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

Monday, June 30, 2014

Behold what is below

When Dr. Steward was here, she and Rick discussed shaped girths and how they can help saddle fit. That triggered a memory of a girth I had seen reviewed somewhere online, but I couldn't remember where. Then I got an email from Total Saddle Fit and there it was – the Total Saddle Fit Shoulder Relief Girth. Serendipity! Since I got the saddle for such a good price, I decided to splurge on this girth to see if it might help Lance's comfort even more. It took a little while because I ordered the wrong size the first time, but the correct size arrived today.
I used it tonight, and Lance felt relaxed, happy, and forward ("forward" is relative with my energy-conserver – ha!). I'll use it on our horse-camping trip and give it a thorough trial; it has a 110% money-back guarantee if I'm not completely satisfied with it, so how can I go wrong?

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Riding and reading

Last week all my rides were in the arena, so this evening I took Lance out for an hour walk around hill. I figured it would be good for him mentally and physically, and was hoping it would help my mental state as well – I was in no frame of mind to school after a tough day of parenting.

We're heading back up to Mt. Adams Horse Camp again soon, this time with a properly fitting saddle and a more comfortable horse – yay! I'm also taking along a new book I received recently to review. The Riding Doctor looks perfectly suited for this middle-aged rider who wants to ride for another 40 years or however long the good Lord gives me on this earth; I'm looking forward to all the help Beth Glosten can give me.

Here's some questions and answers with Dr. Glosten to wet your whistle (and mine):

The Riding Doctor: A Prescription for Healthy,   
      Balanced, Beautiful Riding, Now and for Years 
      to Come by Beth Glosten, M.D. 
     ISBN: 978-1570766640
     Publisher: Trafalgar Square Books, June 2014
     Frequently Asked Questions

1. What inspired you to write The Riding Doctor?

I want to share with other riders the discoveries I’ve made about what it takes to ride well and in a pain-free, healthy way. I want to provide riders with a logical system to keep track of themselves in the saddle. So often we are only thinking of what the horse is doing without asking ourselves if we are doing our best to contribute to riding and training success. Finally, I present a system that will hopefully minimize wear and tear on a rider’s body.

2. The Riding Doctor is a follow-up to your first book, Ride in Balance: Expand Your Riding Skills with Body Awareness and Pilates Exercises. How are the two books different? 

The two books have a great deal in common. I self-published the first book, and as such, struggled with getting it out to riders outside of my geographic region. By republishing the book through a publishing house, I hope for much wider distribution. The new book has a new title (obviously!), and has some new content about rider pain and injury issues. The book is in color and there are many new photos – the layout is beautiful. 

3. In The Riding Doctor, you include a concept known as The Rider Fundamentals. What are these and how do they help riders keep track of their position and function in the saddle?

The Rider Fundamentals include: Mental Focus, Proper Posture, Body Control – Legs, Body Control – Arms, and Understand Movement (how your horse moves at each gait, and how you should move with it). The Fundamentals form the structure of the book, and each chapter includes a discussion of relevant anatomy, exercises to illustrate this anatomy, why the Fundamental is important to riding, common rider problems with each Fundamental, and finally exercises to help improve the Fundamental. The Fundamentals are an on-the-fly checklist of a rider’s position and function in the saddle. A rider can ask, during execution of a movement: Am I focused? Is my posture correct? Do I have control of my arms and legs or are they gripping or tight? Am I moving with my horse in rhythm?  

4. The Riding Doctor includes 50 step-by-step exercises geared toward helping riders develop their skills. Can you describe some of the exercises and explain what makes them unique?

The exercises in the book draw upon the Pilates system of exercise. My instructions are designed such that each exercise or movement has relevance to riding skills. For example, in Chapter 2: Proper Posture, there are some very basic awareness movements to help you find your correct posture. Then, there are simple movements that show you how to control the position of your pelvis and rib cage; important determinants of posture. Finally, there are exercises that challenge correct posture in the same way that it is challenged in the saddle – using a single rein aid, a single leg aid, or even just turning. I use an exercise ball and other props for the exercises. Balance is an important theme, as balance is key to success in the saddle.

5. How has your background as a physician helped you in developing the concepts behind The Riding Doctor?

I was involved in clinical research as a physician, so when faced with the question, what does it take to ride well and in a healthy way, I approached it the same way I would a clinical problem. What do I know? I know human anatomy and function. How do effective riders use their bodies? Answering this question took some observation and “data collection.” As I watched good riders, I learned that while they look “still” they are not. They are moving at the right places (usually the shoulder joint and hip joint) at the right times, and are stable and steadily balanced throughout (relying on their core muscles). My personal experience of improving body control confirmed my observations – my rides were much better after a mindful exercise session.

Finally, I use my knowledge of the human body from medicine and teaching Pilates. My system for riding well is consistent with how the human body works, which diminishes unnecessary tension and confusion and helps riders move efficiently and effectively.  

Wednesday, June 25, 2014


Now that we seem to have Lance's physical issues handled, I wanted an outside read on where we were at in our training. I tried unsuccessfully to coordinate a time with Suzan, since she had seen Lance at his unhappiest, but was able to get a lesson from Julie on Tuesday. Monday afternoon's schooling session left me excited; Lance felt the best he ever has.

Well, my title says it all. Julie thought he looked great; straighter and more balanced than he was the last time she saw him. He was carrying himself much better, instead of feeling like he was ready to throttle down any chance he got, especially at the canter. We have things to work on, of course. Most of it centers in keeping Lance's left hind active (which I've been focusing on since Dr. Steward's visit), and requiring him to be responsive.

One of my objectives in taking a lesson was to get a professional opinion on whether we have any business entering a recognized show at First Level. That was an affirmative, too. So today I sent off my entries to Dressage at DevonWood I & II. (If it's already full, I'll take that as a sign that I shouldn't spend the money!)

Julie rode Lance for a bit at the end of our lesson. I didn't get any good photos, but I rather like this one of Julie telling my handsome fellow what a good boy he was. And he was JUST as good when I rode him today!

Perrydale Trails, Part Deux

Wouldn't you know it? PT's owner sent me her photos yesterday evening!
(This was Lance's first trip through the water crossing. Never fear; we did it several more times at a nice, quiet WALK.)

Coming up: my Tuesday lesson with Julie and a book review!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

A perfect day at Perrydale Trails

Yesterday members of our Christian trail riders club plus invited friends met for a group ride at Perrydale Trails (PT). My friend Kate brought Lance's friend Dinah, the beautiful dark bay in the first photo.

Some new elements have been added since Lance's and my first visit there last year. There was an elk and wild turkey hunting dummies in addition to the buck that was there last year. Lance hardly looked at the turkeys; after eyeballing the elk, he walked up and touched noses with it, just like he had with the deer.

Another new element was this hanging "screen" consisting of long, rigid (read noisy) plastic pieces. I got Lance to walk between the screen and one of the trees; walking through the screen was more than he was willing to try.

The water crossing is functional now, and Lance did well with that – in other words, he went through without laying down! heh

The funniest thing to me was conquering the tires. Last year Lance did not want to step up on them. This year, he not only stepped up on them without hesitation, he wanted to stay there with his front feet up and look around! I don't know if it shifted the saddle back to a more comfortable position or just made him feel like king of the hill, but it happened three or four times and got a lot of laughs from those watching.

Dinah conquered the tire on her first visit to PT. Show-off.

The owner of PT took photos as well, which is why I've been waiting to post this. But I have more posts waiting in the wings, so maybe I'll just do a Part Deux to this one when she finally sends me her photos. Onward and forward!

Friday, June 20, 2014

One down, one to go

My Black Country saddle is SOLD!

One more saddle to go....

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Lesson foiled again

Last week I decided to postpone my lesson with Suzan because of Lance's chiropractic adjustment. This week is not going to work out because Thursday afternoon is the only time an interested person can come look at one of my ram lambs. Selling sheep and fleece provide the income to keep our property taxes in "farm deferral," so that's a priority.

So the next outing to look forward to is riding at Perrydale Trails on Sunday afternoon. My first outing there was solo; this time there will be a group of friends and family – including Kate and Dinah. Should be great fun!

Monday, June 16, 2014

Scratching the itch

Lance is an itchy boy – every spring a section of his mane disappears and his tail head gets fuzzy from all the rubbing. He doesn't have worms, and doesn't get welts from bug bites like Russell did, so I'm not sure what his problem is. Maybe he's just itchy, like I am. (My husband says I'm the itchiest person he's ever seen.)

When I can't see Lance when the horses are out on pasture, I look towards the trees.

The other day, Oliver came over and offered to help. "Thanks, buddy."

It feels good to scratch the riding itch, too. Last week I took Lance out for a walk about our hill nearly every day, building strength without the strain of schooling. The farrier was here on Friday, and I was relieved to find that Lance's Renegade boots fit again afterwards, since some of our walkabout is on gravel.

This week I'll add some schooling sessions when I can, and plan to take a lesson with Suzan on Thursday. Hopefully she'll get a better idea of Lance's true personality and capabilities now that his back is more comfortable!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

A pocketful of cherries

Dr. Steward arrived as scheduled on Monday; it was great to see her again after so many years. The last time was over 15 years ago, back when neither of us were moms and both of us were actively competing in dressage; how time flies and life changes!

Her assessment of Lance was that his issues were not huge or long-standing; she thought they were from the last three to six months. His biggest issue was at his poll, followed by a subluxated SI resulting in a dropped left hip, with some minor problems in his neck. She adjusted all those areas on a moving target; Tina called Lance "a worm." I have heard others say that their horse relaxes into the work and even "shows the chiropractor where it hurts," but not Lance!

She also showed me how she does neck stretches now; she extends the neck out to the front and then around to the side rather than asking them to curl their neck to the side or flank. Makes sense to me! There are a couple other stretches she showed me years ago that I have been using and will continue to use.

Tina checked my saddle fit just sitting on Lance's back and in use; she thought it was a great fit for both of us. Yay! (She also thought he had three nice gaits and a very balanced canter; she may say that to all her clients but I'll take it.) Can you believe what I ended up with is a really inexpensive used Wintec Dressage 250 with CAIR I found at Gallops when I returned the two expensive "banana" saddles? Hey, whatever works! (And my Black Country saddle is winging its way to a new home in CO; double-yay!)
Nice, even sweat marks

Tina recommended that I put Lance on daily MSM (probably good advice for both of us), said it's really important to keep his hindquarters up under him in downward transitions (echoing Julie), and suggested lots of walking. In fact, she said "If you have time," (at which both of us laughed) "it would be great to take him out for an hour's walk every morning, and then school him in the afternoon." Yeah, like I have time in my life for that on a regular basis, but it told me that Lance can be used, which lifted a burden off my heart. I can now look forward to our trip to Perrydale Trails a week from Sunday, and maybe even think about showing again sometime this year. If my Mike Corcoran saddle sells, I'll even have the funds to show!

Thanks to my MIL keeping Brian for a couple days as an anniversary gift to Rick and me, I was able to take Lance out for long walks Tuesday and Wednesday. The first time we had to give the winery construction site a wide berth, but Lance was much braver the second time (it helped that there weren't workers swarming the framework with air hammers on day #2). The Royal Ann cherries in the orchard down the road are ripening, so on both rides I stuffed some in my pocket to eat along the way. Life doesn't get much sweeter than a good horse, a beautiful day, and a pocketful of cherries!

Monday, June 9, 2014

Fly-by posting

We picked up the last of 486 bales of hay tonight; I'm woofed. And tomorrow is my 30th wedding anniversary which I will be spending with my DH – some of it on horseback! So forgive the lack of news; I'll post more when I have time and energy. Just wanted to say the chiro went well today; Tina said nice things about Lance and the saddle I used – which is not one I've blogged about yet. Things are definitely looking up. Yay!

Still not satisfied

Once the giddy feelings of relief over Lance moving more freely that first night in the new saddle subsided, I found myself second-guessing, well, everything. The same freedom of movement didn't seem present the next day, making me wonder if the saddle really did it better, or just differently. I've continued to school Lance briefly whenever I can, over-analyzing everything in my desire to be fair to this creature who so generously packs me around on his back, comfortable or not.

The balance of the Wintec Pro wasn't ideal, so we installed front shims. That improved both the balance of the saddle and my comfort, but at the cost of some of the shoulder room the extra-wide gullet plate provides. I am also concerned that the flaps will be too short when riding in my tall boots, and I'm not thrilled with the grippy fabric.

On Thursday I had an idea. I called Julie, who now works at Gallops Saddlery, and asked if they had any wide-tree saddles in stock to try. When she said they had two, a new Toulouse and a used Amerigo, I cleared my schedule to pick them up. They felt good to me on the saddle buck, but once on Lance's back, it was clear they would NOT work:
As you can see, both sit on Lance's back somewhat like a banana, the back of the panels curving up and away from him. Both of these saddles would concentrate my weight in the middle of the tree, and would NOT encourage him to lift his back. The Wintec, on the other hand, sits on his back properly:
His back is obviously suited to its straighter contours.

Tomorrow Lance sees the chiropractor. I'm very interested to learn what she finds, and get her opinion on saddle fit!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Every which way but loose

What a roller-coaster week this has been – and we're not even to Hump Day!

As I wrote in my last post, Lance and I partnered up twice on Sunday. On Monday, Brian wanted to ride Ollie again, so we saddled up our horses and went to the arena. After walking Lance around on the buckle, I gathered up the reins and asked him to walk with more energy. Suddenly, he tripped – with both back feet. It felt like his hindquarters dropped halfway to the ground; very alarming, and something that hasn't happened before. I had let him go back to walking on the buckle when he tripped again, the same dramatic, hindquarter- and heart-dropping way. I decided to try trotting, in case that was easier for him; he stumbled hard with a front foot. At that point I got off, afraid that he might go down and hurt one or both of us, full of questions, and nearly sick with worry. What is wrong with my horse? How can I find out?

Later on Monday I learned that the saddle fitter I was going to meet with along with instructor Suzan this Thursday charges $145 for the privilege of letting us try her various demo saddles; Suzan’s fee would be on top of that. Given that I can’t even afford to buy a saddle until at least one of two that don’t fit sells, I had to back out. I thought about keeping the appointment with just Suzan, but given Lance's fumblefootedness that day, I wasn't sure there was much we could safely do.

Today Brian wanted to ride again (three days in a row!). I decided to use the Wintec – I had used Sylvia's Schleese Sunday and Monday – and see how Lance handled himself. During our short ride in all three gaits, there was one slight stumble, so quick that I wasn't even sure which foot caught. My mind whirled. I thought back to Russell and his saddle-fitting issues. When I bought the Black Country saddle for him, we tried two different sizes, a 17.5" and an 18". Suzan thought the 18" fit me better, but Russell made it quite clear that the slightly longer saddle made him uncomfortable. Sylvia's saddle is a long 18"; the Wintec is much shorter.

However, I did get some great news today. I got confirmation of an appointment next Monday with Dr. Tina Steward, one of the few equine chiropractors my husband trusts. She is a dressage rider/trainer who is also a veterinarian, so I am cautiously optimistic that she can offer Lance some relief to his obvious discomfort.

But WAIT; there's MORE! I ordered a Wintec Dressage Pro from on trial last Wednesday in hopes that it would arrive in time for my planned meet-up with Suzan. The saddle consultant at HorseLoverz is very knowledgeable and extremely helpful – and the saddle arrived today. Tonight Rick helped me measure Lance with the included gauge, swap out the medium gullet in the saddle for the extra-wide, and then watched me ride. The difference in Lance's movement was instant, and obvious. Rick commented immediately, "He's freer in his shoulder." I noticed how much more forward he was, and a huge improvement in his trot.

I'm not sure this saddle is the one for me; it feels like straddling a 55-gallon drum. But I am over the moon that we seem to have gotten to the root of Lance's problems. The chiro appointment stands; who knows where Lance may have tweaked himself from trying to cope with the pain of pinched shoulders. Tomorrow I will call Jerri at HorseLoverz to discuss other models that might be options . . . and I might even venture a peek at the Oregon Dressage Society Omnibus!

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Beating a dead horse

I didn't beat him and he wasn't dead, but Lance certainly wasn't thrilled to be ridden twice today!

Some noise awoke me at 6:30 this morning, so I got up and used the restroom. I looked out the window as I started to crawl back into bed – and saw Lance grazing outside the barn. We've finally figured out a closure that keeps Lance in, but it doesn't do any good if someone forgets to fasten it (cough*Rick*cough). I got up again, and decided if I was going to get dressed and head to the barn, I might as well ride while my guys slept in. Lance had, after all, already had some breakfast.

It was a cool, still, gray morning. I took my time grooming and stretching Lance before tacking him up; then we headed down the road, down the hill, through the vineyard, around the peach orchard, and back. The only downside was a farm worker using a tractor-pulled sprayer in the neighbor's cherry orchard; I waited until he was on the other side of the lot and hurried by, telling Lance to hold his breath.

Later, after my DH left for an appointment and my son had finished his chores and practice, he asked if we could ride together. He didn't want to ride his pony Breezy; he wanted to ride Ollie, the squirrelly little Quarter Horse my husband usually rides. This was a significant request, given how thoroughly Ollie had shaken a much younger Brian's confidence; how could I turn it down? So Lance got saddled up a second time, along with Ollie, and we headed into the arena.

Ollie was a little tense and nervous at first, but quickly settled as I talked Brian through how to handle him. (To his credit, Oliver has been a lot saner the last two years, ever since this event, and the regular turn-out he gets during summertime helps, too.)
Brian enjoyed himself, and felt so good about his ride that he announced he wants to do it every day, retire Breezy, and his dad can get another horse. Ha! We'll see how long his interest lasts, but I will support it as much as I can while it does.