This weekend the Oregon Dressage Society celebrated its 40th anniversary at its annual Fall Festival. I don't often go to the Fall Festival because of time, cost and/or distance, combined with the fact that it isn't Rick's "thing" and we try to do things together. But this year, when Rick heard from someone else that Olympian Steffen Peters was going to the featured speaker at the Saturday night banquet and the featured instructor at the Sunday educational event, he asked me if I was going - and urged me to do so!
I needed no further encouragement. Saturday night was spent enjoying the company of my fellow Chehalem Mt. Chapter members, eating good food, shopping the benefit silent auction, applauding award winners, and listening to a charming and engaging Mr. Peters:
On Sunday, the time change assisted me in getting up early to do chores so I could head out to DevonWood for a day of education and inspiration. Steffen worked with seven rider/horse pairs ranging from Training Level to Grand Prix, and his message was consistent with each one. The basics must always be correct; if they are, the movements will be easy. We must train our horses to be honest - teaching them to respond promptly to subtle aids, keeping them in front of the leg and in a soft connection with the bit. These things can - and should! - be executed every single time we ride, from warm up to cool down, no matter what level a horse is at. In fact, it can all be done at the walk! He demonstrated this while working with every single pair, and in riding himself the first horse of the day, a Training Level warmblood mare:
and the last horse of the day, a Grand Prix level Welsh Cob stallion:
(Sorry the last two photos are so dark - but you can still see Steffen's beaming smile in that last one; love it!)
As I listened and watched, my understanding of proper riding and properly ridden horses was confirmed. And I realized in the process that even though Russell is still in rehab mode, and may never be able to return to dressage competition except at the very lowest levels, I can still ride him properly and keep both our basics correct. Eager to solidify in my mind and muscles what I'd seen and heard, I drove home, changed clothes and tacked up my horse (all the while very thankful for cooperative weather). Surprise, surprise (not :-) - we had the best ride we've had in recent memory!
To ride dressage is to dance with your horse, equal partners in the delicate and sometimes difficult work of creating harmony and beauty.