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

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Another lesson; CliffsNotes only

Today Stella and I had our second riding lesson with my favorite instructor. We worked in the indoor arena and S didn't take any photos, so this is a "lesson journal" post for me, but you're welcome to read through. 😉

If our first lesson with S made me feel like I had a real dressage horse, this lesson made me feel like I was riding a just-started colt (filly). There was LOTS of activity in and around the barn, some of which Stella could hear but not see. She was tense, nervous, and reactive (although never to the point of being unsafe), so S's goal for us today was to expose Stella to all kinds of new things while finding effective ways to focus and direct Stella's brain. To that end, she placed a couple poles on the ground, along with some cones, like this: — o — o o o  Stella and I walked serpentines through this, stepping over the poles and weaving around the cones with lots of half-halts to slow her turns, alternating with 20m circles at walk and trot. Towards the end of our lesson, we also did several long halts, encouraging Stella to stand and process things calmly. S suggested alternating riding and groundwork during schooling sessions because Stella clearly looks to me for reassurance on the ground and said that will transfer more and more to under-saddle work by doing both several times within a session.

Most of the time we worked on a moderate-length rein, but Suzan did have me shorten them at the end, without increasing contact.  Thumbs on top, hands up and not held close together; encourage enough forward that she doesn't get trappy. At one point it felt like, and S confirmed, that Stella offered a bit of passage; nice to know it'll be there when it's actually time to ask for it! S also commented that Stella is going to be 'stellar..' 😁

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Back to the future

Last week a friend mentioned that a former student of mine who bought my Swedish Warmblood mare many years ago would be riding in a show at DevonWood last weekend. I looked up her ride times online, and decided to run up Friday to watch her ride her current warmblood mare.

It felt good to be at DevonWood again; it is such a beautiful facility. My header photo was taken there; I've danced with three horses in all four of their 'ballrooms' (competition arenas). The first horse I showed there was my Morgan gelding; I can hardly wait to compete there again someday with my little Morgan mare!

But back to my former student. It took me awhile to figure out which one was her in the busy warm-up arena; I knew I was looking for a mare being ridden by a petite female, but it has probably been a decade since I'd last seen B. As her ride time approached and she headed up the hill to the Sylvan Arena, I followed her train of family and friend to watch.

Their Third Level test was lovely. The mare is built uphill with expressive gaits, and B rode her very well. I walked over to where she came out of the ring to say hi and be the first to congratulate her; she seemed surprised and pleased that I'd come.

Before I left the grounds I looked up her score; wow – 72.5%!

Sunday morning B texted me the following photo – they won their USDF Region 6 Third Level Championship class Saturday. Woot!
B has come a long way from when I first met her, a teenager riding a half-Arab pony....

And that burgundy jacket (and, I suspect, the gray one in the photo she sent me)? It is MESH. How perfect is that for the summer show season??? I didn't know such things existed; obviously I've been out of the loop awhile riding compromised horses, training for others, and 'bringing up baby Black Beauty.' But someday, when Stella and I are dancing in the big leagues, I plan on getting one. And since the attire rules for dressage are loosening up significantly this December, maybe I'll be able to find one in Stella's color – "first place blue"!!!

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Waiting for eruptions

No, not behavioral ones; Stella continues to be reliably sane. If she doesn't get regular turn-out for some reason, she is definitely more energetic and tense, but never out of control. The eruptions I am waiting on, before scheduling another lesson, are the rest of her canine teeth. Suzan advised riding her bitless or on a loose rein until those come in and her mouth is more comfortable. Since I don't have a bitless bridle (my German hackamore doesn't qualify), I am riding Stella as carefully as I can to not aggravate her sore mouth. Stella is letting me know that I am mostly successful, and we continue to make steady progress, especially at the canter, riding 4-5 days a week. In our last four rides, she has picked up the correct lead and maintained the canter for several 20M circles with my verbal encouragement to keep going. Can you see my smile from there??? 😁

We got over two inches of glorious rain Friday night and Saturday, so for right now we get to ride in a dust-free arena. Sunday I turned her loose in it first to let off steam, as the pasture was still muddy and slick.
Hopefully I can record a dust-free ride with Pivo before the arena dries out again; I want to see us canter!

The farrier was here Monday. When he started trimming Lance, he noticed that Lance's right hock was really swollen:
By later that day, the swelling had progressed down the rest of the leg:

I had been gone Thursday through Sunday and Rick had cleaned stalls that morning, so I hadn't been in with Lance, but I still felt bad that I hadn't noticed. I kept the horses in a couple days to keep Lance from aggravating whatever he had done to it, but it wasn't until I turned him and Stella out Wednesday that the swelling finally went down. All that running....

But the next day it was swollen again – and Lance was lame. 😒

So we added SMZs (antibiotic) to his Bute (anti-inflammatory) on top of his meds for 'asthma' and 'diabetes,' and although he thinks we're horrid for ruining his mealtimes, the lameness has abated though some swelling remains.
Telltale signs that you're doctoring a horse

Friday, August 27, 2021

Photos for you; CliffsNotes for me (edited)

I was curious about just how many years it's been since I have had a dressage lesson, so I searched through my blog. (Excellent source of reference, a blog, which is why I'm going to post my lesson notes here – so I can review what we did.) I had my last lesson with Julie in the spring of 2017, just before Lance's health took a sharp dive. My last riding lesson with Suzan was in 2014 on Lance, which was more of a consolation on saddle fit and discomfort. (Poor Lance; our journey together has not been what I hoped for or expected....)

So I was both excited and a little trepidatious about Stella's and my lesson Wednesday. Have I gotten into all kinds of bad habits working by myself for so long? Have I given Stella have a decent foundation to build upon? Could we progress from where we are, or would Suzan need to tear things down to build them back correctly?

When we arrived, the rider before me had cancelled, so Suzan asked if I wanted to start right away. Oh, o-kaaay; I could hustle and get Stella tacked up and ready. Then she asked if we were doing a long-lining lesson (remember, she gave Stella and I two long-lining lessons last fall) or a riding lesson. When I responded, "Riding," she asked, "Are you going to lunge her first?" Well, no, I never do. "You're just going to climb on?!?" Well, yes, that's what I always do. Now Suzan was trepidatious; she was remembering my skittish, reactive girlie of last fall and clearly thought I was crazy. 😉

But after a few minutes of worrying about Stella freaking out (she didn't), Suzan settled in to doing what she does best: observe with the keenest eye I know, identify precisely what needs to happen, and expertly instruct the rider on how to achieve it. Before our seven-year hiatus, I took many years of clinics and lessons from Suzan (although I could only afford to see her once a month at most); my first Morgan and I never could have reached the FEI levels without her. So just like riding a bike (riding a horse?), I started following her familiar instructions and felt my little mare transform beneath me. Oh, Stella still had lots of 'moments,' but Suzan attributed those to her teething process. (Since Rick checked her teeth, one canine tooth has erupted and two others can be felt beneath the surface of her gums. We shortened Stella's headstall by a hole to better accommodate them.) Towards the end, Suzan grabbed some cell phone shots. I'm pretty pleased with what I see; look at my dressage Morgan!

Now for my CliffsNotes:
(Edited after riding; remembered more things!)

Shorten reins! (Old refrain. I ended up with REALLY short reins at the trot. I must keep the slack out of the reins to keep the bit from bouncing/bumping her and aggravating those emerging canines.) Keep thumbs up, knuckles in, fingers closed, elbows soft, hands apart. Keep lower back relaxed. Follow her head with my hands to keep the connection straight, not broken; if she raises her head, raise hands. (That can feel REALLY high.) She'll bring it back down and connect (sometimes only briefly, but we'll string moments together).

Look at her ears, not the ground; ride her straight with nose between ears so she can use her hocks. Turn her whole body, not her nose. (The first clinician I ever rode with said it should feel like turning a bus, which is a good mental image for me.)

If quick at the walk, half-halt with legs and body only, not hands, for 4-5 strides, then release. (Later in the lesson, Suzan said to take her to the trot when she got quick.) At the trot, slow her by slowing posting rhythm. When giving her a walk break, let her stretch halfway, not clear to the buckle. To encourage her to soften over the topline and stretch, use slow (over several strides) flexes with my wrist; nothing quick.

This was the first time I've ridden using bluetooth earpieces. Suzan called me on my iPhone from her cell phone so she didn't wear herself out trying to project her voice, and it worked well. Next time I'm going to see if I can get video footage of our lesson using my Pivo at the same time; we may also try some lessons via Pivo in the future. Times, they are a-changin'!

And now that I've refreshed my memory after giving Stella her usual Thursday off, I'm going out to see how well I can repeat the lesson's progress.

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Rolling, rolling, rolling like a river

That's what Stella and I have been doing since my last post. After a few rides, she started offering the right lead canter more often than the left; now they seem equally comfortable to her. And instead of just setting her up and letting her canter when she chooses to, I am now asking with a kiss and/or the word 'canter,' and getting a better and better response.

Our weather turned much cooler for several days, which coincided with less turnout for various reasons, making Stella 'spicier.' Nothing truly naughty or alarming, just some head-tossing and a hop here and there – and there was no trotting of the trot poles. If she thought we were approaching them she would rush and break into the canter, which they are not spaced for. (Fortunately, she's a handy little horse.) As the weather warmed back up some and she and Lance got more turnout (during which she raced around and bucked), she settled back down – and I realized just how much she was restraining herself for me!

I got Lance's hoof boots adjusted for Stella, and tested them out on the gravel lane. She doesn't mind them at all, and didn't take any 'ouchy' steps like she otherwise does on gravel. Unfortunately, even though our riding is pretty much solely in the arena, her feet are still chipping up, especially on the outside of her left fore and rear hooves; I'm sure it's because our ground is so dry and hard. I don't want to start shoeing her but I can't turn her out in the boots; let's hope we start getting some rain!

And now for the BIG news: we had a lesson with Suzan today! It has been years since I've gotten to take a dressage lesson and even longer since I've gotten to ride with my all-time favorite instructor,  so I was excited even though I knew she'd probably have a lot to 'fix.' I'm going to do a separate post noting what we worked on so I can replicate it here at home. Hopefully I can budget a lesson every couple weeks to keep us moving forward – rolling, rolling, rolling like a fast-flowing river!