dressage, dressage lessons, Nonhorsepeople, riding

Why do you STILL take riding lessons?

If there are non-horsepeople in your life, it’s likely that they have asked you why you still (emphasis on still, tone of voice indicating disbelief) take riding lessons. One friend of mine even went on to say, “I thought you’d be teaching by now.” This is someone who has never seen me ride and who clearly knows nothing about dressage. The fact is, most people just don’t get it.
For them, I’ve come up with the following analogy, which you may feel free to use when the subject comes up in your life … at your child’s school, at cocktail parties, and even in family gatherings.

Dressage, like piano, takes a lifetime to master.


Dressage is somewhat like learning to play the piano. Almost anyone can learn to play “Mary Had a Little Lamb” or “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” in a reasonable length of time. But to play Bach, you study for many years. To play at a concert level, you study for a lifetime.
Adding to the complexity of dressage is that, unlike with your piano, you are working with another living being with its own set of physical and mental strengths and limits. While your piano will need occasional tuning to perform consistently, you and your horse will need regular tuning as the demands increase as horse and rider move up the levels. The rider, like the piano student, will have good and bad days but the piano will remain tried and true throughout the years. The horse, on the other hand, will have ups and downs of his own, which the rider must constantly adjust to, sometimes asking for more, sometimes less.
While your piano may weigh as much as a horse, it will never refuse to play, wake up sluggish and/or stiff, or feel naughty. Your piano will never try to outsmart you or remove you from the piano bench.
This, my friends, is why I take lessons week after week, year after year. I’m trying to bring out the best not just in myself, but in a living, breathing instrument with a mind of its own. When it works, it is beautiful music, indeed.

cantering, dressage, dressage competition, natalie perry dressage, The Go Button

Ride Like You Mean It

This morning’s ride was a bit of a rough go.
I swear my horse reads my every mood and he knew I wasn’t totally present. Indeed, I was feeling a bit down and lacking in physical and mental fortitude.

Horses find dressage more challenging than grazing in pasture.


Micah finds the collected work to be much more difficult than grazing in the pasture and has started to complain a bit. He also hates marching at the walk — he was certain he owned that gait.
Today we did a run through of Second Level, Test One and Micah knew an imaginary judge was looking over my shoulder, critiquing the ride. When he balked in his canter transitions, rather than school him for it, I tried to ride on hoping the judge wouldn’t notice. I could feel the points slipping through my fingers. It was a miserable test.
Natalie gave me a pep talk about the Go button and Riding with Determination. After a brief break, we had at it again. This time I rode it like a cross-country course. We had to go or die.
Clever boy that he is, Micah sensed this and off he went. It was perhaps one of our best rides.
When show day rolls around, I’ll need to set aside hopes of high marks and, instead, focus on riding really, really well. (That’s supposed to be our focus, anyway, but let’s face it — we’re all hoping for blue ribbons.) I also need to be prepared to school any naughtiness without regard for the judge’s opinion. I’m sure she’s been there herself.
Next time I ride, I’ll put an ounce of determination in my pocket before I get in the saddle. My horse always knows when I’m carrying it.

Related posts
I Wish You Rode
April 11, 2017
Working Out with the Outside Rein
February 1, 2017
Counter (Canter) Intuitive
November 6, 2016
canter, Carl Hester, dressage, dressage lessons, haunches in, leg yield, natalie perry dressage

I Wish You Rode

I came home from the Carl Hester dressage clinic inspired and ready to ride.
Fortunately, I had a lesson scheduled for the very next morning. My trainer, Natalie had been at the clinic, as well, so we had a grand time discussing clinic highlights and which horse we wish we could have come home with.

One of the horses from the Carl Hester clinic that I wouldn’t mind owning.


We got down to work and I tried SO hard to keep my upper body elevated, per Carl’s instruction. I tried to keep my hands in front of the saddle and use my legs more independently, knowing he’d be pleased if I did so. Awareness is the first step toward improvement.
The lesson was SO good, on the way home I found myself wishing that more of my friends would ride. Why? Because this is such an important thing to me — and yet I can’t share it with them.
Let’s say I called Kim, the good friend I mountain bike and nordic ski with. Imagine the conversation.
Me: “Our haunches in is really improving! I am so excited!”
Kim: “Huh? What’s a haunches in?”
By the time I explained the exercise, Kim she would be sorry she picked up the phone.
Perhaps I would do better to lead with the canter exercise, since it was more dynamic.
Me: “We did a great exercise at the canter! Canter down the long side, leg yield off the wall to the quarter line (which I’ve never done before) and then back to the wall! It really tuned Micah up to the leg, straightened him, and was a great obedience exercise. It also made me use both legs.”
Kim: “I have to go clean toilets now.” (Hanging up)
Me: “Damn.”

Kim enjoying a different kind of saddle. No haunches in here.

Related posts
Ride Like You Mean It
April 25, 2017
Working Out with the Outside Rein
February 1, 2017
Counter (Canter) Intuitive
November 6, 2016
Competition Tips, dressage, dressage competition, Dressage Illustrated

Becoming Show Ready with Dressage Illustrated


With my first show of the season just around the corner, it’s high time to get serious about really learning my Second Level tests.
This will be my first time showing at this level and to say I’m excited is an understatement. Last year at this time Micah and I were studying these same tests when the poor boy got caste in his stall, sending our show season out the window.
Instead of showing, my goal was to bring my horse back to rideable condition. It was pretty scary but, happily, Micah recovered and this year he is going better than ever.So, this is our second chance at Second Level.
To help me along, I pulled out the Dressage Illustrated Second Level booklet and began to study in earnest. I have to say I am impressed. Being a visual person, the illustrations made it easier for me to picture how the movements relate to one another. I feel like I have a better big picture idea of what’s going on. As a result, the tests are easier to memorize and the areas where we need to brush up are popping out at me.
It’s one thing to practice transitions within gaits and from one gait to another, but to practice them in the order they’re required by the test feels very different. As someone who likes to be over-prepared, I’m excited to get back in the saddle with my fix-it list.

If you find dressage tests difficult to visualize, learn, or memorize, give Dressage Illustrated a try. I think you’ll find them to be very useful.
Check out their website and Facebook page for more information about their diagram books and other products.

Related posts
Ride Like You Mean It
April 25, 2017
I Wish You Rode
April 11, 2017
Dressage for Dummies: Turn on the Haunches
March 22, 2017
dressage, dressage lessons, dressage training, Turn on the Haunches

Dressage for Dummies: Turn on the Haunches

“Dressage for Dummies” has yet to be written, despite the serious need!


The ‘For Dummies’ book series includes a mind-boggling range of topics, including dating, the internet, law, and nearly every sport under the sun. Every sport except dressage, that is.
After today’s lesson, where we labored through the Turn on the Haunches, I was prepared to write the book myself.
For reasons I can’t fathom (perhaps because I am a dummy), I find Turn on the Haunches to be a serious mental challenge. I’ll think I have it, then lose it.
When I gave it an attempt today, Natalie said, “That’s turn on the forehand.”
“Ack.”
I tried again.
“That’s turn around the middle,” she said. A new movement, yet to be documented.
“Ack.”
Natalie broke it down for me in this way. On a fairly small circle, with the horse walking, put him in a haunches in position. No problem.
Now make the circle smaller, asking the shoulders to move over as you ask the hind legs to keep moving in response to your legs. Your outside rein asks the shoulders to move to the inside of the circle. Your horse is moving his shoulders around the circle, as opposed to moving forward.
I found this to be very helpful, although my mind spins trying to comprehend the logistics of what’s going where/when. I also get dizzy really quickly.
When I suggested the horse needed a break, Natalie said, “This is really easy for him. He could do this all day.”
Ok, I couldn’t.
I came home and watched a few YouTube videos of Turn on the Haunches to put a visual image of the movement into my brain. Here’s hoping it sticks.
Clearly Dressage for Dummies hasn’t been written because it’s a more complex subject than dating, the internet, or law. Alas.

Related posts
Ride Like You Mean It
April 25, 2017
I Wish You Rode
April 11, 2017
Becoming Show Ready with Dressage Illustrated
April 8, 2017
dressage, dressage lessons, natalie perry dressage, schoolmaster

A New Ride on an Old Friend

This has been a week of lessons in flexibility. Yesterday I tried to go cross-country skiing and arrived at the Sno Park without any ski poles, which meant an instant change of plans. Today I arrived at the barn to find Micah had pulled a shoe, on lesson day no less.
Natalie heard me moaning.
“Would you like to ride Jaffa?” she asked.
Honestly, I was disappointed. And the last time I rode Jaffa (several years ago), it seemed like a lot of work to keep him going forward. Still, I really wanted to ride, so I said, “Yes!”
Jaffa is the resident schoolmaster at Natalie Perry Dressage. He’s tall, lean, well-educated, and kind. His show name is Jaffa Gold but I think of him as Jaffa Heart of Gold. Jaffa’s high performance days are behind him but he still has plenty to teach his fortunate students —from the beginner who is learning to post and steer to the more experienced riders who are honing their skills.
I apologized to Jaffa as I took him away from his breakfast, promising I’d make it worth his while with carrots and sugar lumps. I enjoyed grooming my old friend as he stood in the cross-ties, shedding white hair all over me. He enjoyed the carrots.

I apologized to Jaffa as I took him from his breakfast.


In the saddle, I let myself adjust to Jaffa’s walk. I hadn’t ridden another horse in nearly a year, so to me, Micah is comfortable and familiar.
Jaffa’s not a super brave horse and tends to roll his eyes at things that alarm him.
“He feels so tenative,” I told Natalie.
She laughed, “That’s because Micah’s a take charge kind of horse.” It’s true, Micah will call the shots if you let him.
I worked on giving Jaffa a sense of direction, at the same time letting him know I would treat him fairly. He began to relax and give me a much better walk than I recalled from our earlier lessons. (Actually, I think we spent most of our very first lesson together at the walk, frustrating one another.)
We picked up the trot and, again, Jaffa was better than I remembered. He quickly settled into a forward, balanced, and relaxed trot. I was pleased! Much of what I’d been learning with Micah was translating directly over into Jaffa.
Like Micah, Jaffa is more stiff going to the left, which made using the outside rein all the more important. Unless I kept control of his outside shoulder, Jaffa drifted to the outside.
This was most evident when we tried a leg yield from the quarter line to the wall. Jaffa made a bee-line for the wall. I laughed because this was something Jaffa wanted to be in control of and he’d clearly gotten away with it many times.
Natalie had us leg yield three steps, straighten until I’d regained control, repeat. Again, controlling the outside shoulder was the key.
I found I needed to use this same amount of focus on the outside shoulder to do a three-loop serpentine, to keep Jaffa from drifting. One of the great things about Jaffa as a teacher is that he’s consistent yet responsive — if I consistently anticipated and prevented him from drifting, the serpentine was really nice. He really made me think.
Due to his long back, Jaffa’s canter is a little tricky to pull together — but we did it. Again, the outside rein was critical.
“Think of pulling your outside rein back, toward his hock,” Natalie said.
My disappointment in not being able to ride Micah turned into a fantastic time, reinforcing the lessons I’d been working on. It was thrilling to have Jaffa respond so well — a direct tribute to the effectiveness of Natalie’s teaching.
“You’ve learned a lot,” she said. “I’m proud of you.” Music to my ears.

After his lesson, Jaffa seemed pleased with himself. Rightfully so.


I gave Jaffa, my old friend, his due of carrots and a candy cane, thanking him for being such a good teacher.
When life hands you lemons, make lemon drops!