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

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

First lesson of 2022

After being able to resume more frequent schooling sessions this month, I decided it was time for another lesson with Suzan. I texted her on Sunday, and she said she could fit us in this morning!

It was a drizzly day; I was thinking I might have to walk Stella up and down the barn aisles in lieu of a warm-up. But the lesson before us finished early so Suzan ushered us into the indoor arena. Suzan noted that my saddle isn't sitting balanced on Stella's back, and suggested I use my CorrecTOR pad with shims to lift the cantle. She also noted that Stella has filled out some since our last lesson and is croup-high, meaning she's grown. Hopefully her front end will follow suit....

As before, Suzan was worried that I was going to just get on without lunging Stella first, but after a minute or so of high tension, Stella settled well and we got to work on her, and me. Below are my notes, which I sat down and typed as soon as I got home so as to forget as little as possible!

Use sustained half halt to slow Stella's walk down to a steady, four-beat "3," then ease out of it (not abrupt release) while keeping the clear four-beat walk, BREATHE, and become a wet sandbag in the saddle. If she gets tense or hurried (often!), repeat. and keep repeating as needed. Don't pull on the reins; the half halt should be in my body and legs. If she dives down, squeeze her up with inside leg; if she gets high with her head, follow with my hands. Keep my shoulders down, neck back into collar, chin up (not tucked); look forward between her ears. BREATHE. Let my hips move when she relaxes (think "move with her ribcage/encourage her ribcage to move"). BREATHE.

Most of this applies to trot as well; stretch left side and don't twist torso.

If she startles or spooks at something, let her stand (stroking) until her energy comes down if possible.

Before asking for shoulder-in, do a slow volté (half halt!) and push her hindquarters out, then continue down the wall with that bend. Harder to the left; think "swing her ribcage in a pulsing motion."

Stella did so much better than her first lesson in the indoor. She really wants to scurry along and got frustrated at times that I wouldn't let her go in her default quick, tense pace, but she tried. Suzan remarked on how much better she was today, too. It was a good lesson.

One step back and three steps forward

Last Friday Stella was back to her tense, go-go girl self. When I wanted her to walk she'd jig and break to the trot; at the trot she wanted to rush and break to the canter – but "don't touch my face!" When she acts like that, dancing together like ballroom partners seems a distant dream.

But on Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday she was much better. We were able to work at the walk and the trot without drama; I didn't ask her to canter and she didn't insist except for one time she slipped into it as quietly as could be, stayed calm and quiet, and then came back to trot on her own.

I took a photo of her on Sunday, and when I went to my photo file to add it to this post there was a second photo dated 1/16 – from 2021.

Even though it's bittersweet, I'm including it. That's a young, black Morgan stallion that my son got to ride. Last winter while he was at college (he dropped out; that's the bittersweet part) in Walla Walla, WA, he connected with a Morgan trainer there through the girl he was dating. He got to ride at the trainer's several times, and on two different stallions. He said this one was really tall, so I looked him up (at the time; now I can't remember his name). Over 16 hands high; that IS tall for a Morgan! But I was not impressed by the side view I saw of him. It would be interesting see current photos, though, as he was only three or four then and has probably matured a lot. Now if only my son would . . . . 😏

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

1-2-3, as different as can be

Last Thursday morning, the farrier was out to trim the horses' feet. Stella has always been good for him; tense, but good. This time she was not just good, but relaxed for the first time. SmartCalm Ultra for the win! But lest I relax too much....

That afternoon I got home from work with cooperative weather and enough daylight left to ride. We did our usual warm-up walk, and (as near as I can recollect) I started messing with unfamiliar reins (I had swapped them out so that each pair stayed with the bridle they matched). Stella started or jigged or something, and my boot, wet and sandy, forcefully slipped out of the stirrup, which banged into Stella's side. Startled, Stella jumped, which made the stirrup bump her again, and off she went, bucking to the end of the arena. Thankfully I stayed on and got her stopped, because I think it would have really spooked her if I'd come off. Instead, I was able to stroke and calm her, and we finished our ride, including cantering, without incident.
Better yet, STAY on!

The next day I happened to read Anna Blake's newest blog post before heading to the barn to take advantage of the improving weather. After an energetic turn-out,
Turn-out started out calmly enough, but then . . .

I worked on positioning my feet in the stirrups as she suggested, and what do you know; we had an EXCELLENT schooling session. I was happier with my legs and seat, and Stella seemed to be as well. I resolved to read and re-read Anna's post as a reminder until I develop new muscle memory.

The third ride in this post was Sunday afternoon. Stella was back to being a 'go-go girl' (I'm dating myself with that reference!) with lots of nervous energy, jigging and fussiness. Where was my SmartCalm mare? Perhaps I could have found her again – if I'd had time. But Rick called me from town, needing an address, and a septic tank pumper texted me that he was on his way, so I had to find something relatively positive to end on and get back up to the house. Now that I'm typing it out, I realize that those other things – and their effect on my nerves – may have contributed to Stella's nerves.

Since then, we've had rides #4 and #5. Tuesday's ride started out similarly tense to #3. Since she wanted to GO, I let her move into canter work more quickly than usual after our warm-up, and we cantered until she was ready to trot. That seemed to help, although I didn't have long to evaluate the strategy's effect since I was called upon to pick up DS from work in Portland. (I have to wear too many hats....)

Today I said "yes" to Stella's pointed desire to leave the arena and head down the road. It was a beautiful, warm, dry day. She eyed the recycling bins along the road, worried they might flap and rustle like the trash bins did on that windy day, but they behaved themselves. Further down the road, we were greeted by a jarring chorus of barking from a place that has four dogs. Stella stopped. Then their newest one, an LGD, jumped the fence and made her way towards us barking, hackles raised. I dismounted and held the reins, reassuring Stella that I would defend her if necessary. The owner came out and eventually got the dog back onto their property, so I (took a photo of Stella and)
led her past that property before remounting. We continued to the end of the lane and back home, passing the property with barking dogs again without incident. I was so proud of her!

My local Oregon Dressage Society chapter has folded, but the winter schooling show we ran for ~20 years has been picked up by another chapter and I would love to enter Stella in the Bears Above the Ground show at the end of February. In my dressage 'career' I've always set fairly ambitious showing goals and then worked towards reaching them, and that has worked for me with a lot of different horses. But Stella? I know Suzan would tell me to give her more time to grow up, and I know she's right. TTT – things take time. It's only fair to give her that.

Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Go and glow

The forecast said this morning would be relatively dry, so I turned the horses out for a romp and then tacked up Stella. She was a firecracker in turn-out, but our schooling session was so hunky-dory that the warm glow it created in me lasted for hours, as only a good ride can. Her walk was less hurried, her canter was less worried, her mouth foamed less copiously, and she sweated less profusely. I really do think the calming supplement is doing her some good!

Sunday, January 2, 2022

A change of calendar – and clothes

Yesterday I got in my New Year's Day rides, both of them short, careful walks over sand footing frozen as hard and rough as broken concrete. My heavier chore coat was in the house for mending, so I wore my lighter chore jacket over a fleece top and fleece vest, plus my heaviest winter riding tights, wool socks, winter paddock boots, headband, and winter riding gloves. It was not enough. If Stella and I could have done more than walk I might have warmed up some, but just walking left me aching with cold. For evening chores I pulled out a warmer coat and a fleece scarf to wear with my Eddie Bauer fleece-lined pants and fared better.

By this morning it was 10 degrees warmer, then warmed up another eight degrees. The arena footing was still pretty hard, but a stiff wind was working on blowing in the next weather system (rain for days), so I decided to risk turning the horses out. Lance decided the surface was too hard for laying down and rolling, but they did get to move around – especially Stella.

I thought Stella was even more breathtaking than usual with her mane tousled and tail blowing!

Hopefully we'll be able to find some dry windows in which to ride this week.