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

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

WooHoo - TWO in 2010!

Lessons, that is. Today my friend Debbie drove us and our horses through torrential rain to our second clinic with Julie Ronning (the first was in October). We both really enjoy Julie's manner and method, and she's reasonable, too. Knowing she was coming back to Oregon to see her parents for the holidays and give lessons again has kept me committed to riding as much as possible. Not that 2-3 times a week is anything to brag about, but both Russell and I were in better shape for this clinic than we were in October, so I'm happy. We've also made progress in some of the areas we worked on last time. This time we worked quite a bit in counter-canter; it obviously needed work! Straightness is key to getting the most out of Russell (as it is with any horse), and counter-canter really addresses that. We're hoping it also helps strengthen his left hind and cleans up his flying change from left to right lead.

Julie is planning on returning in a couple months; there's my motivation for winter riding! Hopefully the weather will cooperate more than it has this week; it has been very wet, even by western Oregon standards.

Happy New Year!

Friday, December 10, 2010

For once, the perfect test result!

No, I'm not talking about a dressage test.

You're a Horse!

Versatile, powerful, and true, you have quite a reputation for hard
work and a certain unbridled spirit. Many look up to you as an example of what
people can really become, though somewhere deep down, you admit to feeling a little
bit broken. You hate racing, but are still exceptionally good at it. Beware broken
legs, dog food, and glue. If your name is Ed, you do a surprising amount of

Take the Animal Quiz
at the Blue Pyramid.

This will come as no surprise to my mom, who used to worry that I would ruin my young knees with all the galloping and bucking I did while pretending to be my favorite animal.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Saddle up!

In the midst of the holidays and well into the rainy season, I am still getting in 2-3 rides a week (except for just one ride during the week of Thanksgiving) and am pretty happy with that. With our weather and my responsibilities (including being a homeschooling mom and part-time home business owner), that is probably the most I can hope for.

I rode on Monday, but the rest of the week looked like a wash according to the weatherman. Still, sometimes we get breaks between showers, and today we got a nice, long one. I jumped at the chance. Since the arena was too sloppy to use, I suggested to Brian that he ride with me so I could head down the road. When he declined I turned it into a mandate. After all, his pony needs exercise and a reason to justify all the care and expense involved in having her. He ended up having a great time, even though she sent him tumbling over her head early in the ride. That's what the helmet is for....
We really do live in a scenic area, built up as it has gotten to be. I love our green winters, too. I remember how brown and barren the Midwest was in the winter (except when covered with snow), and I definitely prefer green.
(You know it's wet when both moss and ferns grow in the trees!)

Russell says the best part of the ride was the apple at the end. ;-)

Friday, November 26, 2010


My mother-in-law is here and Thanksgiving Day was busy with lots of things, but I managed to squeeze in the one thing I really wanted to do yesterday - ride my horse. Russell and I had a great jaunt around the "neighborhood," and said hi to the thoroughbreds down the road. They've never come up to the fence before; isn't the young chestnut's head beautiful? And when they decided to turn tail and thunder back to the safety of their stable, Russell probably looked pretty impressive himself. He got on the muscle and contemplated trying some airs above the ground, but stuck to some fancy prancing down the road.

Today it is "blowing spit in the wind" (Oregonians will know what I mean), so I am doubly thankful for the chance to ride yesterday!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Wet feet

I was determined to ride today because the rest of the week is supposed to be really wet. Today was just "off and on" wet. But wouldn't you know that the one window of time I had was during one of the wet periods? But I played along, grooming and saddling Russell in his stall while the rain rattled down on the corrugated roofing then going up to the house to check on Brian's school project. After half an hour, another break in the rain rolled over the coast range and I got in a short schooling session in the arena. I try not to ride in there when it's this wet, but with Brian home I didn't have the option of riding up and down the road. The sand cleaned up Russell's hooves nicely, at any rate. He's been stocking up in his back legs every day, so working the edema out is an added motivation to get regular rides in. That, and being ready for another clinic around Christmas!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

This week

On Monday I gave friend Debbie a dressage lesson. She lives just up the road from the barn and arena where she keeps her horse, so her husband brought over their newest furbaby to visit while I was there. Murphy is a Cairn Terrier, and about as cute as they come!

This handsome boy belongs to the barn owner. I couldn't resist this photo op, and would find it hard to resist the horse himself if he was available and I had room in my barn. Debbie says he's a nice mover to boot, even though he's a halter-bred Quarter horse.

Yesterday afternoon I got an unexpected chance to ride, in unexpectedly nice weather. (I knew today was supposed to be nice, but also knew that getting a ride in today would be impossible.) I took the photo below at the north end of our road (it dead-ends at both ends, intersecting a paved road in the middle).

On the horizon I could see Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Adams and Mt. Hood. My new camera has more zoom power than my previous point-and-shoot digitals, so I decided to see how well I could capture one of them.
Mt. St. Helens: the volcano who blew her top the day I graduated from high school!

Russell seemed to enjoy the weather as much as I did. We won't have many more days like this!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Morning turnout

A very wet storm is blowing in today. The rain hasn't started and I would have loved to have gotten in a ride while I had the chance, but didn't have time. But I did turn Russell out to blow off steam, and snapped some shots of the action. They are over on my Boulderneigh blog.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Dodging raindrops

Still here; still riding - although it's gotten tougher to find dry-weather windows to ride in. (That mushroom above is growing in our sand arena!) Saturday afternoon I took Russell down the gravel road for a short, stretch-your-legs jaunt and we were wet and windblown by the time we got home (fortunately, the downpour waited until we were back in the barn). Yesterday was dry, so I prioritized my day to fit in a schooling session in the arena while we had the chance. Today, the hoofprints Russell made look like this:
But tomorrow is supposed to be dry again, so you can be sure I'll take advantage of that!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

We're BACK!

Okay, so Russell and I simply participated in a dressage clinic today after a lo-o-o-ong dry spell of no lessons, no clinics, no shows. But it was fun, we didn't embarrass ourselves, and I plan to do it again, so it really does feel like . . . WE'RE BACK!

Some notes to remember when we school:
• Slow his front legs down at the walk; he tends to pop his knees. Remember to relax my thighs and make my legs long to encourage this.
• Keep the trot "innocent," and "fade" into transitions within the gate. His response will tell me if he's got enough impulsion or too much tension.
• Ask for more hindquarter activity at the canter, so he lifts his back behind the saddle.
• At all gaits, shorten my reins and encourage him to go to the bit, engaging his nuchal ligament.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Thought for the day

Taken from Jane Savoie's e-zine: "Action always generates inspiration. Don't wait any longer. Just do SOMETHING. You may have to force yourself. You may have to push through your inner resistance. But DO SOMETHING." ~Kris Garrett

There are days I stay off my horse because he doesn't deserve my frame of mind. But a lot of other times I need to read today's thought, pull on my breeches, and saddle up. How 'bout you?

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Still on track

We got a lot of rain this weekend. It was still raining this morning when I snapped this shot from the deck; the arena is saturated. But the rain stopped this afternoon, so Russell and I went up and down the gravel road to condition and school. Gotta keep at it; our clinic is a week from today!

Thursday, October 7, 2010


Wednesdays and Thursdays are busy days. Brian and I have homeschooling co-op Wednesday afternoons, and a biology class for homeschoolers at George Fox University and violin lesson on Thursday afternoons, so those mornings are full of getting through our regular homeschooling and violin practice. The meteorologist warned that rain - not just showers - would be here by Friday's commute, so I was going to ride tonight in the dark, just to get some time in the saddle before the rain came. Unfortunately, it came early. :-(

Addendum: By the time we finished chores it was no longer raining, so I got to ride after all. Hurray!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010


I need scheduled events like shows, clinics, and horse-camping trips to give me the motivation to work my horse regularly. Don't get me wrong; I love to ride for the sheer joy of being horseback, but it has gotten really hard to eke out the time (and energy) to ride with everything else on my plate. So I signed up for a dressage clinic on Oct. 17! Pretty audacious, given Russell's and my woeful lack of time together this summer, but it's free to our Oregon Dressage Society chapter members so I won't feel bad if all we can manage is a lot of work at the walk. I rode Russell through the woods this weekend for a half-hour at a walk, and could tell I've really lost riding-muscle tone. When I rode again today (in the arena), my pelvic bones felt bruised. I've always said I want to ride until I die, so I better get myself back in riding shape so I can! Russell will be healthier and happier in riding trim, too. So. Back in the saddle again. What motivates YOU to ride?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Pressure distribution among saddle tree types

No news to report on the Russell/Michelle front (except that Russell is working on a winter coat), but I did run across a noteworthy article today.

I've had my share of saddle-fitting issues with my horses, and have had to work hard to find the right solution for each one. Treeless saddles have never made sense to me, because I know how much pressure a seated person's "seat bones" exert in a very small area. Saddle trees aren't ideal, but at least they spread the pressure over a broader area. This research proves that point; I hope the word gets out.

On a related issue, I never mount from the ground if there is anything within walking distance to stand on, because I have seen the kind of punishing, uneven pressure a saddle tree exerts on a horse's back when one mounts from the ground using a stirrup (as documented by a pressure-sensitive device placed under the saddle). My horses have all been trained to stand still next to anything I lead them up to - fence, stump, rock, trailer - so I can simply place my leg over the saddle and ease onto it.

Horses are so very forgiving of discomfort, but my goal is to eliminate or minimize any discomfort I, as the rider, cause.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Where we've been

Russell and I aren't getting a lot of time to dance - and I must admit that not having a show in our sights takes away the urgency to school, or even get in proper condition to school. But I do ride when I can, and since conditioning is the main name of the game right now (and the sand arena is SO dusty in the summer), most of our riding is out and about on our hill.

This morning we rode through the neighboring vineyard (straight rows make good places to practice shoulder-in, renvers and travers):
and checked on the local peaches (they'll be ready to put in our freezer soon - yum!):
Sometimes we stay on the roads - of course we always watch for traffic:
It has been "the year of the snake" around here!

We have a horse-camping trip coming up the weekend of August 21 & 22. This will likely be our last one of the year, since the next one is scheduled for the same weekend as my grandma's 100th birthday celebration. My grandma and I have always shared a love of horses; her father was a horse trainer and she was quite the horsewoman herself.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

A good ride is like a drug

Had a great short schooling session with Russell in the arena before the farrier arrived this morning. I felt like I was remembering to do all the right stuff (an easy self delusion to have when it's been ages since I've had a lesson) so that Russell could give me his best stuff, like lifting his back and shoulders and stretching over the topline and bending correctly. We got really nice trot and canter departs and downward transitions, lovely lateral work, and eager stretches when he got a free rein. I even had the passing thought that if there was a Third Level scratch at Dressage at DevonWood this weekend, we could probably go in and look presentable! (The rational part of my brain SO knows that's not true; see what I mean about a drug?)

Friend Debbie and I do plan to pop over to DevonWood tomorrow to visit the vendors and take in a bit of the show. This is the second year in a row I'll not be there with a horse; all the showing I used to do is starting to feel like a lifetime ago. You'd think with all the money I haven't been spending on lessons and show fees that I'd see a difference in my bank account!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

I was gonna ride but my horse died

Just kidding on the dying part.

Yesterday started out cool and cloudy AND Brian went to work with his dad, so I had every opportunity and intention to ride Russell. But I had this little addiction thing going that I found hard to put down, and when I finally did, I saw Russell lay down flat out for a nap. It's a well-documented fact that horses need sufficient time to sleep like that or they can actually get sleep deprivation, so of course I couldn't disrupt his beauty rest. I started spinning again, and then it got hotter, and there went my riding time.

I have been getting in some conditioning rides every week since getting back from Cowboy Campmeeting. He got shoes all around for that, so we have been riding around the one-lane gravel roads in the area. Schooling in the arena is very unappealing when it is this dry, as it gets so very dusty. But one hardly needs an arena to school dressage! We incorporate good connection over the topline, lateral work, a bit of collection and extension, and lots of flexion wherever we ride, and I think doing these things outside an arena keeps a horse from getting ho-hum about his work.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Trot on!

Russell has taken two steps forward this weekend.

1) Rick said we can add (a little) trotting to our short rides.

2) Russell got to go out on pasture today. Rick led him up to the section closest the other three horses in their separate pasture so he didn't have an excuse to tear around, and he's happily - quietly! - grazing away.

I'm ridiculously excited over these baby steps!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Arena argyle

We are having an unusually wet June, so I ride Russell when I can - like yesterday. We're still walking for 15 minutes at a time, but I do throw in some lateral work (shoulder-in, travers, renvers, leg yield, half-pass) to keep it interesting and increase the required effort slightly. When I was finished, I noticed our tracks in the rain-smoothed sand made a rather nice pattern!

Monday, May 31, 2010

A good sign

A foamy mouth is a good sign. It usually indicates a horse that is relaxed in its jaw and poll, giving to the bit. Even though we're still limited to 15 minutes at the walk, we did do a little lateral work for stretching and suppleness today. I was pleased to see this result!

Friday, May 28, 2010

No foot, no horse

Russell got new shoes on his front feet yesterday; his right one grows wonky if we don't keep it supported. Our farrier has done some inventive things to keep his feet optimal, and yesterday was no exception. But Russell's feet weren't nearly the adventure that Ollie's were; he's been digging holes in his graveled paddock to the point that his soles are thin and one has an abscess. So Troy had to build two custom shoes for Ollie; one with a hospital plate so the abscess can be treated but also protected from the gravel, and the other, with a regular pad to protect the foot, to match the first in thickness. As I was watching the craftsman work, I thought "I should be taking pictures!" Fortunately I had my camera with me; below are some of the results I liked:

If I spent as much on my own feet as we do on the horses, I'd be another Imelda Marcos!

Sunday, May 16, 2010


I've been getting Russell out every other day for a short ride or hand-walking, as per our vet's orders. But the other horses are now getting out for a couple hours of grazing every afternoon, which Russell is NOT allowed to do, as per our vet's orders. Too much risk of re-injury at this point, if he busts some moves in the pasture. So he stays in, pining for his stablemates - and all that green grass.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Back in the saddle again

Last night, two months to the day from when I noticed that Russell was short-striding with his left hind, I got back on my horse with my vet's permission. Granted, we only walked around the arena for ten minutes, but we were still "together again." It seems like so much longer than two months, but I remind myself that it would be much longer if I didn't have a vet with an extracorporeal shock wave machine for a husband! There isn't a faster way to heal up soft-tissue injuries than this therapy, and Rick combined it with an IWRAP treatment as well, so we've given Russell every advantage in becoming sound again. Well, except for that day recently when Brian left Russell's stall door open and Russell cavorted around in the lawn and pasture; I am praying he didn't damage something else in that escapade!

Anyway, Russell was a perfect gentleman on our short ride in spite of being cooped up for two months. That's one of the many things I love about this horse; he's no dead-head, but he's about as steady as they come. Our first scheduled horse-camping trip of the year is over Memorial Day weekend, so I plan to talk a lot of those (very short at first) walks to get us both back in riding shape!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

More time for "lamb watch"

A week ago Saturday, March 6, Brian had a friend over after church who wanted to ride horses. So Breezy and Russell graciously gave "pony rides" in our arena. I observed out loud, "Russell is short-striding on his left hind." Rick said, "I see that." Sigh.

So a week ago Rick had some time and started his investigation. Although Russell was short-striding with his left hind, he was positive on the flexion test to his right hind, so Rick started there. He had time to do a six-point nerve block (blocks the foot and pastern) and a suspensory nerve block; neither changed Russell's way of going. Rick didn't have time to do more until today. Since nerve blocks interfere with a good ultrasound image, Rick shaved Russell's suspensory and stifle areas on his left hind and ultrasounded them first. His stifle looks good; his suspensories, not so much. So Rick did the same nerve blocks on the left hind and as we suspected, the lower block didn't change anything, but the suspensory block did. Rick checked his records and confirmed this was the same area Russell injured two years ago and Rick treated with extracorporeal shock wave. He treated it again with shock wave, but is thinking of using IRAP as well. It is not reassuring that Russell has injured it again, especially since he has not been worked hard in the last two years. Indeed, I can't seem to keep him sound long enough to get him fit for hard work!

Right now we have two lame horses and two old horses; you'd think we ran a home for the aged and infirm here....

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

A three-horse day, not a three-dog night

I've been on three horses today, the most "horsing around" that I've done in I don't know how long!

First I got on Breezy, Brian's pony. The last couple times Brian has ridden her, she's bucked at the canter - getting him off once. Since we got her to build Brian's confidence, this was a big step backward and not welcome. Rick felt that some remedial training was in order and I was the obvious choice to do it. After re-establishing law and order, Brian and I headed out on a road ride. (I rode Russell; mount #2.) Happily, Breezy behaved like a perfect little lady for Brian, and he had a great time.

This evening I felt like I entered a time machine. Last Sunday I had a completely unexpected phone conversation with the lady we bought this place from 15 years ago. She asked about us and our animals, and I asked about her and hers. That's how I learned she has a tall six-year-old Morgan she got as a weanling and who isn't really suited to her, and, well, I got curious. So tonight I met up with her at the barn where this Morgan boy is stabled, and got to ride him, too.

So why did that feel like a time machine? Because my very best dancing partner was a Morgan gelding that I bought as a long weanling and trained through the levels, hitting the top spot in the USDF All-Breed Awards from First Level through Prix St. George. Axel (Rogue Hills Galaxy) was my first and only Morgan, and a real departure mentally, emotionally and physically from any other horse I've ridden. By the time I reluctantly parted with him almost eight years ago, I had come to love and appreciate that horse like no other, and the horse I rode tonight reminded me of Axel in so many ways. Is there a second Morgan in my future? I don't know; I really don't know.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Occupational hazard

Rick's work is slow, slow, slow right now, so he's taking advantage of it by practicing his advanced lameness diagnostic techniques. Oliver has been the ultrasound guinea pig:That's what happens when you're the vet's horse!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

February update

Apparently February didn't get the memo - you know, the one that stated my order for dry Mondays and Thursdays so I can work my horse twice a week and oh yeah, add a third dry day each week of this month because I want to up my conditioning schedule.

I'm trying to be thankful that January cooperated perfectly and grab schooling/conditioning opportunities when I can this month. Rick's mom and rain were here at the beginning of the month. I finally got in a long-lining session last Friday, then rode Russell in the arena Monday and long-lined him again yesterday. This morning, days of rain moved in and my sister and her husband are arriving on Friday. Such is life; I will persevere in finding time for Russell and me when I can. He's starting to shed; spring is coming!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Still on track

I was planning on long-lining today (amazing how every Thursday this month has been dry!), but Brian wanted to go on a long bike ride so Russell got another road ride/schooling session instead. We went about three and a half miles, most of it up and down hills. We did lateral work, a wee bit of passage, some trot and canter (got a perfect flying change each way!), and lots of walking. This was the biggest workout Russell has gotten this year - even his "eyes" got sweaty
Now that we've managed two workouts a week for a month, I'm going to shoot for three per week in February. I'm not sure how, but there it is. I'll keep track of how we do here....

Monday, January 25, 2010

Rainy days and Mondays

No, I'm not "down." In spite of today's threatening clouds, Brian and I managed to get in a ride down the road before it started sprinkling. I couldn't get Russell to think "forward" and Breezy was a naughty pony (she crow-hopped a little and Brian came off), but every day can't be a vision of perfect oneness like a championship ballroom dance. I am just thankful for a long-enough break in the weather to continue our slow conditioning process!

Friday, January 22, 2010

So far, so good!

Yesterday was a beautiful, sunny day, so in spite of a full schedule that included giving my friend her weekly lesson, I squeezed in a long-lining session with Russell. So far this year (I know - it's only JANUARY), I've managed to get in a long-lining session and a ride each week - a modest start to be sure, and a far cry from when I was training and competing TWO horses - one at Third Level and one at Prix St. George! Ah, those were the days I could crack walnuts with my inner thighs....

Monday, January 18, 2010

Seizing the day dry

I persevere in reconditioning Russell, even though my always-long to-do list and the weather keep interfering. We had another long-lining session last Thursday that went even better than the one before. Since then it's been pretty wet. We had quite the wind and rain storm last night, as predicted, with another one coming in this afternoon. But this morning was dry and partly sunny, so Brian and I went for a road ride. Usually when I suggest a ride and offer to get his pony ready, he turns me down. This time it wasn't optional. I will get my horse ridden!

Welcome to my world; this is the view from the lane that leads to our house (click to biggify):That's Mt. Hood due east, the clouds streaming from its south side looking almost like an eruption. Between us, the lovely Willamette Valley, the "Eden at the end of the trail" to the weary settlers who came west. On our hill, acres of wine grapes have replaced many other crops like prunes, cherries, hazelnuts and timber.

We had a lovely ride. I worked on suppling Russell, and Brian wanted to know how I got him to move sideways. After a short lesson, he was able to leg-yield Breezy, much to his delight.

Home again, home again, and back inside to finishing homeschooling and violin practice and bread-making and blog-posting....

Friday, January 8, 2010

Breaking in new equipment

I am pleased to announce that the pristine long lines purchased last year are now used and soiled! Yesterday was the one dry day in the forecast - well, other than Sunday, but we will be spending that day hopefully finishing up a building project for the sheep. Anyway. So. I got Russell brushed off and tacked up, free-lunged for a bit to warm him up,and then put him to work. Not for too long, as I want to carefully recondition him, but enough to just break a sweat and get some nice results. Long lines allow you to flex your horse left and right, apply half-halts, encourage stretching - generally just about everything you can do under saddle without adding the burden of the extra weight and balance issues of the rider. I was very pleased with how he went, especially considering we have had a couple less positive experiences with long lines in the past. When Russell is fit enough to handle it, I will schedule a long-lining lesson with Suzan so she can help me be more correct and effective with these wonderful tools.

Friday, January 1, 2010

My New Year's Day tradition

The first morning of the new year, I headed down in the rain to do chores. As I finished up, the sun broke out. I didn't think twice about seizing the moment for the one New Year's tradition I have. Ever since I was a teenager in Texas, I've tried to start each new year on horseback, and I've rarely missed out. I was afraid that this year I'd have to settle for sitting on Russell's back in his stall, because it has been raining a LOT. Instead I was blessed, just long enough for a short ride down our road and back, with this:
As the saying goes, the outside of a horse is good for the inside of a (wo)man. The way a good ride can make your whole day better doesn't make sense, but I'm okay with that. I didn't ask Russell for anything fancy - he's not in shape for that; we mostly walked with just enough trot and canter to say we did it. But it felt good, and gave me hope that Russell and I can spend more time dancing together this year than we did last year, and have a good time doing it.Amen.