"And, when you want something, the entire Universe conspires in helping you to achieve it." -The Alchemist, by Paulo Coehlo

Wednesday, November 13, 2013


On Tuesday I was working an evening shift so I went to the barn earlier than usual to get a ride on Lily.

It was the coldest day so far. Supposedly it was going to be in the low 40's, but the car thermostat never read above 37 degrees. It was overcast and windy, too. You'd think that being a former islander I'd be wearing 6 layers including a parka. I wasn't. I was wearing my awesome Patagonia Capilene 3 crewneck, an Avalanche Mogul half zip top (scored from TJ Maxx. You can get it at this link for only $4 more than the TJ Maxx price), and my ELT fleece jacket (I'd add a link to that but no one is selling it anymore; now I'm really glad I got two of them last year when Smartpak had them on sale!), plus my fleece-lined  Power Stretch Kerrits (I need to get a second pair...I'm still surprised they lasted nearly 6 months of 4-day-a-week wear last winter...literally wash and wear every day) with silk-type long johns underneath. And Smartwool socks with sock liners. I wouldn't say I was toasty, but I was very comfortable as long as I was moving.

I love the cold. I just hate being cold, but I don't want to be sweating under my winter clothes while I'm moving either.

Lily came to me in the field (as has become her norm...I still grin from ear to ear like a 6-year-old when she turns away from food and buddies just to come to me) and I took her up to the barn to tack up. There was no one around, not even Kathy who lives in the little barn apartment. I had already known it would be an arena ride sort of day but the loneliness around the barn cemented that decision.

Lily dozed on the cross ties inside the main barn while I tacked her up, despite the wind whipping around outside (again: I just love the horse that my mare has turned into since I started to just let her be a horse). When riding in the arena I've been riding sans vest but I decided to put it on this time for 3 reasons:

1. It gives extra warmth.
2. It was lonely. Be as safe as possible.
3. It was super freaking windy and cold. You just never know, even with the most bombproof horse.

I took Lily into the arena and she was immediately on full alert: eyes open wide and ears forward, nostrils flaring. She remained next to me as I guided her past me so I could close the gate. I led her around once in each direction as a short warm-up, then let go of the reins. She looked at me expectantly, the wind tossing her mane and tail. I pointed to the left, and off she went in a circle to the left around me at liberty.

(Another thing: she never used to just circle around me at liberty - she'd run the full perimeter of whatever area we were in. I could get her to change direction from 60 meters away and obey commands, which was so, so cool anyway, but she'd never ever stay in that circle around me. She does now since we moved to this barn. No need for a longe line.)

She trotted around in both directions and I let her canter when she felt like it. She was looky at times but she surprised me by not even spooking/startling once. The whole world was giving her reasons to be an idiot. She assessed those reasons and decided, "Naahhh..."


Relaxed mare, ear flicked towards me. And see? Working in a circle around me. :)

Hunter pony frame.

She was really moving out here.

The wind picked up and she worried for a sec.
Note the heel-first landing on that left front!!...

...and a heel-first landing with the right front!!

Almost with all 4 feet off the ground.
Preparing to change direction at my command.

After about 10 minutes of letting her trot and canter around in both directions, I mounted up. She initially decided to be silly about the whip (which I always carry. She's FINALLY fully desensitized to it, but I've found it very useful for other things, like shoving branches aside on the trail, flicking flies off of her in the warmer months, handing it to Kathy to use with Queenie, etc). I shoved it between my left knee and the saddle and kept it there while we walked around a couple of times. She let me hold it in my hand for the rest of the ride after that.

My dressage schools are notorious for being goal-less. I go in with a vague idea of what I'd like to do but really let Lily guide my ultimate choices in exercises. You hear of a lot of horses that hate dressage. I think part of the reason why Lily likes it is because she gets to participate. I really don't tell her what to do; I ask. If she can't do it, we move on to something else and try again later, be it on the same day or a later date. There's no rush.

My one goal for this dressage school was to work on her flexibility and on me being soft and harmonious with her.

In our 2 and a half years together, Lily has changed the way I ride. She is easily one of the most technical horses I've ever ridden. Despite having been so young when she became mine (4 years old), she already had very clear ideas of how she did NOT like to be ridden due to her previous history of abuse. It took me a good 9 months to figure out how she DID like to be ridden. It took so long because she didn't know what she liked, I didn't know what she liked, and we had a German-style dressage trainer, a style that Lily decidedly did NOT like. Our best moments tended to happen outside of lessons, when it was just me trying hard to find a common ground with her. Like this one:

January 2012: the first time ever that she gave me her back and asked to stretch down. She had been SUPER wired that day. It was the first cold day of the South FL winter and we were trying to go on a trail ride with friends. I was working on taking the edge off and decided to sit her trot for the first time since owning her...and she did this. Thank you Diane for having your cell phone handy to capture that moment! (I was caught in the moment of starting to give with my hands so she could go down into a real stretchy trot.)
She is backwards from most horses in that she likes to warm up in collection. Most horses have to be ridden on a loose rein in a long frame and forward gaits before they can be asked to collect. Not Lily. She likes to start at a very collected trot where she is very willing to move in any direction I ask her: sideways, forward, spirals, backwards. She likes me to sit the trot during these moments. If I start posting right off the bat, she hollows her back and her head comes up in protest.

She will tell me when it's ok to start posting. Her neck arches, ears go forward, her back lifts, and she will ask to extend. That's when I can start posting. She'll then do this wonderful uphill trot for a lap or two around the arena, then ask for the reins so she can stretch down. I allow it, then ask her to come back into collection. We repeat this process several times as part of our initial warm-up, then we move on into other things like the canter and more involved exercises.

We had a really nice conversation yesterday.

Me: "Lily, can we trot?"
Lily: "Sure." Collected trot.
Me: "Can you leg-yield down the quarter line?"
Lily: Tries but has a hard time really stepping under herself in the back. "Not yet, I need to trot more."
Me: "Ok, let's do some stretching."
We trot around alternating between a collected and medium trot, circling, spiraling in and out.
Me: "Halt?"
Lily: "Yes!" Square halt from a trot.
Me: "Back up?"
Lily: Ears flick back tensely."You're not sitting right."
Me: I shift my weight. "How about now?"
Lily: "Yes, now." Ears relax, backs up perfectly.
Lily: "I want to trot off from this backing up exercise."
Me: "Awesome! Go ahead!" Bounces forward from backing up into this big (for her) swinging trot.
Me: "Canter?"
Lily: "As you wish." Since I'm doing everything right, she lifts up into a very nice canter on the first cue.
Me: "Ok, trot."
Lily: "Yay! Let me stretch." Streeeetches down for a couple of strides, chewing on the bit. "There, better!"
Me: "Let's change direction."
Lily: "Are we going to canter?"
Me: "Yes." Nails the canter transition to the right. 
Me: "Stay straight around this corner."
Lily: Leaning towards the inside of the circle as we approach the arena fence, "But the minnies are right there by the fence!" She flicks an ear at them and looks at them out of the corner of her eye. The minnies are, indeed, standing on the other side of the arena fence staring at her.
Me: "Here, ignore them." Ask for a canter shoulder-fore. It probably looked awful, but it served its purpose: Lily's shoulders straightened. 
Me: "Thank you!"
Lily: "I don't like them staring at me." We do another stretchy trot.
Me: "Don't pay attention to them. Can we do shoulder-in down the long sides of the arena?"
Lily: "Yes. It makes it easier for me to ignore those little bastards." She looks at them in annoyance as we trot past.
Me: "But they're cute and harmless, and you used to like minnies!" (In Florida she used to get turned out with Willy, a 20+ mini that was bullied by the others. Lily did a great job of taking care of him, even sharing her food with him; he adored her!)
Lily: "Yes, but these aren't MY minnies."
We do some really good shoulder-ins.
Me: "How about those leg yields again?"
Lily: "Yes, now we can do them."
Gives me perfect zig-zag leg yields down the center line.

Lily leg yielding at the trot. Video taken last winter at the old barn, but just so you guys can see her in action. :)

Very happy zig-zag leg yields at the walk. Also taken last winter at the old barn. Yes, I'm grinning like an idiot. Lateral work had been nearly impossible for me prior to owning Lily. When I'm doing everything right and just staying out of her way, it's as easy for her to do as you can see in this video.
Lily has singlehandedly taught me more about dressage than any trainer I've ever paid for lessons.

It was a really good session. Mind you, the wind had never stopped blowing. A couple of times it blew so hard that it whipped sand from the footing into my face! She only startled once throughout. We worked for an hour and 15 minutes. LOVED how much she stretched and chewed and just how overall happy she was for this workout! I completely forgot about the temperature until I was untacking her in the barn.

I made her a warm mash mixing a scoop of her chopped forage with a small amount of her Gro N Win and plenty of hot water to make it soupy. I always worry about her not drinking enough water when it's cold out.

I put her in an empty stall so she could slurp down her dinner while I picked up all of our stuff.

It was supposed to be in the low 20's that night with a wind chill that would make it feel like 9 degrees. All of the horses, even the ones on stall board, got blanketed down with medium weight blankets. Lily got bundled up and set free in her field with her girl friends for the night.


  1. She free lunges so well. If I let my horse off, he would either stare at me or try to leave the arena I think...

  2. Replies
    1. It's nice when the ride is a conversation and not an argument! :)

  3. I agree with you about liking the cold but not liking to BE cold. *shiver*

    Lily sounds like this mare I work with in north Jersey. She's backwards in the way she likes to be ridden, too. She likes to start off collected, sitting trot THEN move to extending, posting, and longer reins. WEIRD! No history of abuse on that one, though.

    And I LOVE that Lily is now circling around you rather than the whole arena. How AWESOME.

    1. I love it too!!

      Have you written about this mare in north NJ? I'd love to read your story with her! How did you end up figuring out how she preferred to be ridden?

  4. I love the cold. I just hate being cold

    That is the perfect way of putting it!

    Tucker is like Lily -- he has to be ridden up before he can effectively/successfully be ridden down. I still forget sometimes and try it the other way because That's What The Books Say I Should Do, but it just doesn't work for him, and he is the final word, so!

    1. It took this post to finally be able to put my feelings about the cold into words! In FL Charles never understood why I cranked the AC to 65, then hid under 3 million covers...hahaha...

      I'm glad Lily isn't the only unusual one. I like that: "he has to be ridden up before he can effectively/successfully be ridden down." That's a great way of explaining it!

      It's nice when we are able to figure out our horses who don't obey "the rules." :)

  5. "I love the cold. I just hate being cold" YES.

    And all of the lateral work at the trot makes me wanna give these sound effects all over again, "Neeeeeerrrmmm, neeeeeeeeeeeeerrrmmmmmmmmmmm." Just like a zoomy little jet in the sky. NEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEERRRRRRRMMMM.

    1. LMAO! Every time she does lateral stuff I remember you and your singing while riding Lily and I end up laughing. I'll be adding this to the mental picture! Hahaha...

  6. Aw, all of your rides sound so great. You just seem to read her so well and she responds. Very happy for your new barn, your better-fitting saddles and your cold-not-being-cold. :)

  7. You are braver than I! I hate the cold (and I used to live in Maine!) Of course this might be because I have to don 20 layers to keep warm...I really need a pair of breeches like the ones you mentioned!:)

    1. They are pretty awesome! They were my Christmas gift from Charles last year and they've really held up. In December of last year Smartpak dropped the price on them: $20 off. I'm hoping they do that again this year!