dressage barns

Central Oregon Chapter ODS, dressage, dressage barns, dressage competition, dressage show, horses, natalie perry dressage

Rodeo Dressage, First Level Test 1

Pfifer and I had been training together for just over four months and things were going great. I loved her laid-back temperament — she was fun to ride and I was really happy with how things were going.

Feeling confident, I signed up for First Level, Tests, One and Two when the Central Oregon Chapter of the Oregon Dressage Society offered their Swing Into Spring league show. Both tests were well within Pfifer’s capabilities, as she’s schooling Third Level with trainer Natalie Perry.

Six days before the show, Pfifer came into heat in a big way. She was flirting and showing her stuff to anyone and everyone. Oh, dear.

She gave a big kick at the first canter depart I asked for in our Tuesday lesson, but otherwise settled in. No big deal.

Likewise, on Thursday, just days from the show, she was a bit grumpy and didn’t really want to bend, but no big deal.

The weekend of the show arrived and the weather was predicted to be great. What could be better? I had visions of respectable scores and a couple of nice ribbons.

We arrived at the show grounds early enough for me to walk Pfifer around and let her take in the sights. She’d been to the venue the previous summer, so I was a surprised when she got nervous and spooked a couple of times on our walkabout. Oh, well. She’ll settle in, right?

Natalie coached our warm up, and while it wasn’t fantastic, it was respectable. Pfifer still felt resistant to bending and while it wasn’t as apparent that she was in heat, she was still a bit edgy.

Our time to ride came up and we entered the ring, ready to show our stuff. Pfifer balked a little at the judge’s stand, but without conviction. The bell rang, and off we went!

First Level, Test One rides nicely. I felt good about our trot work and got a fairly prompt canter depart. We started down the long side for an extended canter and, without warning, Pfifer started to buck. And buck. And buck some more.

My survival skills kicked in and I sat back, held tight to the reins so she couldn’t get her head down any further, and rode it out. My head was spinning, wondering “What????”

“If this gets any worse, I’m coming off,” went through my mind.

But the big issue was this: “Wait! I can’t fall off in front of mom!!”

Yes, of all the shows I’ve competed in, this was the first one my mom came to watch. My husband and two friends from out of town also stopped by. (Undoubtedly the cause of the bucking.)

Here’s the thing: Mom is terrified of horses, even when they are on best behavior. This was supposed to be a fun outing for her.

Fortunately, I’d asked Pfifer’s owner, Claudia, to sit with mom and explain to her what our dressage test was all about. I’d imagined a conversation along the lines of, “That was a nice trot lengthening.” Instead, mom was gripping Claudia’s arm, asking, “Is Lauren ok?!”

Claudia is a retired medical professional, skilled at remaining calm in stressful situations.

“Of course she is,” Claudia said in her most soothing voice.

“Is the horse trying to buck her off?” Mom asked. A reasonable question, applicable to other equestrian sports in addition to dressage.

“Of course not,” Claudia said, bending the truth.

Mom gasped a few times and Claudia patted her arm.

Pfifer bucked down the long side, settled into a trot, and kicked up a few more bucks as I asked for the canter again to make a circle at ‘P’. She actually cantered enough of the circle that the judge remarked: Good recovery.

Alas, there was more canter yet to come and more bucking. Our score reflected this but it was a small enough class that I got the most hard-earned fifth place of my life.

I ended the test with our highest score of the test — an 8 on our halt! I saluted the judge, relieved it was over, and raised an imaginary cowboy hat to the onlookers. I got applause for courage.

My poor mother had lost all color in her face and looked very unhappy. 

“I didn’t like that,” she said.

“Neither did I,” I replied, but I was laughing now, because it was over and I’d stayed on.

Mom stuck around for my second ride, which was better but included a buck at the end of our second canter, right in front of mom. I doubt we’ll see mom at dressage shows in the future.

My horsey friends will be wondering if I had Pfifer checked out by a chiropractor. Yes, and she’s fine. I can only assume she wanted me to practice my staying on skills. Clearly she wasn’t out to get a ribbon.

Once again, I am humbled by a horse. Disappointed? Yes, dammit, we’d worked hard. 

And, of course, in our next lesson she showed none of weekend’s predilection for drama … so there was really not much to school other than some minor resistance.

I did get some nice photos of Pfifer looking innocent at the show!


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dressage, dressage barns, School Horses, Schoolmasters

Jaffa Heart of Gold

Jaffa is the 20-something schoolmaster in our barn. I took lessons on him for several months when I was a newcomer to the barn. It was a great way for me to get to know Natalie and, likewise, for her to assess my strengths and weaknesses.

Old man whiskers detract from Jaffa's noble head

Old man whiskers detract from Jaffa’s noble head

Jaffa is one of those worth-their-weight-in-gold horses, which is probably why his full name is Jaffa Gold. You can put a child on Jaffa and he’s happy to cart them around. Put an adult amateur on him and he’ll work just as hard as you make him. A professional can remind him of his former, show ring abilities and make him look downright fancy. Many of us in the barn have a soft spot for Jaffa.
This week I couldn’t help but notice Jaffa’s long, goat-like facial hairs. He has a noble head but it was hidden under too much of a good thing. As Jaffa advances in age, he’s slower to shed his winter coat than the rest of the horses, so he needed a little help.
I wasn’t ready to tackle a full body clipping, but I did give Jaffa a mini makeover this morning. As you can see from the photos, there’s still a lot to be done … but the next time a student goes to bridle Jaffa, I’ll bet she notices the difference.
Shorter whiskers and a tidier mane give Jaffa a wee bit tidier look.

Shorter whiskers and a tidier mane give Jaffa a wee bit tidier look.

The old guy was a saint for me, standing stock still for his makeover. He was a little worried when the lunch wagon went ’round, afraid that he’d be missing a meal. I assured him that everything would be alright and gave him a lump of sugar to help soothe his nerves.
There’s something lovely and rewarding about older horses who have paid their dues. I nearly always have an extra treat in my pocket for Jaffa, just to let him know I haven’t forgotten how kind he was to me during our lessons together.
Thank you, Jaffa heart of Gold.

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dressage, dressage barns, dressage diehards, dressage humor, dressage training, horsewomen

Dressage Diehards

It was a dark and stormy morning. Fine weather for ducks, but few other living beings. The wind was howling, it was a whopping 36 degrees, and rain was blowing sideways.
Looking out the window of my cozy home, I questioned my decision to go to the barn. Like most dressage diehards, I was operating on auto-pilot. I always go to the barn on Sunday morning. I pulled on wintery layers of riding clothes and was in the car before I had two many second thoughts. En route to the barn I had enough time to question my sanity.

Guest parking was eerily empty. Where is everyone??

Guest parking was eerily empty. Where is everyone??

While we expect cold and sometimes snowy winters in Central Oregon, spring is a changeable mystery. In fact, the season is known as Sprinter — a collision of spring and winter. Today winter doing a good job of maintaining her dominance over her softer, gentler cousin.
As rain splashed up from the road, splattering my windshield, I wondered who else would show up at the barn. Several of us had made plans to meet around 10, but on a day like this, who could blame a person for sleeping in, having a second cup of coffee, and deciding to do something normal? I decided that anyone who made it to the barn today would automatically be included in the prestigious Dressage Diehard Club.
The barn was eerily quiet when I arrived. No cars in the trainers’ spots and guest parking was empty. This could be a small club.
The car door about blew off when I opened it. Not a good sign. I made my way to the pasture to capture my horse, the wind pushing me sideways. My dog Skittles, normally a faithful companion, asked to be let into the barn. She wanted indoors, despite her super-stylish waterproof jacket.
My horse, Micah’d had enough of the wind and rain to be happy to see me (aka: my carrots). He marched up willingly and asked to be led inside. A favorable tailwind made it a quick walk.
Inside, Laura was taking care of her horse, who’s been having an allergic reaction. While she hadn’t come to ride, she was inducted into the Dressage Diehard Club just for having the guts to show up. It was good to have company.
A good mom, Laura showed up to take care of her horse, despite the weather.

A good mom, Laura showed up to take care of her horse, despite the weather.

As I was grooming, Nichole and her daughter, Lauren, arrived. Yay! Lisa and Jessie pulled up with a trailer at the same time. Things were looking up. Nichole took a group photo of us, to commemorate the inaugural meeting of the Dressage Diehard Club.
Dressage diehards (from left): Lauren & Skittles, Jessie, Lauren M., Lisa

Dressage diehards (from left): Lauren & Skittles, Jessie, Lauren M., Lisa

We had a grand ride, grateful for the indoor arena. The wind howled outside and rain pounded on the roof, but we were cozy dry.
Lisa K. arrived later and joined us, looking only slightly confused when I inducted her into the club.
Lisa K. and her beautiful horse, making their way into the Dressage Diehard Club.

Lisa K. and her beautiful horse, making their way into the Dressage Diehard Club.

In the end, we had a grand time and were glad we’d all made it. The horses all behaved as if things were normal, doing their dressage work as if it was a perfectly reasonable thing to do on a stormy day. Micah got an extra carrot for being a good sport but asked me not to take his picture, since being a Dressage Diehard is my idea — not his.

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Dressage Starts Simply but Never Lets You Go

Last week, as we drove south through the hills of Escondido, en route to San Diego, I told my husband, “My old barn is around here somewhere.” We had some time to kill and a quick internet search told me we should take the very next exit, on Deer Springs Road.

Recapturing memories, by my horse's old paddock

Recapturing memories, by my horse’s old paddock

Some 20-something years ago, I was introduced to dressage at the Circle P Ranch, starting off with the assistant trainer and a lesson horse named Rocky. I’d knew nothing of dressage but had grown up riding ‘English.’ When a friend had suggested we take lessons, I was game to get on a horse again. It had been several years since I’d ridden. Little did I know what I was getting into or how riding and horses would become such a focal point in my life.
Rocky turned out to be a bit of a toad, bucking me off mid-lesson. The stinky little Morgan gelding sent me flying into a perfect front roll. I was unharmed but Rocky was deemed too big a liability for the stable to continue using him as a lesson horse. I wasn’t the first rider Rocky had ejected.
I found a cute Arabian mare named Fahdzee to lease and started lessons with trainer Jane Weatherwax. (Jane is now a U.S. Equestrian Federation and Equine Canada ‘S’ Judge, as well as an ‘I’ rated Judge licensed by the FEI.) I thoroughly enjoyed Fahdzee until her owner put her on the market at a price I couldn’t afford.
Jane and I went off in search of a horse for me to purchase. We came home with Sequel, a chestnut Running Appaloosa (aka: TB cross) who had better than average movement and a gorgeous head. I loved her whole-heartedly.
Poor Sequel was, unfortunately, a girl without a lot of confidence and a short attention span. She spooked easily and soon became known for a lightning-fast turn on her beautiful haunches, dubbed “The Spin of Death.”
Fortunately, I was young and agile, with good enough balance to stay on most of the time. My lessons were extremely popular — not because I was a good rider, but because the Spin of Death was something to see. We, of course, did not wear helmets in those days.
The vantage point, where people came to watch my lessons. Not because I was good, but in hopes of seeing the Spin of Death

The vantage point, where people came to watch my lessons. Not because I was good, but in hopes of seeing the Spin of Death

We worked on the basics and brought home a ribbon from our first Training Level test.
I spent many a happy hour at this barn, which was run by owner Pinky Roberts.
On our recent stop at the Circle P Ranch, I meandered happily down memory lane past Sequel’s old corral and around the barns. Two women in a golf cart waved as they sped by.
We caught up with the pair by the big outdoor ring where lessons had been held. I recognized Pinky’s voice and was thrilled to see she is still running the place, now with the help of her daughter.
Pinky didn’t recognize me (it’d been over 25 years since I boarded there), but when I mentioned Sequel and the Spin of Death, her face lit up. “I remember that horse!,” she said.
Years later, Pinky still possesses top-notch golf cart skills & ably manages the Circle P Ranch

Years later, Pinky still possesses top-notch golf cart skills & ably manages the Circle P Ranch

Seeing Pinky and the Circle P made my day. My head spun with memories and the way dressage has worked its way into my life. One never knows which paths will dead end and which will have lasting influence. Thanks to horses, I started Flying Changes magazine, a northwest sporthorse publication, and to this day continue to ride write about horses. It’s a grand journey, which all started so simply … on a hilltop ranch in California.

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Barn Dogs, dressage, dressage barns

Barn Dog Gone Bad

Skittles, my 14 year old Standard Poodle, has been on a bit of a crime spree lately, targeting our barn. Like many a ‘good dog gone bad’ story, things started will small misdemeanors: dumpster diving for old pizza crusts and begging for apple-flavored treats from unsuspecting barn buddies. Unfortunately, this was only the beginning.

Skittles, looking deceptively innocent. Portrait by Sarah Davis Baker.

Skittles, looking deceptively innocent. Portrait by Sarah Davis Baker (

While Skittles normally likes little to do with all things toddler, she’s made an exception of Jessie’s two-year old son, Knox. In Skittles’ eyes, Knox is a walking/talking treat dispenser. His string cheese snacks are in constant danger.
Last week, while no one was looking, Skittles stole and ate Knox’s peanut butter and Nutella sandwich from the top of a tack trunk. “It’s my fault, I had it down pretty low where she could reach it,” Jessie said, taking the blame. The next morning Skittles threw up the sandwich, which seemed fair punishment for petty theft. Unfortunately, I was stuck with the clean up.
This week, I noticed Skittles skulking around the far end of the barn with a guilty look in her tail. I was suspicious but saw no immediate evidence of criminal behavior.
I took a closer look as I led Micah out to the pasture. “Why are things so messy?” I wondered. There were bits and scraps of paper lying about the barn aisle. Highly unusual.
Upon closer inspection, I found a folded check written out to clinician Tina Steward and a $100 bill. The check was damp and there were suspicious tooth marks in one corner. Hmmmmm. I noticed a small bag on the ground, which was most likely left by a rider who’d hauled in for the clinic. If the rider had brought a lunch, it was long gone.
I took the contraband into the arena, where Tina was just starting a lesson. I hated to interrupt, but explained the situation and turned over the goods.
“I thought I’d put that in my bag!” the rider said.
“You probably did,” I told her, explaining my dog’s habit of snacking between meals at the expense of barn inhabitants.
The money situation was righted, although I suspect the rider went hungry.
Most importantly, the cash and check didn’t get blown out of the barn aisle and across the county. Imagine the distrust and suspicion that could have arisen, undermining our peaceful barn life. That possibility made me sad.
Should my dog’s errant behavior escalate (perhaps into credit card theft), we’ll have to reconsider her barn privileges. She adores coming to the barn, warmly greeting her barn cat and her human and dog friends. It is truly her home away from home — as it is for so many of us.
Until we get things worked out with Skittles’ probation officer, please protect your valuables by storing them separately from your lunch — or keep them locked safely above poodle-nose-height. My canine mastermind works quickly and quietly, under the cover of extreme cuteness.

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dressage barns, dressage competition, dressage queens, snow cones, Upper level dressage

Our Barn is so Cool

Every barn has a personality of its own. Some are competitive. Some are casual. Some are completely insane.

I somehow lucked into a barn that is just right, offering a positive attitude and complete acceptance of where you are or are not on the ‘competitive continuum.’

That means that whether or not you show isn’t important and, if you do show, the level at which you show is just right: whether you’re just starting out or competing at an upper level.

I admit to having Upper Level Envy, a documented medical condition wherein you really, really want to do passage, tempi changes, and other awesome moves — but in this barn I don’t feel looked down upon by those with greater ability. If they roll their eyes as I careen around the arena, they do so discreetly. I try not to get in their way.

One of my favorite barn personalities is Knox. He just turned two.


His mom, Jessie, does an incredible job of balancing motherhood, roller derby, and a love of horses, while dressing herself and Knox quite stylishly (note the hat).  Both of her horses accept it as perfectly normal to walk nicely in hand, following a baby stroller.

Continue reading…

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