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

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve Dressage Poem

Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the farm,
Only one horse was stirring, the brown one in the barn,
The only one to hang a stocking from his feed dish that night,
Hoping that Santa would come, and fill it just right.

The other horses were settled quietly in their stalls,
While their dreams were of horse treats, candy canes and riding halls,
And the cat in the hay barn and the dog on his mat,
Had just snuggled in for a long winter's nap.

When out in the dressage ring there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the arena I flew like a flash,
Pulling on my boots and jacket in my mad dash.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow,
Gave the luster of mid-day to the dressage letters below.
When what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But eight little elves riding eight tiny reindeer.

A small round man, dressed in red and white, looked just like Santa,
And called out to the reindeer, as an instructor might.
His shiny black boots reached up to his knees,
His pants looked like breeches and even had a full leather seat!

"Now Dasher, now Dancer, now Prancer and Vixen, come Comet and Cupid,
more forward Donner and Blitzen,
Keep the voltes round, elves ride those reindeer through,"
It was Christmas Eve reindeer dressage,
Under the moonlight in the snow so blue.

by Mary L. Brennan, DVM

Saturday, November 21, 2009

A modest wish fulfilled and more

It's been awhile! I did order those long lines from Dover, and they arrived. Russell was cleared to start work again, but I didn't get in too many work-outs with him before we were sidelined again. No, not another injury; leaves! Rick spent one long Sunday in October cleaning leaves out of the arena; because of the uneven surface they wouldn't "blow," so he had to rake them all. Then he dragged the arena smooth and instructed me to keep the horses out until the trees had shed all their leaves and he could do a final clean-up.That lovely expanse of sand, and I can't ride in it! Reminds me of the saying, "Water, water everywhere, and not a drop to drink."

Brian and I did go on one "road ride" together this month. Russell only has front shoes and Brian's pony is barefoot, so we have to be careful how much we do that. I also used Russell in the "Hippology" class I taught during the fall term for the homeschooling co-op; I led him and gave all the kids the opportunity to ride at a walk and a trot. Then the rains started and life got even busier than usual, and Russell has been just hanging out, turning into a big fuzzy marshmallow. When we got back from our recent trip to Kentucky (check out my Boulderneigh blog for photos of some fine horseflesh!) the leaves were finally all down, but it has been raining like crazy and now Rick is laid up for awhile after a hernia repair, so he won't be blowing leaves any time soon.

So my wish for today was very modest. After church and lunch, all I wanted was to go to the barn and give Russell a thorough grooming; you know, spend some quality time with my horse. It was brisk outside, but dry. Dry! Hmm, wouldn't it be nice to go for a mosey down the road and into the woods? Rick was amenable to the idea and Brian wanted to hang out with dad, so off Russell and I went! It was wonderful to be in the saddle again, and enjoy the world from my favorite vantage point. Russell is very soft indeed; it will take much time to get him back into working shape. With the weather and my crazy life, it will take even longer, but the journey is more important than the destination. Right?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Inspiration going nowhere - for now

Last night our local dressage chapter's meeting was a demo by my friend and wonderful instructor Suzan on long-lining. She has worked a bit with me and Russell on long-lining, and last night served to inspire me to do more of it - once Russell is done healing from his splint. I need to get some of Dover's long-lines, which Suzan recommends for their quality, design, length and price.

When I first arrived at the venue there was still enough daylight to capture a couple scenic images. I thought the groom (holding up a broom; how appropriate) was picturesque. This sheep really drew my eye, though; such a pretty thing! Later, I found out he's going to be dinner.... :-(

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Out of the saddle and into the classroom

The local Christian homeschool cooperative that we are involved in starts Wednesday. I signed up to teach "Hippology" to two different groups, 15 3rd and 4th graders (combined class) and 16 5th and 6th graders (combined class). I plan to take Breezy (Brian's pony) and/or Russell as often as weather and time permits, because things like conformation, gaits, color and markings are ever so much more interesting to learn on a real, live horse. (The church where we hold the co-op has a large grassy area beside the back parting lot; I have permission to use that area for the "real horse" parts of class.) Since Russell is so good on the lunge line, I had planned to use him to show the kids walk, trot and canter, but I'm going to see how Breezy lunges and use her if possible. If she's not sharp to voice commands, I'll put Professional's Choice Sports Medicine Boots on Russell's front legs and use him.

I know I'll have some students with horse experience, and a lot with NO experience. I hope I can make it fun and interesting for all!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The sun has set on our show

Actually, this was sunrise. This morning. My camera washed out the colors; the sun was really blood-red. Maybe it was a sign.

Russell and I were headed out for our very first lesson of the year. First thing this morning was the only time my instructor and I could coordinate our schedules, so off we went.

When she arrived while we were warming up, Suzan asked me to continue circling at the rising trot so she could see how Russell was moving. She asked how he felt. I mentioned that he had been tenderfooted last weekend on his bare left front foot. She noted that it was the opposite front that seemed a bit off. I stopped him, and she asked about a little bump on that leg, high on the inside. I had noticed it, but since it was small and he didn't seem off, I hadn't given it much thought.

I need to insert here that my instructor, Suzan Davis Atkinson, has the most amazing eye on the planet. Not only can she see and relate what a rider needs to do to get the optimum performance from her horse, no matter the breed or ability, that woman can spot any discomfort or unsoundness in a horse, and usually where it originates from, better than anyone else I know. My husband, an equine vet with extensive training in advanced lameness work, has brought her in to consult on cases.

We worked a little longer in both directions so she could confirm that Russell was indeed slightly off on the right front, although she could also tell he was a bit tenderfooted in the left. Since I was fairly certain the little splint had just recently "sprouted," she told me to have Rick check it, and pressure wrap it to keep it from getting bigger. And definitely stay off him, and don't show.
Rick doesn't believe in the benefits of pressure wrapping but humored me after injecting the site with steroid to help calm it down. To keep the pressure where it needs to be, he had to wrap the entire lower leg; looks like Russell tried to sever it or something!

So last weekend on our horse-camping trip, when these shots were taken, is the last time Russell will be tacked up for awhile. As often as this has happened with this horse, you'd think I'd get used to it.


Friday, September 18, 2009

He just got sexier in my eyes....

Patrick Swayze, a passionate and valued member of the Arabian horse community died from pancreatic cancer complications at the age of 57.

Swayze was known to most as a dancer and actor in films such as “Dirty Dancing,” “Roadhouse” and “Ghost.” To the Arabian horse community he was an accomplished and giving horseman. An active participant at Arabian shows throughout the late '80s and early '90s, Swayze’s star power helped bring attention to the Arabian breed. Swayze’s true passion for the horse earned him utmost respect in the horse community.

Although Swayze’s bond with horses started as a child, he claimed he did not fully realize the potential relationship with a horse until later. “When you get a bond happening with a horse, it’s interesting. I was raised a cowboy and did some rodeo and stuff and thought I was a horseman. Found out I knew nothing. As I have gotten into these horses, [Arabians] I have realized how far you can go with them,” said Swayze in a 1994 video interview.

In 1991, the same year Swayze was named People Magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive, he bought the stallion Tammen from Tom McNair and during the next year the stallion was honored with several halter championships. “Over the years it’s happened—people gradually started seeing that I am serious about this and I care more about the horses than my little image. I am accepted now, so going grand champion there was like a big event for me,” said Swayze.

Swayze owned more than a dozen purebred Arabians and became an active breeder. Tammen, Swayze’s 1982 Champion stallion, sired 175 foals. A photograph of Swayze with Tammen was made into a poster and established as a youth fundraiser during the early '90s. The poster, now in limited supply, continues to help fund Arabian Horse Association Youth Programs.
— from the United States Equestrian Federation

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

I should've ridden this morning...

...because now it's raining. The meteorologist said it would. Said it would be dry in the morning and raining by noon. It's not that I didn't listen. But I had two buckets of pears, a big bowl of tomatoes, and a small tree full of prunes that must be put up or thrown out. Don't you just hate it when responsibilities horn in on your riding time?

I have been riding regularly; a good thing since my entry for the October 11 league show has been mailed. Third Level Tests 1 and 2, here we come again. I want to be prepared, but I don't want to get so focused on doing well that I drill things and make Russell sore (don't ask me how I know this can happen).

This coming weekend is our last horse-camping trip of the year. Our Christian trail-riding club is trying out a new campground; let's hope the trails aren't too rocky! All our horses are barefoot; Russell because of white line disease and the others because it is just not worth the cost of shoes for the one weekend of riding they'd get.

Russell before the rain started today. After he eats his breakfast, he gets turned out in the arena, since his pasture is out of circulation for the year. (Rick took the fence down and spread manure on it and the empty upper pasture on Sunday.)

Some of those pears turning into pear butter

Maybe I'll be rewarded for my domestic diligence by a dry evening and time to ride....

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The call of the show ring

I recently got an email about some changes to an upcoming League show (less expensive than USEF/USDF approved). The date has been changed to October 11 from the following Saturday, and the location has been moved to the Oregon State Fairgrounds from farther away. Furthermore, unlike a lot of League shows that only go to First or Second Level, this one has a class for Second Level and above. All of this adds up to a tempting outing to shoot for!

I don't know that I need to enter as a schooling motivation since I've been doing pretty well since starting this blog, but it would get Russell out where he can be seen by prospective buyers. I don't know that I've mentioned it here yet, but I do have Russell for sale.

Russell is not built ideally for dressage, having a long back and a rump that is higher than his withers. One of the goals of dressage is to develop a horse's "carrying power," gradually getting them to shift their natural forehand-heavy balance backwards and learn to carry more of their weight on their hindquarters, which frees up their shoulders and allows them to move more expressively. With his long back and "downhill" balance, Russell has to work much harder than some to cantilever his front end up. We have worked our way up to Third Level and keep stalling out there, when Russell shows signs of being less than comfortable in his work. He does have some arthritis in his neck (confirmed by x-rays and ultrasound-guided steriod injections), so it's not like he doesn't have reasons. After a successful outing at Third Level this spring, his neck started bothering him again. Since I love the training process and taking a young horse from knowing nothing all the way up the levels, dropping back to Second Level and coasting along indefinitely was not an option for me. I decided to try and find my dance partner a new home where he could be a low-level, level-headed schoolmaster for someone who would appreciate him, and then get a new prospect. That hasn't happened yet, obviously, and I couldn't just let him morph into an out-of-shape marshmellow. So I spurred myself to get back in the saddle for both our sakes. Of course, now that we're going out dancing regularly again I am enjoying our rides immensely, and it would be very hard to let him go. Plus, I'm not sure I have the time it takes to start a young horse right. I guess I'll keep riding, pray about it and leave it in the Lord's hands!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Yielding to temptation with good results

Since our ride on Sunday, Russell has had only his shadow to dance with; I had too much to do to ride until today. I was a little worried I wasn't going to be able to ride at all for awhile, because I noticed that an old splint on Russell's inside left front was enlarged:But after x-raying and ultrasounding it on Monday, Rick pronounced he only had a bruised splint bone and was good to go.

After I lead my tenderfoot down the rocky access to the arena (he was trimmed on Wednesday) and mounted, we started our warm-up. That blue plastic drum has been in the arena for weeks, ever since Brian decided he wanted to jump his pony over something (not that Breezy cooperated). The thought of trying to get Russell to jump it had flitted in and out of my head rather quickly. I was told he jumps willingly, but have never confirmed it for myself, and after all, that barrel isn't as wide as my dressage whip is long! But today, for some reason, I decided to try it - dressage saddle, long stirrup leathers and all! I approached it at the trot with both legs firmly guiding Russell to the center of the barrel, and although he tried to veer sideways, he did indeed jump it! Whee! We cantered around the arena and jumped it two more times, and then I reversed direction and approached at the trot again. This time he successfully sidestepped it, and it took a few more evasions to convince him that over was the only acceptable option. But we ended with two more good jumps - and a very energetic, forward horse! I had to work to balance and soften him in that energy, but we had a very good school and I was tickled pink. Not bad for a couple of middle-aged dressage partners!

Does anyone else admire their horse's behind? I'm not sure there's a part of a nice horse I don't find attractive, but I think Russell has a particularly nice "rearview."

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Dancing with Debbie

Warning: If you came for stunning professional images like those Wendy takes, move along, folks. Me and my little point-and-shoot digital camera are just providing some "visual interest. :-)

Today I got up at o'dark thirty to audit a day of the Debbie McDonald clinic at nearby DevonWood. They had to start early in order to fit in all nine riders before Debbie had to dash off to make her flight for a clinic in Australia.

It was great to see riders on a range of Training Level through Intermediate II horses (all lovely warmbloods), and I really liked the way Debbie worked with each one (with one exception). And each horse knew, from its session the day before, that that little lady in the middle of the arena had sugar cubes for them!(This was the youngest horse in the clinic, a six-year-old gelding working at Training Level.)

The only horse I felt badly for was this lovely grey mare. She was being stiff and resistant with her rider, so Debbie got on (the first and only time she did so in the two-day clinic) and worked her. There were occasionally nice moments, but no real improvement. I was convinced early on that the mare was not having training issues, but some serious discomfort. I just wanted to stop the ride and plead with the owner to have the horse thoroughly examined by a lameness specialist like my husband (I strongly suspect neck issues).(I love this blurred image of Debbie and the mare in one of those nice moments!)

There weren't any "ah-ha" moments for me; when watching others go I can almost always see what needs improvement and have a pretty good idea of how to go about "fixing" it (not that I can always achieve it all in my own riding!). But it helps to get a firm mental image of the moving work of art I am trying to create with my horse. And while those images were fresh in my mind, I went right home and rode Russell. It was a good ride. :-)

On my way home I called and left my instructor a message. If I can find the time and money, I would love to get back to at least occasional lessons. When one rides alone all the time without so much as a mirror to check one's position, a multitude of evils can result. It's time for a check-up, now that Russell and I are dancing again!

Friday, August 28, 2009

Working at dressage

Today I got in our third ride of the week (bless the weather for clouding over and my husband for taking Brian with him!). At this stage of the game, I'm still getting Russell "legged up," or reconditioned, so it's easy to be a little lax in my riding, not using all my muscles the way I should. But I know better, and the "Instructor Spotlight" in the September issue of Dressage Today reminded me to be more conscious of the effort I must put forth. I heard once, "If you aren't working at least as hard as your horse is, you're not riding correctly." That statement gets blank stares or outbursts of disagreement from a lot of riders, but I think (I hope!) all dressage riders understand. I can't expect Russell to use his back and belly muscles correctly if I'm not using my core muscles correctly, and I can't expect him to try and maintain an uphill frame if I'm not "riding uphill," using frequent half-halts and supporting him with my leg. My hands have to be closed and my elbows need to be drawn down and in, not to mention keeping my legs still and in proper position. Maintaining the correct (read: effective) position on a moving horse takes great muscle tone, and mine is in need of as much work as Russell's! But when I really focus on riding correctly, I get a straighter, more forward, more responsive horse. Hurray for us!

Next up: a report on Sunday's Debbie McDonald clinic at DevonWood.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Anticipating the next two Sundays

Tomorrow, come you-know-what or high water, I am riding! This week other things took precedence and I didn't get the time on Russell I was hoping to. But tomorrow is a new day with few obligations, so I'm looking forward to another dance with my partner.

A week from tomorrow I will be getting up early to join a friend at DevonWood to audit a Debbie McDonald clinic. Rick asked me if I was going before I even mentioned that I would like to get away for it (I had a postcard for the clinic on the table); how cool is that? Two years ago we got to see Debbie ride Brentina and her young horse (below; yes, he's short in the neck - he was quite tense that day) at nearby DevonWood; what a thrill! I still get choked up when I watch the crummy YouTube video of her exhibition freestyle on Brentina; what a connection those two had. We got to meet Debbie, too, and she is truly a nice person - and as tiny as Brentina is huge! I know that I will come away from her clinic with new inspiration for my dance sessions with Russell, and that, my friends, is always a good thing.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Dealing with what comes

So this morning I pulled Russell out of the pasture where he'd been munching on his breakfast hay (all the grass long since eaten up and dried out) and got him ready. It wasn't too hot out yet, but he was warm from standing in the sun and acted pretty sluggish. After walking around a bit I asked for a trot and got a very lackadaisical response. Okay; clearly I needed to get him thinking forward, and hotter off my leg. Like Jane Savoie says (and I paraphrase), a horse must be responsive to your leg or you have nothing to work with. So I began a series of walk/trot transitions going both directions; it didn't take long at all for Russell to get with the program. A couple times I got more than I asked for, but that's okay; I let him canter a few strides and then quietly brought him back and asked again for an energetic trot from the walk. (Never correct a horse for offering more than you ask for; just quietly bring them back to where you started from and ask again with more finesse.) After a walk break that included shoulder-in, renvers and traverse, we did the same thing from walk to canter (taking care that the downward transitions to walk were just as forward and active as the upward transitions were). I decided to end with one final exercise on staying forward: going from working canter to working trot with no "sucking back." The first time my instructor had me do this, it took forever to get it right! (Our obvious need of a more forward downward transition was exactly what prompted her to make us do it, I'm sure.) The first downward transition to the trot was good, but when I asked for #2 (I try to do everything in threes to solidify the point being worked on), Russell throttled back. Nope - forward at the canter again; you don't get to trot when you do that. I asked a couple more times, with the same response on first his, and then my, part. Then he stopped listening to subtle aids and went into overdrive, charging around like he had energy to burn. So - burn, baby, burn! I could have brought him back, but only in a way that would have resulted in a lot of tension, so I let him gallop around and around (round, of course) to the right, then asked for a flying change across the diagonal and let him bomb around to the left. The intensity seemed to lessen, so I brought him back to a working canter and asked for the trot with no change of speed or energy. Got it - three times. So, back to the right again, and got the transitions properly that direction, too. Then I let him trot, big and stretching, before we started a long cool-down.

I had no intention to work him that long and hard, but you gotta deal with what comes. And by not getting into a battle with him, I was eventually able to get what I wanted and end on a good note.


If you want to know it . . .

teach it! There really is something to that old adage, and I have been blessed to have people over the years who desired my instruction, thereby improving my own riding in the process. Right now my only student is a long-time friend; I don't charge her for lessons and she doesn't charge me for boarding my dog whenever we go out of town. Once a week or so I give her a lesson on her little thoroughbred mare; they are now schooling Third/Fourth Level. Since that is the level Russell has been schooling, I'm basically reinforcing in my mind what I need to be doing every time I give her a lesson. Since Brian is off with daddy, I think I'll pull on some breaches and go put those things into practice before it gets any hotter!

"The outside of a horse is good for the inside of a woman."

Sunday, August 16, 2009


This is my dressage training journal, my ode to the horse at its finest, and my virtual bulletin board, where I can post reminders to myself on the purpose and practice of correct riding.

I'm just getting my horse Special Majesty (Russell) and myself back into a regular routine after a spring show (one class at Third Level), subsequent symptoms of discomfort on my horse's part, and several months of minimal schooling and some trail riding. It's been a long time since I've gotten regular instruction even though the instructor I use is one of the best; being a homeschooling mom of a young son really interferes with my hobbies - ha!

Today was our third schooling session in a week - WOOHOO! It feels good to be back in the saddle again. Like old ballroom dancing partners, we know the moves, but our bodies are a little out of shape for the task and we can easily lose the beautiful lines we are going for on the dance floor.

I'm working on keeping Russell straight (imagine riding a dolphin and always keeping that dorsal fin straight up in front of you) so that he can use both hind legs effectively to go forward. At the same time I am encouraging him to keep a soft contact from the bit through the poll and down the neck to the shoulders, so he doesn't get tight in his back. Ideally we do this equally well going both directions, but that rarely happens. In our first canter work this evening, he felt discombobulated going to the right, but after some more work at the trot, his right lead canter got much better. I did just a little sitting trot work tonight and it felt very good, but I won't overdue it before his back and belly muscles have more time to strengthen for the work. I'm looking forward to my belly muscles regaining some strength and tone, too - along with my thighs and butt. When I was riding a lot more, I used to joke that I could crack walnuts between my thighs; right now I don't know if I could squish a green tomato!