To ride dressage is to dance with your horse, equal partners in the delicate and sometimes difficult work of creating harmony and beauty.

Saturday, March 25, 2023

Exceeding expectations

Since entering the April 16 show, I've been trying to schedule a lesson with Suzan. I always gain tons from her expertise, but knew that her instruction would greatly enhance our chances for success at the show. Please note that by 'success,' I mean being able to do our two Training Level tests without going off course and staying in the correct gaits while looking like we kinda-sorta belong in a dressage court – ha!

It's been a greater challenge than usual to schedule a lesson. Suzan got some unexpected news which has put even more on her normally-loaded plate. So when she texted me last Tuesday that she could squeeze me in at 8:30 Wednesday morning, I jumped at the chance in spite of the early hour (it got moved to a bit later). We were blessed with beautiful weather, as we have been for all of this winter's lessons. Stella met her first miniature horse on the way to the outdoor arena:


I told Suzan I'd entered a show, so she put us to work. Mind you, the groundwork has been laid; Suzan would never cut corners in training. But she does know when to increase the challenge and raise the bar, and that's what we experienced Wednesday. It was pretty exciting to feel, and to see the images Suzan captured of us!
Suzan called this Stella's 'park horse trot'









— notes to self —

At the trot: shorten reins, keep inside bend, both legs on for impulsion. Do a 10m circle if she's tense or braced, but don't let her spin; bring shoulders around. Same at the canter, which Stella offered when really forward and connected at the trot, and then fell out of when really forward and connected at the canter – too much work! (It was the first time we worked on canter in a lesson.)

Fussiness is a hissy fit over having to work; just wait it out with more inside bend, both legs on; do a small circle.

If she gets jiggy at the walk, trot. If she breaks to canter, work on canter.

Don't throw away the contact; "push the shopping cart" only as she seeks contact.

Continue working on the buckle a LOT. Do NOT let her rush at the walk, though, or 'pacey' gets reinforced.
— — —

The blue riding tights I wore in the lesson were part of a big lot I purchased recently. The same acquaintance from whom I bought the 'Princess Bride' bridle and saddle pad posted on Facebook that she had riding pants and tops for sale. Most everything was my size and very reasonable, so . . . .

I may not need to buy any more riding clothes for the rest of my life!

We have another lesson scheduled for this coming Wednesday, but the weather hasn't allowed for any schooling since our last lesson. Crossing fingers and toes that that changes!

Monday, March 6, 2023

We're not dead!!!

Oh.My.Goodness. Time keeps doing what it does and I keep saying, "I've got to update my dressage blog" but the update needed has grown so big and cumbersome that the block of time needed seems exorbitant given all the other stuff I need and want to do and and....     Well.     Deep breath.     Here we are.

Since this is, in effect, my training journal, I want to document what we've been doing (as best I can remember at my advancing age), so fair warning: A lot has happened since the 2022 State Fair!

Even though we made it through that State Fair Battle of the Breeds class together vs. parting company, Stella and I were representatives for dressage in dress and tack only. She is by nature quick, tense, and reactive, and nothing I tried was making much of a difference in helping her become calm, relaxed, and forward – in other words, a dressage partner. In the fall of 2021 Suzan had suggested putting Stella on a calming supplement; I finally quit using it after of year of seeing no clear benefit. Of course I kept riding, in the arena and out of it, trying different bridles to see if she had a preference:

Speaking of Suzan, for a variety of reasons on both sides, I hadn't able to schedule a lesson with her since February of 2022. So when I got a promotional email in early September about an online "30 Days To Round" Challenge with Amelia Newcomb, I decided to sign up. A Shetland sheep acquaintance (who rides, obviously) also signed up, giving me someone to bounce experiences off of. 

The day after I committed myself, Suzan texted me to finally set up a lesson. Of course. If I'd known I would be able to resume taking lessons from Suzan I probably wouldn't have paid to join the online challenge, because almost 30 years of experience has taught me that nothing and no one is as effective as Suzan. But I am nothing if not goal-oriented, so I went full steam ahead into the 30DTR Challenge to see what we could gain from it, getting in almost a week of that program before our lesson with Suzan.

I do think it helped; look at the photos Suzan took of us at our lesson!
Round!

Relaxed!
We discussed bits at that lesson; Suzan felt the loose-ring double-jointed snaffle I was using had too much 'play' for a horse like Stella. So I embarked on a short research project, ordering and sending back bits until we finally settled on a Herm Sprenger KK Ultra Eggbutt Sensogan Bradoon as the best option.

I continued working through the 30DTR Challenge with uneven results. It motivated me to ride nearly every day and use my Pivo to record video of our rides for review and feedback. There's nothing like 'eyes on the ground' to spot problems, and in lieu of that, seeing yourself on video is a close second, and my position improved. But it was clear to me that I still wasn't addressing Stella's core issue(s); for that, my best hope was Suzan. After more roadblocks, I was able to schedule another lesson with Suzan on October 12, just before 30DTR ended on October 17, and on October 26, and on Nov. 9!

Those four lessons in two months were transformative. My hot, tense, quick mare learned she could RELAX, slow down, and walk and trot ON.THE.BUCKLE. These are photos Suzan took during our Nov. 9 lesson:



At the one lesson we've gotten in this year so far (January 11), it was clear the improvement is sticking. Suzan gave me two huge compliments. The first was when I commented that she was taking us up to the next 'level;' she said, "That's because you've done your homework." The second was when I expressed how happy I was with Stella's progress, progress I wasn't sure she would ever make. Suzan said, "Stella is lucky she ended up with you; almost anyone else would have ruined her."
Stella, not ruined


I cannot adequately convey the relief, joy, and anticipation that have blossomed with having keys to 'unlock' Stella.  Don't misunderstand me; she is not a different horse and there are no quick fixes. But I now have tools to encourage Stella to relax and use her body in ways that are both more expressive and less likely to cause strain and injury so we can dance together for many years to come. 

"Every ride" reminders for me:
Widen collarbones (that's actually from my sheep friend)
Don't sit back on pockets
Look up
'Push the shopping cart'
Weight my right stirrup, and her right hind
Swing her back with my inside seat bone
Widen inside hand
If she braces, widen hands but don't play with the reins;
wait her out then reward with forward hands

In the midst of our progress, at the end of October, an acquaintance mentioned on FB that she was getting out of horses and selling her (mostly cob-sized) tack. Since her place is very close to where I was to attend a women's retreat with a friend, I made arrangements to stop by on my way to the retreat to see what she had. My acquisitions: a rolled leather halter, a basic saddle pad, an Engel Lammfell saddle pad, and, because they looked so good together even though I didn't need them, what I call the Princess Bride set:
rolled leather halter


The Princess Bride wore pale blue

For Christmas a knowing and generous friend sent me a sterling silver stock pin, so I went on Etsy and found the perfect stock tie to complete our show ensemble:

Yes, we were making enough progress that I was actually thinking of showing Stella in open dressage shows this year! So I looked at the Oregon Dressage Society website calendar. Cue the Kingston Trio: "Where have all the options gone? Long time passing...." 🎶 I found NO schooling shows, very few League shows, and the nearest venue requires stabling + bedding purchased from them, which triples my cost. My, how things have changed since I last frequented the area dressage shows! Well, maybe we'd just enter a couple dressage classes at the Oregon Morgan Classic like we did two years ago and be done with it.

A week or so later, one of the first venues at which I showed my Morgan gelding more than 20 years ago came to mind. It has always had an annual recognized show, but it wasn't listed on the calendar. Hmmm; I looked the facility up online – and found a schooling show scheduled for April 16, no stabling required, all other fees reasonable. Score! Stella and I are entered in Training Level Tests 1 and 2.

It's been more than three years of feeling my way with this mare. It's been an incredible journey so far. Here's to the future! 😊

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

A shout-out to Cob Jockey!

I apologize to the rest of you, but I this is the only way I know to communicate with a blogger I follow with great interest, Cob Jockey.

I used to be able to comment on your blog, but now it requires me to "Sign in with Google" which it then won't allow me to do. 🙄😒 This happened with another blog I follow; to fix it she changed her settings to allow people to comment as "anonymous." Hope you can do the same, or something else that allows me to comment again!

Sunday, January 1, 2023

Look for the bright spots!

Happy 2023, everyone. I really wanted to do a 2022 wrap-up post before the end of the year because there was so very much to relate, but obviously that didn't happen. I still want to write that post for my own records at least, but it will take a lot of time to wrangle the words and photos into shape, so don't hold your breath.

It takes far less time to tell you that 2023 has begun in proper fashion – on the back of a horse. Long-time readers will know that this is my one firm annual tradition, and today dawned bright and beautiful and dry, enabling not only being astride, but really riding. Stella and I had a lovely schooling session (with two red-tailed hawks soaring overhead) followed by a ride down the gravel lane and back, stopping to wish neighbors a happy new year along the way.


All may not well in the world nor in my smaller sphere of life, but it is well with my soul. 😊

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

What I did on my summer vacation

In my last post (Eeep – JUNE 25 😳), I mentioned looking forward to starting up lessons with Suzan again and making up for some of my lost training time this year. Well, between weather, scheduling conflicts, and a facility in quarantine lock-down, that didn't happen for months. By September I was so desperate for some instruction that when I got an invitation for an online training challenge with Amelia Newcomb in my inbox, I figured it would be better than nothing and signed up. Wouldn't you know it; the very next day Suzan texted me with a lesson slot! Thus began an intensive five weeks of training, both virtual and in-person . . . but wait; I'm getting ahead of myself.

I have taken plenty of "proof of life and riding" photos since my last post, but haven't posted them because other than "proof," there wasn't much to report. So here they are from early July on:
This may look like "proof of death," but those are relaxed horses


Riding Stella up the hill through the vineyards

messy hair; don't care

Riding up and down Matthews Creek Lane


Riding beyond Matthews Creek to the old logging roads



Snacking on the last cherries of the season
Pretty to look at, but don't touch the poison oak!

In August, I saw an appeal from the Morgan Horse Association of Oregon asking for participants in the Battle Between Breeds class at the State Fair. Even though I said "forget about showing" in my last post, this wasn't really showing; this was just being a breed representative dressed up for dressage doing walk/trot with a group of Morgans. I offered to take part, asked some questions to know how to prepare, and looked forward to a September 1st outing to further Stella's exposure to the world beyond our hill. Little did I know just how much exposure we'd get!

On the day of the class, I hauled my horse and gear to the state fairgrounds, got Stella settled in a stall provided by the MHAO, unloaded our gear, walked Stella around the grounds for a look-see (SO much to see!), saddled her up and rode in the warm-up arena, and gave her a bath (a shout-out out to my DH for lending a hand!). After a short break (it was H.O.T.), I braided Stella's mane, tacked her up, donned my show clothes, and headed back to the now-buzzing warm-up arena. Then the announcer invited – no, requested –the Battle Between Breeds participants to ALL come in and warm up in the show arena so the audience could enjoy the horses before the class. The State Fair Horse Show arena is a notoriously scary place, with a tall, solid wall and the audience perched high above, so I welcomed the chance for Stella to see it before the class. But *wow* were there a lot of horses warming up; I counted five different breed groups – Morgans, Saddlebreds, Mules, Drums, and Gypsy Vanners. I sure hoped my tense, apprehensive horse would be able to relax a bit when we went back in to show with just Team Morgan. Um, except when it was time for the class to start (after we all exited the show arena), the announcer ushered everyone, all SIX breed teams (a final team of Clydesdales rode up just in time to start the class), back into the ring to show as one giant class! What a trial by fire;  I never would have agreed to participate if I'd known what we were in for. But I couldn't back out at that point, so I did my best to keep my mare between me and the ground, and not blow it for the team. And we succeeded! Team Morgan won blues for both the rail portion and the halter portion!!!
in the warm-up arena

alert and tense

a quiet moment posing for the hubby

Team Morgan heading into the show arena

a glimpse of the crowded class


letting her stretch

lining up after the rail portion


too bad the judge didn't ASK for a rein-back!

I declined a neck ribbon; thought it might unnerve Stella (more)

leaving after the rail portion


Team Morgan with their blue ribbons (the palomino was our halter rep)

so proud of my girl in overwhelming circumstances!

I'm still waiting for the official state fair horse show photographer to post his photos; I'll share if any are good enough to do so.

A long-time horse friend who came and watched commented on Stella's often-open mouth, suggesting a flash noseband might help. Stella has always had a busy mouth; I decided to add the flash. Here she is processing the addition:
busy, busy, busy

it's pretty loose; she could eat blackberries on the trail

filter-enhanced; gorgeous girl!

Next up: From zero to sixty!