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

Sunday, September 30, 2012


Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land amongst the stars.    —Les Brown

One of the things I love about dressage is having goals. You start with basics, and by building strength upon strength, skill upon skill, all while constantly refining communication between horse and rider, you can eventually achieve a level of harmonious partnership and fluid performance that rivals the world's best competitive ballroom couples.

Of course with Horton, I had to start before the basics; he needed an attitude adjustment first! Now we are working on the basics, so it is time to start setting some goals.

From the beginning, my ultimate goal has been for Horton to be a safe, pleasant mount for his owner to enjoy for the rest of his life. Achieving some interim goals will help demonstrate – as much for the owner's trainer as for the owner – that Horton is making strides in reaching my ultimate goal for him. To that end I've entered him in a dressage schooling show just four short weeks from today! I figure we should be able to manage Intro Level, Tests B and C. As long as Horton goes into the ring and gives me an honest effort without any balkiness, he'll be a star in my eyes.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Once upon a time...

. . . don't all fairy tales start that way? Yes, once upon a time, I attended the Oregon State Fair with my toddler and husband. Rick was the horse show vet for the day, so we spent a fair amount of our time at that venue.

Just outside the warm-up arena, I noticed a handsome horse . . . a strikingly handsome stallion. He was standing there saddled but riderless, calm and quiet, while many of the horses being warmed up acted less than well trained. I wandered over to get a closer look, and struck up a conversation with the horse's owner. He introduced me to Dino, his adopted Kiger mustang who was rounded up by the BLM as a four-year-old (a fact that made his gentlemanly demeanor even more impressive). After watching Dino move, I was so enamored that I wished out loud for a good mare he could service in order to see what he could produce for a dressage mount – he was that nice!
Riddle Me Dino

But I didn't have a mare; I had Russell, and I was very happy with him. He was progressing nicely in dressage and taking excellent care of my little boy:
Brian scaling "Mt. Russell" just days after that fateful State Fair

The horse my dad called "one in 20,000"
Fast forward seven years to this summer. I was leasing Larry and wishing for a horse to call my own. Having given Russell away to the perfect semi-retirement home, I had no budget to speak of. I had looked at a couple horses owned by clients of Rick's who owed him money, but we either couldn't work out a trade or the horses weren't what I was interested in. Then two different friends almost simultaneously suggested I look into adopting a horse from the BLM. So look into it I did, and in the process, learned: 1) "mustangs" can be a mixture of TB remount, ranch horse and draft blood, which could result in a very nice dressage-type horse; 2) a friend of a friend could get me into the closest holding facility to get a good look at prospects; 3) I could afford the adoption fee of $125 and even get it gentled for free through the Trainer Incentive Program; and 4) Kevin Sink, that stunning Kiger stallion's owner, is an approved T.I.P. trainer. (THAT was a blast from the past; I hadn't thought much about them nor could I have recalled the names of horse or owner without this development.) I started getting excited about a road trip to potentially choose my new partner.

But that plan was derailed – or at least moved onto a sidetrack – by two things. First, the BLM's holding facility in Burns, OR was closed to visitors due to a big influx of newly rounded up horses thanks to huge range fires in their herd management areas. And second, just as I was wrapping up Larry's month of training for his new owner, my friend Sylvia called, urging me to take Horton in for training. Seeing as we needed the additional income, I put thoughts of getting my own horse on the back burner and agreed.

In August, while my son was visiting my folks in Texas, Rick invited me to ride with him to a vet appointment over at the coast. He figured we could take advantage of the rare opportunity to have a date after he finished his call. So off we went. In the course of visiting with the client, she mentioned breeding for buckskins or duns because she and her daughter show on that circuit. With a newly refreshed memory, I piped up, "I know which stallion I'd use in that case!" When she asked which one, I said, "Kevin Sink's Kiger stallion." The client laughed out loud and pointed to the horse in the corner stall – a tall, good-looking colt who had already caught my eye – and said, "That's his daddy!" She had bred her short palomino mustang mare to Dino in hopes of getting a short Western-type filly, but instead got Lancelot, a tall, English-type gelding. The only part of her wishes that was fulfilled was the red dun packaging! I rued aloud that I didn't have space or budget to take him off her hands, and Rick and I bid her and her lovely colt good-bye.

On September 7 my phone rang. It was Rick's client, asking if I would be interested in Lance. She had put him in training at a barn here in the valley for the month of September in order to see what he was best suited for in order to market him. After the first ride or two the trainer said "dressage," and suggested the owner call me. I reiterated that I had no space or money; she offered to keep Lance for the cost of hay until I had space available, and trade out his purchase price on her vet bill. Then she suggested I go try him out, and the rest is history . . . most of it still waiting to be written – and ridden.

"Well, look who's coming through the door
I think we've met somewhere beforeHello love, hello love
Where in the world have you been so long?I've missed you so since you've been goneHello love, hello love
Make yourself feel right at homeI'll hope you plan on staying longCome in love, come in love
I must say I was sure surprisedYou're the last thing I expected byHello love, hello love
I've heard it said time and againYou'll often go back where you've beenI really didn't believe it was trueBut I left the door unlocked for you
I'll try to please you in every wayAssure you of a pleasant stayThis time love, this time love...."

Friday, September 28, 2012

If you go looking for trouble...'ll probably find it. Well, that's exactly what happened at my new partner's pre-purchase exam last Friday. Only we really didn't have to go looking for it; Lance (that's his barn name) was lame when I led him out of his stall! We didn't notice it quite that fast; before leading Lance out of the barn Rick checked his eyes, ears, teeth, heart rate, neurological signs, and sole sensitivity. Then I led Lance outside where Rick had me walk him in a very small figure eight, then trot him straight away and back. Rick first spotted the lameness at the walk; I saw the head-bob at the trot. My heart dropped. I had checked Lance out three times without seeing or feeling anything amiss; neither the owner nor trainer had ever seen him take a lame step in his life. (The owner has had Lance since conception, and is a client of Rick's; we also know and trust the trainer.)

We proceeded to the flexion tests (pictured previously), and the lameness increased markedly after flexing the right front. At that point Rick asked me if I wanted to walk away, or investigate further. Of course I wanted to know what was wrong, so Rick set up his ultrasound machine, and there, at the medial head of the suspensory ligament, was a small lesion, or tear. There was no calcification on the bone yet, so Rick figured the "injury" was relatively recent – as in weeks or months. However, this type of injury is rarely from a single incident; it is usually a cumulative or fatigue-related strain that gets aggravated and then subsides, over and over, until there is finally enough inflammation to cause lameness. In other words, there was no way to know how and when it happened or started. Lance had 90 days of training last January-March, and then was mostly turned out until September, when he was sent to a different trainer for another 30 days. An injury like this with so little wear and tear; was this a fluke or a sign of inherent weakness? And was I willing to take a risk to find out?

I've already spilled the beans on the answer to that question, but only a few know how much I agonized over my decision. I spent years dealing with similar injuries in Russell, riding the emotional roller coaster of injury/treatment/rehab/returning to work/re-injury, and frankly, Lance's pre-purchase results terrified me. Rick said the decision was up to me; he was willing to treat Lance should I choose to get him (and Rick has the equipment for the 'gold standard' treatment for soft tissue injuries like this), but could give no guarantees.

I tried deciding against; my heart wouldn't let go. I tried deciding for; my head got in the way. I discussed every possible scenario with Rick; I emailed and called a few friends. Then a brief email from dear Wanda brought some clarity. She said, "Just a quick thought. It might come down to this: If you were to pass on Lance, would you regret it forever? (I fear you would.) What do you have to lose?"

What did I have to lose? Time, money . . . another big piece of my heart. BUT. This time my eyes are wide open going in. If Lance isn't physically cut out to "dance," I'll cut my losses in that area. From what I've seen of his temperament, Lance will make a stellar trail mount for someone, whether that be me, Brian, his former owner (she has first right of refusal), or someone else. So I said "Yes" – and felt peace.

Rick administered the first extracorporeal shock wave therapy treatment last Sunday. Lance's treatment and healing time frame dovetails perfectly with Horton's training time frame.

Up next: The Prologue.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Getting to know you....

I went to the trainer's barn to check out my prospective partner three times before the vet check.
Observing him on the ground...
...and being ridden (my saddle, trainer's bridle)...
before trying him out myself.
He has only been ridden Western, so moving out was a new concept for him.
I saw potential, though! 
What a good boy (and slouchy rider)!
He looks so much like my old FEI-level Morgan in this photo, it's spooky!

The third visit was the trail ride. I hauled Brian's pony over to the trainer's, and five of us – the trainer, the horse's owner and her daughter, Brian, and me – went for a lovely little ride a short distance down a paved road, over some farm fields, on a trail through the woods, and into a small river. My young, green mount saw a moving tractor for the first time, went into water for the first time, and was passed by vehicles (three of them!) on the road for the first time – and handled it all with aplomb. Good looks, good gaits, and a good mind; I was convinced that this horse was the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow – the rainbow being a wondrous chain of events over the last seven years that led me to this particular horse. With Rick's blessing, we scheduled the pre-purchase exam for last Friday.

To be continued....

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Happy hour

Horton has a drink after every single ride
I had an excellent schooling session on Horton yesterday afternoon. He was relaxed and cooperative, more willing to maintain contact, more balanced in the canter.

But I'm a little worried about his habit of drinking after work every day....   ;-)

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Well, look who's coming...

Did you notice that I wasn't on Horton for one of the trail rides?
That's me, in the bright blue shirt – on a not-bay horse.

Here, look a little closer:
That's a four-year-old at his very first water crossing . . . love the ears! And I love the horse . . . .

Hello, love:
There is a much longer story behind and ahead of this, which I will share as I get time. And I have time; this fellow will not be "coming through the door" for months yet, while he heals (!) and Horton hears a Who.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Two trail rides in one week!

One with a whole group...

...and one with just my little buddy (who is not looking so little on his pony anymore!).

Mail call

Monday, September 17, 2012


Soundtracks for situations . . . earworms for animals . . . randomly surface in my psyche – and subsequently stick. Does that happen to anyone else?

I don't remember the first time Horton's song popped into my mind. The words have varied some, and have grown more affirming as he's made steady progress. The tune is Reuben and Rechel; the current version is something like “Horton, Horton, I've been thinking what a fine boy you will be, when all the balkiness has left to far beyond the deep, blue sea.” (BTW, I think he likes being serenaded!)

Recently an unexpected opportunity presented itself; total serendipity. Final details are still being worked out; if/when they are, I will tell the entire tale. For now I will just share the soundtrack.

Well, look who's coming through the doorI think we've met somewhere beforeHello love, hello love
Where in the world have you been so long?I've missed you so since you've been goneHello love, hello love
Make yourself feel right at homeI'll hope you plan on staying longCome in love, come in love
I must say I was sure surprisedYou're the last thing I expected byHello love, hello love
I've heard it said time and againYou'll often go back where you've beenI really didn't believe it was trueBut I left the door unlocked for you
I'll try to please you in every wayAssure you of a pleasant stayThis time love, this time love
I've been so blue since you've been goneNow you're back with me and nothing's wrongHello love, hello love
I've heard it said time and againYou'll often go back where you've beenI really didn't believe it was trueBut I left the door unlocked for you
It's wonderful now, you're back with meAnd things are like they used to beRemember love, remember love
You're back with me and my world's completeSo don't mind me if I repeatHello love, hello loveHello love, hello love(Copied from 

Sunday, September 16, 2012


(see my comment to Horton's owner at the end of the last post)

Look, Ma; no voltes! Today I got three canter departs in both directions without needing to resort a single small circle, and he kept cantering until I asked for trot again. Woot!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

One smart cookie

The first time I asked for canter today, Horton ignored me and got a volte. The second time I asked he ignored me – and then picked up the canter IN the volte. "Can you hear me now?" I think Horton hears (a Who)!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Same song, different verse

If Sunday's ride was about persistent encouragement, today's was about encouraging obedience. After watching Horton pick up the canter promptly numerous times on the lunge line Monday, I could see no reason I shouldn't get a prompt response under saddle. After all, our goal as riders is NOT to NAG a horse into obeying, but to use the lightest aids possible to get the desired response immediately. My training mantra came to mind: Make the wrong thing difficult and the right thing easy.

Horton seemed eager to trot today, but wasn't pleasant about trotting. After encouraging forward, straight and connected for awhile (not too successfully), I asked for canter – and got balky instead. Not balky to the point of needing remedial lunging, but he got the next best thing. Every time I asked for something – canter, or even just forward and connected at the trot – and Horton acted balky, I immediately brought him around my inside leg in a volte, then back onto the 20m circle we went. We did a LOT of voltes....

Eventually Horton gave me a decent canter depart to the left, and held it until I asked for trot again. I praised him profusely, and followed that with a long, stretchy walk break. Working on the right rein started out much better, with fewer voltes before getting a "yes, Ma'am!" to my canter request – and he stayed in canter just fine! Again, lots of praise followed by another long walk break.

I decided to ask for some polite trot work in both directions before ending our day's schooling session. Horton clearly thought school should be over for the day, until some more voltes convinced him otherwise. Once convinced, we could adjourn. It will be interesting to see what tomorrow brings!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Steady baby steps

That's what I feel Horton and I are taking together, and I'm a happy woman! I sense a major shift in his attitude, and believe "remedial lunging" is behind us (the line is still in the arena, though, just in case).

Today I did lunge him in a surcingle and side reins, though. Yesterday when I rode, I asked for – and got! – canter both directions, but the right lead was a real struggle. It took lots and lots of urging for him to finally pick it up – and then he'd lose it within a stride or two. Well, that was the first time. He picked up the right lead canter four times, and each time he held it for a few strides longer, but it was clearly a challenge. So today I wanted to be able to watch for clues to a solution while he worked, hence the lunging.

There were no waving red flags, just a horse that is a little less balanced and strong when circling to the right. I was very encouraging and he honestly tried to comply with all my commands. In fact, he was such a good boy that when we were done lunging, I stripped off everything but the bridle, led him over to the arena fence (where he stayed close enough for the first time!), and slipped on him bareback. I finished cooling him out at the walk, asking him to reach down and flex his neck and poll from side to side.

So it has been a momentous week already – and it's not yet half over!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012


Last night I dreamed about riding Horton in a big, green, sloping field with perfect footing (it looked rather like Equinox Farm!). We cantered the uphill grades; my mount was round and willing... it was lovely.

Horton has been here over a month, and he hasn't cantered under saddle since I tried him out before bringing him home. He hasn't offered, and didn't respond the one time I asked for it verbally. Much of his time here has been spent trying out his balky attitude on me, so obviously there's no point in pushing for canter with a horse who isn't thinking "forward."

After my dream, I got up determined to ride Horton early. If I put off riding (like I did yesterday) it often doesn't happen – I get caught up in all that needs doing, it gets too hot, my mental reserves are spent dealing with my son, etc. So this morning I did chores in my breeches and then saddled up.

I told Horton it was time he got with the program; that I knew he could be a good boy. Then I proceeded to ride him accordingly – expecting him to be good and not accepting anything less! And yes, I did ask him to canter.  It was a non-starter to the right, but he did canter to the left a couple times. I tried getting the right lead by crossing the diagonal and encouraging a flying change (he was ridden by a hunter/jumper for awhile, after all), but that didn't work. Still, it was a good ride overall, and another stride forward in the attitude department!

Monday, September 3, 2012

Hot pink and prunes

This morning I rode Horton over much of the same ground his owner and I covered together last week. I was going to ride him out and about yesterday, but by the time I got to the barn it was dusk and Horton was decidedly NOT interested in going on a "trail" ride at suppertime! So I rode him in the arena. He ended up getting one remedial lunging session; I don't think it was so much an “I'm DONE” balk as it was an “I want to stop here near the other horses” balk. It earned him the same results, though. ;-)

Not all my riding clothes have pockets, so I picked up this little cell phone holder recently. The ability to summon help should Horton and I part company is important – even though I'm not planning on ever needing it.

When Sylvia and I went riding last Tuesday, we picked and ate some prunes along the way. At Sylvia's suggestion, I gave Horton some, too (sans pits; the nice thing about prunes is that they are freestone). Today when we got to the prune trees, Horton stopped and turned his head, ready for his hand-out! I obliged him, but he wanted more and searched on his own.
He seemed to like the leaves as well as he liked the fruit!
Clearly this boy is a quick study, so I'm counting on him becoming a good student sooner rather than later.

Sunday, September 2, 2012


This Swedish gal's riding ability had me cheering at the end!

Fortunately, Horton hasn't tested my "stick-to-itiveness." I rode him in the arena Friday without warm-up OR remedial lunging. He thought less about balking, too. Definite progress!