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 20, 2016

More changes, bad and good

Since I was reporting on our rider clinic for my last post, I didn't mention much about my Friday ride, other than my own struggles. But Lance seemed to be having struggles of a different nature.

Lance used to be a fidgety cranky-pants about saddling; he came to me that way. Over time he has gotten much better, maybe because he learned that my saddle wasn't going to hurt and/or I wasn't going to be intimidated. What eliminated it completely was giving him something to eat while I groomed and saddled him, which I am happy to do.

Lately Lance has been getting a bit cranky about grooming and saddling again, and he definitely was on Friday. I thought about the possibilities; could he have tweaked himself when he fell? What about his back? I am no pro at back exams, but when I palpated a bit it did seem that he was sore. Was it from the fall or from my saddle or . . . ?

I grabbed my saddle out of the tack room and put it on his bare back. It not longer sat there with nice, even contact. It rocked when touched alternately on pommel and cantle, and when I looked down the gullet from behind, it looked like it sat closer to his spine on the left side. Not good; not good at all!

When I bought my saddle, a used Wintec Dressage 250 with CAIR panels, two years ago, it fit him perfectly with the extra-wide gullet plate, but a lot can change in two years. Obviously, Lance's back has changed. What to do? The only "fix" on hand I could think of was The CorrecTOR. Russell didn't like it, but it has helped saddle fit for other horses I've ridden, and Rick rides with the Western version and recommends them to his clients. So I rode Lance Friday with a thin saddle pad and The CorrecTOR. I focused more on my riding than his way of going, but didn't feel a noticeable difference in him.

Fast forward to this morning, since I didn't ride over the weekend. I gave Lance a handful of choice hay and started grooming and tacking up. He didn't move away and he didn't turn an ear! It doesn't seem like one ride with The CorrecTor and two days off should make such a big difference in attitude, but I'll take it.

We had a good ride, too. We did our walking warm-up in the arena, then headed down the lane in the woods. Practicing my position out of the saddle made it easier to maintain in the saddle, and Lance responded well to my aids. We'll see if the positive changes continue!

Saturday, June 18, 2016

High-tech rides and the challenge of change

On Thursday I worked until time to meet up with my two friends to carpool to our clinic. Kate showed up with her husband's "magic car," so of course that became the designated transportation. We got a high-tech ride before our scheduled high-tech rides!
From the outside, the Tesla Model X looks kinda like my VW Jetta on steroids. In reality, it more closely approximates a space ship. WOW.WOW.WOW.

ANYway. Back to our scheduled programming.

I was nominated to ride the mechanical horse first. As I expected, it was humbling to see, there on the screen in front of me, how I looked on a "horse." It is a challenge to get all one's parts properly aligned, hips over heels, shoulders over hips, ears over shoulders! That last one was my particular difficulty – me and my vulture neck. Trying to correct it caused physical discomfort in my upper thoracic vertebrae area that lingered for the rest of the day, which was rather discouraging. Jessica reminded us, however, that change doesn't happen overnight.

Jane was next, and her position showed marked improvement since her demo ride at our chapter meeting – yay, Jane! Because of that, Jessica was able to put Amerika through all three gaits to fine-tune Jane's position (all my work was done at the standstill and walk).
Kate also did well; she had the best neck alignment of the three of us. Jessica was able to work with her at the halt, walk, and trot. On our ride home, Kate remarked that she had mostly signed up for an evening of camaraderie but ended up learning a LOT; she and Jane both plan on going back for more sessions.
I probably won't, only because of budget constraints. But I, too, learned a lot, and continue practicing what I learned. That didn't go so well on a moving horse yesterday; poor Lance had to put up with me battling my own poor position habits while trying to communicate clearly with him. Fortunately, working to make better alignment my new normal can be done out of the saddle – as I'm sitting and standing and walking. Surprisingly, my low back/SI is already happier because of what I'm working on! My neck and shoulders are going to take longer to retrain, but I'm going to keep working on them; some old habits die harder than others. ;-)

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Happy dance

We've been getting scattered showers, so the arena was watered well enough for a proper schooling this morning – yay!

Since the mechanical horse clinic a week, I have been trying to implement things I learned there. One of the most beneficial has been using Lance's warm-up walk to warm up and stretch my own legs, specifically my hip flexors. While insisting on an energetic walk from Lance, I let my legs swing along, out of the stirrups. Then I start stretching them back, both one at a time and together, as well as lifting my legs off his sides. After at least 10 minutes of this, I stop Lance, rest my hands on his crest with elbows out to the side, and do a "cat stretch" of my lower back. I think these warm-up stretches allow me to be a much more connected, effective rider once I pick up the reins and put Lance to work.

And work nicely he did today. I had to deal with a couple little issues during our ride, and while he responded very well to my corrections, they seemed to surprise him a bit. Made me think that I need to be more intentional and less relaxed during our trail/road hacks. Perhaps my being too relaxed gives his mind less to focus on from me, allowing it to look for and focus on possible threats.

Tomorrow afternoon, three of us are going to DevonWood for back-to-back-to-back lessons on Amerika. I look forward to learning a lot more from Jessica during all three of our "rides"!

ETA: So glad I got out and rode this morning; it's raining again!

Monday, June 13, 2016

Airs Above the Ground

Fitting for a Lipizzaner, no?

Yesterday I took Lance out for a hack down the lane. Stopped and dismounted to visit with some snowbird neighbors I hadn't seen since last year, and typically-antsy Lance was surprisingly good during the wait, settling in with his muzzle in the middle of my back while I leaned over to visit through the car window. They left, I remounted, and we kept moseying (he was being EXTRA conservative with his energy).

An approaching vehicle crested a hill in front of us, a small SUV towing a very rattly little trailer. When Lance's head shot up, I jumped off. The driver slowed, then stopped (bless him) as Lance, eyes on stalks, channeled his ancestry at the end of the reins in the plowed field beside the gravel lane. I thanked the driver and waved him by, leading Lance on in the direction we had been headed and the vehicle had come from. The trailer resumed rattling and Lance leaped again, but by now we were on the gravel. His feet slipped out from under him and he landed hard, BAM, flat on his left side!

We didn't immediately head home; after he scrambled to his feet, I led Lance to the end of the gravel lane and back, remounting on our side of the intersection with the paved road. He had more energy than when we started out yet at the same time seemed a bit subdued. I gave him a gram of bute to help with body soreness; he has a little road rash but otherwise seems fine.

Where do these fears come from??? I think my horse needs a shrink!

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Entertaining a whim

I can't remember when I heard about ancestral DNA testing for horses, but the idea was instantly appealing. Mustangs can be a mishmash of genetics; Lance's Kiger sire should contribute a recognizable dollop of Spanish blood, but what else is in my big red goober?

One of my fellow dressage chapter members and a friend both had their horses tested and were less than pleased or convinced by the results, so I was prepared to be 'whelmed' rather than wowed. Still, I thought it would be interesting, so I finally got around to pulling the requisite hair samples and mailed them off with my $35 a few weeks ago. The results back today, and I eagerly tore open the envelope.



Are you sure? ;-)

Of the 50 breeds in the reference panel, the breed with the highest probability of being in Lance's ancestry is . . .

Lipizzaner! (Second is Welsh Pony, and third is Mountain Pleasure Horse – I had to look that one up.) Reading Texas A&M's explanatory website was enlightening, and explains how much stock one can put in the results. It was certainly worth $35 to me!

Now, if you'll please excuse me; I'm off to channel the spirit of the Spanish Riding School as I dance with my Lance. :-)
By Machoxx, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Not your drugstore dime-a-ride pony!

So I'm not going to reinvent the wheel and tell you all about the activity our dressage chapter had Monday evening, since I blogged about it on our chapter's blog. But I will tell you that I didn't expect to gain so much from the mini-clinic, and I will be taking advantage of that 50% off deal on a lesson! Jane (demo rider) and I plan to schedule lessons back-to-back so we can benefit from watching each other's sessions.

Jessica's presentation was down-to-earth; she shared her own journey as a rider, struggling to implement all the various things we dressage riders have heard (shoulder blades together, engage your core, head back, etc.).  Her efforts created a hot mess of strain and pain at a young age. She got help, and shared that help, including concepts like "stacking" one's body and "knitting down" rather than stretching up.

Amerika the mechanical horse is a fantastic tool for practicing these concepts, since she's absolutely consistent with none of the variables that a thinking, reacting creature can throw at you. Also, you can see your position in real time (from the side, or from wherever the camera is placed) on the screen in front of you. Hopefully what I learned Monday evening and will learn at my and Jane's lessons will give me a big boost towards becoming a better rider!

Monday, June 6, 2016

Good therapy

Lance had three days in a row off, thanks to me having to work Friday and the weekend being so hot. Today was hot, too, and my low back is painful from stacking hay last night, but we ventured out for a road/trail ride anyway. We had a lovely jaunt, and my back was happier while I was in the saddle than all the rest of the day.

A big owl flew over the trail ahead of us at one point, a lithe deer trotted through an orchard beside us, and flowers bloomed along the way.

When we got back I hosed off my sweaty boy and turned both horses out on pasture. Lance had a good roll to finish off his shower properly, of course. ;-)

Tonight our local dressage chapter had a neat activity. I'll download my photos and tell you about it as soon as possible.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

In praise of the perfect trail pony

Our first horse-camping trip of the year has come and gone. It was practically perfect . . . after a bad scare on the way there when our truck overheated. Turned out the radiator had a leak and had run dry. We added fluid and limped to a town with a NAPA store where we could get some copper leak-fix, and that did the trick.

With that behind us, we could enjoy our favorite location, a good turn-out of like-minded friends, beautiful wildflowers, and glorious weather. I got to ride all three days, and Lance was such a good boy! In the past he has acted unhappy about going down hills, and would often stop unbidden going up hills; this time he motored along happily, and handled whatever we encountered with grace.
It was good to see him relax in camp, too. :-)