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

Monday, November 22, 2021

Notes on November rides

Well, I didn't really manage to keep good notes on my rides so far this month, but I have photos so that's something, right? Right??? Sigh.

It's been a tough month, with no relief in sight. I was actually planning a trip which had to be cancelled; the best part of the cancellation was not having to leave my mental health horse therapy. Anyway, below in blue is what I jotted down to prompt me to summarize my rides before the wheels fell off my good intentions completely.

Tuesday, Nov. 2: I love it when dry weather coincides with my 'home' days.

Wednesday, Nov. 3

Friday, Nov. 5: Stella was slightly stocked up in her hind legs this morning, so I turned her out for a bit in the arena, Yesterday's wind and rain had scattered leaves across the sand and I contemplated turning her out in the lower pasture instead, but decided the arena was safer even if she smashed leaves into the wet footing. She made good use of her time, running and bucking, then clearly signaled to me when she was done.

To my surprise, the day stayed dry and the sun even came out at times, so I got to ride. Because of the issues of Tuesday and Wednesday, I thought a walk through the woods would be a good change of pace. She was quiet during our walking warm-up, but as soon as we headed up the driveway, she amped up. So I turned her back down the driveway and we rode around, down, and back up the driveway a few times. She was quite nervous about going close to the house at first, but did get better, so we headed out the gate. Again she amped up, so I rode her up and down the gravel lane in front of our property to see if she'd settle down enough to be able to safely navigate off-gravel through the neighbor's property. She never really did, but worked up a little sweat anyway so I called it good. She flipped her head quite a bit in the beginning, but then that behavior mostly disappeared.

Nov. 9

Nov. 10

My notes from the 5th remind me that she flipped her head a LOT during the first two rides of the month. In fact, she was flipping her head so much on the 3rd that I thought she might stumble and fall!

I took the above photo on the 2nd, and the (unflattering) photo below on the 3rd, to try and show the foamy slobber she had flipped up on her face with all her gyrations. I thought she might have gotten her tongue over the bit, but no; I checked her wolf teeth but they haven't changed nor were her gums sore. Stella always generates a lot of foam during our rides; that's usually a sign of relaxation but I'm not sure that's accurate with her.

Here she is at the top of our driveway on the 5th:

On the 6th, in spite of the puddles and the leaves, I turned Stella out and captured some fun fall photos of my feisty filly.

I know I schooled her on the 10th, because I snapped this shot afterwards of her "good girl graze":

On the 16th we rode down to the main road to get the mail, then made a loop back past our driveway, through our southern neighbor's property, along the gravel lane to our eastern neighbor's driveway, and up to their house to pick up a package. Then I led her home through our lower pasture.

Since it was relatively warm the 19th, I decided to hose Stella off after our ride. Between turn-out, schooling, and her winter coat, she's been getting pretty sweaty – and sticky. After her shower I put Breezy's old cooler on her and left it on her overnight. Other than leading her around in it once before, this is the first time she's worn anything other than tack, and she did great!

On Saturday afternoon, Stella and I went for a ride through the woods. Ahead of us on that track in the photos below, there has been a lot of clearing. According to a neighbor on adjoining property, two new homes are scheduled to be built there. Rats.

Stella noticed the changes since our first ride in that area

Then we took another branch of the road through the woods, Stella's first time on that one and my first in awhile. A new house has been built on a lot I used to ride through to get to a vast Christmas tree acreage, which was then dozed for a vineyard, which has since been perimeter-fenced. Yes, we are getting hemmed in and fenced out. Anyway, at the new house there were people outside . . . and GOATS! With a guard alpaca!

After the alpaca rushed the gate to warn us, terrifying Stella, she got more curious

Once again she proved her ability to hold herself together in the face of scary new things; I was very proud of her.

And this was yesterday:
I am taking advantage of every opportunity to get Stella out in this season that's short on daylight and long on inclement weather!

Sunday, October 31, 2021

Riding notes

10/30: First ride this week because of work, weather, and leaves. Many thanks to my husband for blowing out the arena! I didn't know how Stella would be after such limited turn-out and no riding this week; the girl really needs her exercise. Other than being a little more 'on her toes,' she was good. Wasn't sure I was going to ask her to canter, but when I did, she took the correct lead (right). The canter wasn't nearly as soft and quiet as it had become last week, but that wasn't surprising. Didn't successfully get the left-lead canter for awhile; she took the right lead circling left twice, so we tracked right again so she could take the correct lead on cue. Then we tracked left again and she got the correct lead, so we finished on that positive note and cooled out.

Looks like someone was tightening up an invisible check rein in the above photos!

10/31: A dry Sunday and the arena was still mostly clear of leaves, so two rides in two days; yay! After our warm-up (I always walk her around the arena three times in each direction plus a couple figure-eights on a long rein so both of us warm up our ligaments and joints; I probably need it more than my young mare 😏) I wanted to ride her down through the woods again, but I could hear someone taking advantage of the good weather to grade the gravel road so that was out. We had a good schooling session. When it was time for canter work, I asked for left lead first this time, and she took it beautifully when I moved my right leg back. Same thing circling right; she picked up the correct lead with just a repositioning of my outside leg! I should have quit then, as the rest of the canter work went downhill. She got pretty fussy in the bridle, and didn't get all her leads. She was fussy in the bridle yesterday, too, but I had chalked that up to a week off. Today it was worse, so I checked her wolf teeth after our ride. Their status hasn't changed; one has erupted, two have not, and one is still a no-show/no-feel. She didn't mind me checking,  so that wasn't the cause of the fussiness. I was thinking about scheduling another lesson with Suzan this week, but think I'll wait.

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Light on her feet

This morning was relatively dry, so I took time to turn out the horses for a few minutes before reporting to work (I'm covering for my husband's secretary when not at my other part-time office job this week). They could have been out longer if I could go about doing chores, but Stella will actively excavate puddles into big holes if left unsupervised. ANYway, I was able to get videos of what I wanted to capture in yesterday's still photos of their play – Stella's "airs above the ground"!

As you can see, the arena is littered with leaves (with many more to fall), which need to be blown out so as not to get mashed into the sand to ruin drainage and create more dust later. Still, Lance and Stella need a chance to move around, and it's either in the arena or slip-sliding around in a pasture, turning grass into a mucky morass.

When time, weather, and lack of leaves allow us to get back to our regular schooling schedule (usually five days a week), I may start posting short summaries of every ride, or compile daily summaries into once-a-week posts. I often think I should document what went especially 'right' during a ride, or note something I need to address, but those things quickly get lost to the busy-ness of daily life. So fair warning, as such posts might not be of much interest to anyone else. 😉

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Out of the sandbox

I was hoping to get a lesson with Suzan in this month, but between the stress load, the work load, and the weather, that's not going to happen. But regular time in the saddle has been happening, both in the arena and out!

With the start of rainy season, pasture time has ended to preserve what we have and reduce the risk of injury. Instead, I was turning the horses out in the arena to stretch their legs. Lance is always most interested in FOOD; Stella wants to PLAY.

Both of them like to roll.

In addition to working on our basics (the canter work is getting easier and easier for her!), we've added new experiences. One evening I decided to introduce Stella to my quarter sheet. She didn't react to it much at all, which surprised me; she never did completely accept the pink jacket I used during groundwork.

I bought her a hybrid halter, which I really like:

We also started venturing out of the sandbox. Up and down the driveway some more:

Then down the road to the mailbox and back:

Our next-door neighbor was handy and wiling to take our picture. :-D

Then past the mailbox, over the paved crossroad and all the way down to the other end of our gravel road and back, and finally...

...we ventured into the woods!

Once again my mare was awesome in the face of alarming things. Everything was new and scary to her, yet she held herself together and listened to me. It felt so good to ride her where I've ridden countless times on other horses; it's the last place I can get to riding out from home that actually feels like a trail ride. I only got to ride Lance there once this year, looking for wild iris, and couldn't go very far because of all the downed trees and branches from last winter's ice storm. By the time Stella and rode there this month, it was apparent that someone had cut and cleared the old logging road. We could have gone much further than we did, but I wanted to end on a strong, successful note. Stella worked up a sweat as it was!

Unfortunately, the weather turned very wet right after that ride, so our access to the woods through our southern neighbor's property has turned slick and I don't want to tear up his grass. But it's nice to know we can venture there again when the weather allows.

In fact, it has turned SO wet this week that turn-out and riding time in the arena is much curtailed. The water has to have a chance to drain; using it when there is lots of standing water can damage the footing. On top of that I'm working every day this week, so no daylight home-time for me. I'm going to have a very pent-up pony to deal with by the weekend! C'est la vie....

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Another lesson; CliffsNotes only

Today Stella and I had our second riding lesson with my favorite instructor. We worked in the indoor arena and S didn't take any photos, so this is a "lesson journal" post for me, but you're welcome to read through. 😉

If our first lesson with S made me feel like I had a real dressage horse, this lesson made me feel like I was riding a just-started colt (filly). There was LOTS of activity in and around the barn, some of which Stella could hear but not see. She was tense, nervous, and reactive (although never to the point of being unsafe), so S's goal for us today was to expose Stella to all kinds of new things while finding effective ways to focus and direct Stella's brain. To that end, she placed a couple poles on the ground, along with some cones, like this: — o — o o o  Stella and I walked serpentines through this, stepping over the poles and weaving around the cones with lots of half-halts to slow her turns, alternating with 20m circles at walk and trot. Towards the end of our lesson, we also did several long halts, encouraging Stella to stand and process things calmly. S suggested alternating riding and groundwork during schooling sessions because Stella clearly looks to me for reassurance on the ground and said that will transfer more and more to under-saddle work by doing both several times within a session.

Most of the time we worked on a moderate-length rein, but Suzan did have me shorten them at the end, without increasing contact.  Thumbs on top, hands up and not held close together; encourage enough forward that she doesn't get trappy. At one point it felt like, and S confirmed, that Stella offered a bit of passage; nice to know it'll be there when it's actually time to ask for it! S also commented that Stella is going to be 'stellar..' 😁

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Back to the future

Last week a friend mentioned that a former student of mine who bought my Swedish Warmblood mare many years ago would be riding in a show at DevonWood last weekend. I looked up her ride times online, and decided to run up Friday to watch her ride her current warmblood mare.

It felt good to be at DevonWood again; it is such a beautiful facility. My header photo was taken there; I've danced with three horses in all four of their 'ballrooms' (competition arenas). The first horse I showed there was my Morgan gelding; I can hardly wait to compete there again someday with my little Morgan mare!

But back to my former student. It took me awhile to figure out which one was her in the busy warm-up arena; I knew I was looking for a mare being ridden by a petite female, but it has probably been a decade since I'd last seen B. As her ride time approached and she headed up the hill to the Sylvan Arena, I followed her train of family and friend to watch.

Their Third Level test was lovely. The mare is built uphill with expressive gaits, and B rode her very well. I walked over to where she came out of the ring to say hi and be the first to congratulate her; she seemed surprised and pleased that I'd come.

Before I left the grounds I looked up her score; wow – 72.5%!

Sunday morning B texted me the following photo – they won their USDF Region 6 Third Level Championship class Saturday. Woot!
B has come a long way from when I first met her, a teenager riding a half-Arab pony....

And that burgundy jacket (and, I suspect, the gray one in the photo she sent me)? It is MESH. How perfect is that for the summer show season??? I didn't know such things existed; obviously I've been out of the loop awhile riding compromised horses, training for others, and 'bringing up baby Black Beauty.' But someday, when Stella and I are dancing in the big leagues, I plan on getting one. And since the attire rules for dressage are loosening up significantly this December, maybe I'll be able to find one in Stella's color – "first place blue"!!!