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

Monday, March 6, 2023

We're not dead!!!

Oh.My.Goodness. Time keeps doing what it does and I keep saying, "I've got to update my dressage blog" but the update needed has grown so big and cumbersome that the block of time needed seems exorbitant given all the other stuff I need and want to do and and....     Well.     Deep breath.     Here we are.

Since this is, in effect, my training journal, I want to document what we've been doing (as best I can remember at my advancing age), so fair warning: A lot has happened since the 2022 State Fair!

Even though we made it through that State Fair Battle of the Breeds class together vs. parting company, Stella and I were representatives for dressage in dress and tack only. She is by nature quick, tense, and reactive, and nothing I tried was making much of a difference in helping her become calm, relaxed, and forward – in other words, a dressage partner. In the fall of 2021 Suzan had suggested putting Stella on a calming supplement; I finally quit using it after of year of seeing no clear benefit. Of course I kept riding, in the arena and out of it, trying different bridles to see if she had a preference:

Speaking of Suzan, for a variety of reasons on both sides, I hadn't able to schedule a lesson with her since February of 2022. So when I got a promotional email in early September about an online "30 Days To Round" Challenge with Amelia Newcomb, I decided to sign up. A Shetland sheep acquaintance (who rides, obviously) also signed up, giving me someone to bounce experiences off of. 

The day after I committed myself, Suzan texted me to finally set up a lesson. Of course. If I'd known I would be able to resume taking lessons from Suzan I probably wouldn't have paid to join the online challenge, because almost 30 years of experience has taught me that nothing and no one is as effective as Suzan. But I am nothing if not goal-oriented, so I went full steam ahead into the 30DTR Challenge to see what we could gain from it, getting in almost a week of that program before our lesson with Suzan.

I do think it helped; look at the photos Suzan took of us at our lesson!

We discussed bits at that lesson; Suzan felt the loose-ring double-jointed snaffle I was using had too much 'play' for a horse like Stella. So I embarked on a short research project, ordering and sending back bits until we finally settled on a Herm Sprenger KK Ultra Eggbutt Sensogan Bradoon as the best option.

I continued working through the 30DTR Challenge with uneven results. It motivated me to ride nearly every day and use my Pivo to record video of our rides for review and feedback. There's nothing like 'eyes on the ground' to spot problems, and in lieu of that, seeing yourself on video is a close second, and my position improved. But it was clear to me that I still wasn't addressing Stella's core issue(s); for that, my best hope was Suzan. After more roadblocks, I was able to schedule another lesson with Suzan on October 12, just before 30DTR ended on October 17, and on October 26, and on Nov. 9!

Those four lessons in two months were transformative. My hot, tense, quick mare learned she could RELAX, slow down, and walk and trot ON.THE.BUCKLE. These are photos Suzan took during our Nov. 9 lesson:

At the one lesson we've gotten in this year so far (January 11), it was clear the improvement is sticking. Suzan gave me two huge compliments. The first was when I commented that she was taking us up to the next 'level;' she said, "That's because you've done your homework." The second was when I expressed how happy I was with Stella's progress, progress I wasn't sure she would ever make. Suzan said, "Stella is lucky she ended up with you; almost anyone else would have ruined her."
Stella, not ruined

I cannot adequately convey the relief, joy, and anticipation that have blossomed with having keys to 'unlock' Stella.  Don't misunderstand me; she is not a different horse and there are no quick fixes. But I now have tools to encourage Stella to relax and use her body in ways that are both more expressive and less likely to cause strain and injury so we can dance together for many years to come. 

"Every ride" reminders for me:
Widen collarbones (that's actually from my sheep friend)
Don't sit back on pockets
Look up
'Push the shopping cart'
Weight my right stirrup, and her right hind
Swing her back with my inside seat bone
Widen inside hand
If she braces, widen hands but don't play with the reins;
wait her out then reward with forward hands

In the midst of our progress, at the end of October, an acquaintance mentioned on FB that she was getting out of horses and selling her (mostly cob-sized) tack. Since her place is very close to where I was to attend a women's retreat with a friend, I made arrangements to stop by on my way to the retreat to see what she had. My acquisitions: a rolled leather halter, a basic saddle pad, an Engel Lammfell saddle pad, and, because they looked so good together even though I didn't need them, what I call the Princess Bride set:
rolled leather halter

The Princess Bride wore pale blue

For Christmas a knowing and generous friend sent me a sterling silver stock pin, so I went on Etsy and found the perfect stock tie to complete our show ensemble:

Yes, we were making enough progress that I was actually thinking of showing Stella in open dressage shows this year! So I looked at the Oregon Dressage Society website calendar. Cue the Kingston Trio: "Where have all the options gone? Long time passing...." 🎶 I found NO schooling shows, very few League shows, and the nearest venue requires stabling + bedding purchased from them, which triples my cost. My, how things have changed since I last frequented the area dressage shows! Well, maybe we'd just enter a couple dressage classes at the Oregon Morgan Classic like we did two years ago and be done with it.

A week or so later, one of the first venues at which I showed my Morgan gelding more than 20 years ago came to mind. It has always had an annual recognized show, but it wasn't listed on the calendar. Hmmm; I looked the facility up online – and found a schooling show scheduled for April 16, no stabling required, all other fees reasonable. Score! Stella and I are entered in Training Level Tests 1 and 2.

It's been more than three years of feeling my way with this mare. It's been an incredible journey so far. Here's to the future! 😊


marlane said...

Thanks for the update and will be waiting for what happens next !!

Michelle said...

Thanks, Marlane; it's been a long time coming, I know!

Retired Knitter said...

Hahaha! Well, I am not dead either, although I have dropped off the face of the earth - but still breathing! Yours is the first blog post I have read in months and I am SOSOSOSO glad I stopped by. That Stella is such a beauty and I am very glad she is finally coming around. Your trainer is right. Stella lucked out BIG time when you purchased her. I feel that way about my skittery Aja, my pandemic rescue cat. My husband tells her we picked her out of alllll the cats in the shelter to adopt and we have a good laugh at that because we both know that she was the only cat in the shelter when we adopted her. She is jittery and temperamental, but she also has come a long way and she, too, landed in the right home as I am very sure she would have been returned to the shelter my most people. After all, who waits 3 years for a cat to settle down some.

thecrazysheeplady said...

Oh good! I was bummed about your lack of show options. You've done a good job with what has always looked to me like a tough mare. Very inspirational!

A :-) said...

What a great update! I'm so happy for you and for Stella. You've done so much with her, and I have a very good feeling that you guys will do very well at show this year. Yay!! And OMG, I actually had to look this up: "Herm Sprenger KK Ultra Eggbutt Sensogan Bradoon." What a mouthful :-D It looks like a snaffle bit to me (from my memories of horseback riding a LONG time ago), but clearly there must be subtle differences between it and the one you had before. And what great finds from your acquaintance who is getting out of horses altogether! They all look perfect for Stella, and - just like yarn - sometimes you just have to get some that you don't actually "need." :-)