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

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Back in the saddle; Happy Year of the Horse!

Although I rode in the dark and the arena was rather sloppy-wet, I did get in my hoped-for ride yesterday. Lance was very, very good – light off my leg and responsive to my other aids.

This morning I clipped Lance's bridle path. His mane needs to be shortened as well; the part he rubbed out last year is about the perfect length now.

His winter coat is not overly long or thick, but his legs sure get hairy.

No sign of shedding yet, even though the days are getting noticeably longer. The first show I'm planning to enter is on April 13; I'll get him trimmed up spiffy by then.

This afternoon I rode again (in a drier arena), and again Lance was very, very good. After schooling, we went down the lane to pick up the mail. Lance usually fidgets a bit while I'm unlocking our mailbox, getting the mail, and locking up the box again, but today he stood like a rock. What a boy!

Monday, January 27, 2014

Long-distance report

I'm still in Lincoln, NE, where the temperatures are bouncing between fine (50 degrees) and frigid (3 degrees). But I thought I'd share the reports I got on Kate's adventures with Lance.

On Friday she and her daughter hauled Dinah to my place, and Kate rode Lance while her daughter rode Dinah. Kate emailed, "Lance is quite the solid citizen! With plenty of leg he is delightful. Took him a time or two to figure out what I wanted; once we were communicating successfully Lance was a sharp responder. You are right; Lance's steadiness and rhythm makes working on my seat easy. What a to die for sitting trot! Thank you for the opportunity. I plan to ride Sunday as well."

It was like getting a glowing report about your kid from his teacher at school; I was so pleased! I eagerly awaited a report on her ride yesterday. It came last night.

"Mr. Lance was pretty frisky this afternoon so, since I was by myself, I chose to lunge rather than ride.
After crowhopping after me when I went into his paddock to check his water tank, and crowhopping after me back into the stall, then stealing the grooming tools, and almost stealing his blanket off the door, I thought it would be better to lunge. He was just exuberant, but I'm old and brittle. My, did he buck! So he got 40 minutes of trot, walk and canter on the lunge. Again, we had some initial miscommunication so I, too, had a 40-minute lunge. No standing in the middle for me. 

"Your tired friend, Kate"

Oh dear; so much for my "solid citizen"! Still, I was SO appreciative that Kate gave him a chance to get his yahoos out. Otherwise he would have been locked up (stall and attached small paddock) for a solid week, which is no good at all for a young, fit horse. He's such a character . . . I can't wait to see him again!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014


I really wanted to ride today. I am leaving very early tomorrow morning and won't have a chance to ride again until a week from tomorrow, unless I manage to wedge in a ride a week from today somehow. When our homeschool co-op is in session, it's usually all I can do on Wednesdays to get my son through his chores, schoolwork and practice before dashing into town for co-op, followed by his piano lesson from Grandma and any errands awaiting the next in-town opportunity.

I am tempted to go out in the dark and hop on Lance for just a little ride (we have a couple spotlights trained on our little arena, but their glare is worse than the darkness), but if I do that I will put off bedtime far later than is advisable before tomorrow's early morning flight. Sigh. Sometimes you just have to accept reality.

My friend Kate (Dinah's owner) is going to try to come over on Friday and Monday to get Lance out for some exercise. It will be interesting to hear how that goes. I've always been very protective of my horse partners, so suggesting that she ride Lance while I'm gone is a huge act of trust for me.

My ride yesterday was short but sweet. On Monday Lance was quite cranky about being groomed and tacked up, although he was fine under saddle. That night at chore time he didn't want to "visit" (he's usually quite social if I enter his stall or stand at his door, coming over to share breaths and nuzzle), but he was chummy with Brian during chores the next morning. So when I went down to ride yesterday, I slo-o-owed down instead of getting him ready in my usual businesslike fashion. And you know what? He was my friendly fellow again! I tried to keep that more relaxed mindset in the saddle, and like I said, it was a short but sweet schooling session.

There are a lot of demands upon my time and fitting in regular rides is a challenge. But once I manage to get out the door, I need to slow down and "smell the roses" – that would be Lance's nose, and breath, and neck. I need to look in his eyes, and stroke his face, scratch between his front legs, smooth his mane. Our rides – and more importantly, our relationship – will be the better for it!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Lesson notes

Last week a friend asked how our Thursday lesson went. I decided to post it here because it helps me remember what we need to work on . . . but it's taken me awhile to find the time and organize my thoughts!

Apparently Lance and I were making progress even when our schooling sessions felt less than fine, because Julie could see a lot of improvement since our last lesson. In fact, she said Lance was the best she's ever seen him! I'm doing a better job of riding him straight and not letting his haunches come in (a common problem, particularly in the canter), which in turn improves his ability to carry himself. But I'm getting ahead of myself; let's start with warm-up.

Lance's walk almost always gets high praise. When we pick up the trot, I need to make sure it's a good, energetic trot – better to "insist" at the beginning rather than letting him slog around or nag-nag-nag for forward. Once energized, he's pretty good about maintaining it. Julie had four ground poles laid out, and trotting over them improved the way Lance used his hind legs. I really need to buy some poles….

From there we went to work. Julie had us do a lot of leg yields to check and correct Lance's straightness, adding leg-yield zigzags to our list of exercises. We continued to use "leg yield along the wall" at the walk (it's rather more like an angled side pass) interspersed between more vigorous exercises to help him articulate the use of his hind legs.

Our canter departs (first from the trot, then the walk) are a work in progress, but they are definitely getting better. The key is keeping his shoulders in front of his hindquarters, which requires working on the inside track so I can utilize a bit of leg-yield* along with lots of half-halts with the mental image of "turning the bus" with my torso and thighs (rather than letting him just bend his neck, leaving his shoulders out and his haunches in). When I get his parts aligned correctly his frame opens and his canter flows, rather than being hoppy or labored. Julie checked our straightness by having us canter down the quarter line; it took a bit at the beginning of the line to get it, but we finished each attempt in correct alignment. We also worked on smaller circles, bringing the shoulders up and around at the canter, which Lance did quite nicely. That was pretty exciting, because I can remember a time not that long ago when Lance couldn't maintain canter on a smaller circle!

*Working on the inside track and utilizing the thought of leg-yield is a big part of nearly every schooling session. We do it for trot-walk transitions, canter-trot transitions, walk-canter transitions, and to set us up for success for trot lengthenings on the diagonal.

I had a good schooling ride on Friday, reviewing the things we worked on in our lesson. Lance got yesterday off, and I rode again today. He was clearly full of himself while I was grooming him and tacking him up; so much so that I decided to tie the reins up and turn him loose to burn off some steam in the fog!

He has never carried on so hard and long. He was sweating and blowing hard when he decided he was ready to come when I called, so I didn't ride very long. He gave me very nice responses to everything I asked, and that was enough.  :-)

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

"Things are going great, and they're only getting better"

After a brief return to normal winter weather (i.e. rainy), it has dried out again and is supposed to remain unseasonably dry and warm for the rest of the month. Very odd, and worrisome in many ways – but good for riding, at least!

The farrier came to give pedicures to the ponies this morning, and my friend Kate hauled Dinah here to be trimmed as well. Afterwards we rode together, then switched mounts. Dinah's canter departs aren't confirmed yet and Kate is still getting her core strength back after years out of the saddle, so she asked me to canter Dinah both directions while she walked Lance around. I almost had to laugh at how different our horses feel; Dinah is like a quick, slender dragonfly to Lance's big bumblebee!

I'm going to take my bumblebee to a lesson with Julie on Thursday. Kate wants to haul Dinah along to audit during my lessons, but isn't able to this week. I shared with her some of what we've been working on that will benefit Dinah, though, and in sharing, it is confirmed and strengthened in my own mind and muscles. Win-win. For us and our equine partners, the future's so bright – like the forecast for the rest of January – we gotta wear shades!

Friday, January 10, 2014


Managed to steal another ride from the weather (that's what it feels like when I get in a dry ride during wet weather) this morning; yay! At the top of my long mental list of goals today was to have a horse with a foamy mouth, indicating relaxation. We've been missing that the last couple rides at least, and those rides weren't stellar in other ways as well. It's all connected; it always is.

Towards the end of yesterday's ride I was racking my brain to remember all the things I'm supposed to do (oh, to have the time and money for weekly lessons!), and when I corrected my position and got out of Lance's way, he was suddenly able to give me what I was asking for. Of course.

Apparently I rode better from the git-go today, as evidenced by Lance's improvement. And this:


Thursday, January 9, 2014

Splish-splash; now he needs a bath!

At least it's mostly wet sand, not mud!

Yes, "normal" winter weather has returned to the Willamette Valley. I managed to time our ride pretty well today, mostly between showers. However, I was determined to ride 'come well or high water' and tacked up Lance with my Wintec saddle just in case.

Last night at our dressage chapter meeting, a sport psychologist spoke about mentally preparing for competition. He asked attendees what mental images help them achieve their riding goals. One of our members said she once saw a clip on TV of Prince Philip competing in the rain in his silk top hat, and that inspires her to keeping on riding, even in less than ideal conditions. I haven't seen that footage, but remembered a video I bookmarked that shows amazing focus (on the rider's part) and willing partnership (on the horse's part), obviously backed by hours – years – of solid preparation. (If you don't have a lot of time, you can skip to minute 4.00 and watch from there.)

Amazing, isn't it? It gives a whole new meaning to "Singing in the Rain"!

Sunday, January 5, 2014

On to year two!

Last Thursday was the one-year anniversary of Lance's arrival here. It went by without fanfare, but we had a good schooling session after our recreation the day before. That night the wind brought a change in the weather, blowing out the fog and smog from the inversion that sat on us heavily for two weeks and ushering in sunshine. Without the blanket of fog its getting colder at night, but not so cold as to solidify our arena footing. In other words, it's great. I just came in from another good ride, as well as some excellent ground work in his stall and paddock before and after with the help of "sticks and carrots" (a dressage whip and lots of commercial treats).

Last night our Christian trail-riding club had its annual planning meeting. I am looking forward to taking Lance on more horse-camping trips, another visit (this time with the club; any of you want to join us for the group rate?) to Perrydale Trails, and hopefully, several more day-trips to the beach and elsewhere with my friend. I've got four dressage shows bookmarked so we could possibly earn enough scores to qualify for USDF All-Breed Awards, too. It would appear that this is the Year of the Horse, all right! I'm excited, and so very thankful to have this special partner in my life.
Lance & me, one year ago tomorrow, our first ride at home

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Starting 2014 off right

We didn't get to the beach, but Lance and I did get to go for a ride with our "beach buddies" at Willamette Mission State Park this afternoon. We had a great time, made proud again by our young horses. I'll let my camera do the rest of the talking; Happy New Year!

(eagle's nest)