence

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

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