dressage humor

canter, dressage, dressage humor, dressage lessons, riding lessons

Remembering to Ride the Outside of the Horse

In today’s lesson I had a complete brain fade: I forgot to ride the outside of the horse.

Just a reminder that every horse has two sides & you need to ride both of them!

Just a reminder that every horse has two sides & you need to ride both of them!

It was an excellent lesson because I’m not about to forget that again soon. I’ll forget something else.
Here’s what happened. When Micah and I fall apart it’s usually to the left — we’re both weaker in that direction.
Today we started cantering to the left with Micah doing a superb job of ignoring my right (outside) rein and leg. Instead of asking with more emphasis, I forgot everything I’d learned and began hauling on the inside rein. The more I hauled, the worse things got.
“Something’s wrong,” I thought, but the answer was so obvious, I couldn’t see it.
Natalie had me bring Micah back down to a trot and do a leg yield from the right (ineffective) leg … just to get him listening. The bigger problem, however, was me — I simply forgot to ride the outside of the horse.
When Natalie had me do a small trot circle (which simply isn’t possible without moving the outside of the horse), things clicked in my fuzzy brain.
“I forgot to ride the outside of the horse!” I said. “How could I have forgotten something so obvious?!”
“We all do it from time to time,” Natalie said, laughing.
I respect and enjoy Natalie’s ability to laugh both at and with me. Plus, I need her to understand how deeply baffled I can be from time to time.
Shaking my head in wonder, I resumed riding the canter, this time remembering to influence both sides of the horse. Things improved instantly.
This is what I love about lessons. On my own, I would have wasted a lot of time and probably not resolved the problem. Which was me. Sure, my horse was trying to evade the outside aids but I have to give him credit for having a plan and sticking with it. If I’m not smart enough to ride him properly, he deserves to have an easy go of it.
I’m going to make a short list of the 10 most important things to remember in each and every ride. I’ll post it inside my tack locker and review it before tacking up. I’ll let you see it after I’ve drafted it up. You can contribute your own list of must-do’s. Together, we’ll fight brain fade and attempt to ride our horses more effectively, each and every ride.
Until then, happy riding!

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Counter (Canter) Intuitive

I’ve been working on the counter-canter the last two months and I’m pleased to report we’re making progress. I’ve found this movement difficult, so the progress is especially rewarding.
I learned something very entertaining about myself in the process. When trying to execute the three-loop serpentine, the more difficult the movement became, the more I would try to “help” the horse by leaning forward. In fact, this is exactly the wrong thing to do.
If we were making a loop toward “B”, for example, the closer I rode to the letter, the more I would sit forward. It was as if a giant magnet imbedded in the letter was pulling me out of the saddle. In fact, as we approach this stress point, I need to be sitting more solidly in the saddle, encouraging my horse to move forward!

A giant magnet pulls me out of the saddle. I must resist!

A giant magnet pulls me out of the saddle. I must resist!

This image of the giant magnetic was useful to me, because it gave me something solid to focus on. Resist the pull of the magnet!
Once I began sitting back (and continuing to ride) things began to improve immediately. If there’s a mental image you can use to help counter (pun intended) your own demons, give it a try.
I’ve found this image to be very useful.

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Dear Edward Izzard

Dear Edward Izzard,
Thank you so much for your commentary on Dressage, comparing it to a brilliant plan to train horses to commit burglary.
You have a point — in that dressage is a bit hard to understand for the untrained spectator. I admit that it’s a bit like watching golf, if you don’t know what’s going on.
Your “Dressage a la Burgaleur” is a fantastic concept for making the sport more appealing to the average American mind. Thank you so much!
I thoroughly enjoyed your perspective and will recommend it to all of my friends, equine or otherwise.
Please check out comedian Edward Izzard’s entertaining take on our sport!

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Death by Counter Canter

It was a dark and stormy night, purple clouds broiling in an angry sky. An adult amateur dressage rider was warming up in the indoor arena as lightning flashed and rain pounded the roof. The walls groaned and flexed as a howling wind pushed relentlessly, causing ‘B’ to bounce and ‘C’ to cha-cha uncontrollably.
The adult amateur wasn’t usually superstitious, but on this gloomy eve her confidence waned, causing her toes to quiver in her Ariats. Concern was written in magic marker on her face, despite an attempt to pretend all was well. Her horse was equally worried. He knew what lay ahead.
After months of work to improve the canter, the pair was moving into new, uncertain territory: the counter canter. Like the name implies, this is a counter-intuitive move wherein the rider attempts to convince the horse to canter on the wrong lead. The movement isn’t impossible, but for the uninitiated or rider of average ability, tis daunting.
Now some horses intentionally canter on the wrong lead just to drive their rider crazy, perhaps in revenge for stingy treat deportment or less than tactful leg aids. Some switch leads just for fun, throwing in a left lead in the front, right lead in the back — giving the rider the ‘being tossed about in a washing machine’ sensation that only a young back can survive. But when cantering on the wrong lead isn’t the horse’s idea, it takes a hearty dose of determination to make the magic happen.
And so the dynamic duo prepared to practice a feat of pushing forward while balancing back, with a sense of trepidation. The rider was more than a bit concerned about the other equestrians in the ring, people she had come to like and would miss sorely should she take one out. The horse was merely dreading having to work hard while in the less than skilled hands of an amateur. Second Level dressage wasn’t his idea of a good time.
Taking a deep breath, the rider asked for a right lead canter depart. No problem. A nice circle at the far end of the arena, neatly avoiding the nice lady taking a lesson. Cantering across the diagonal while remembering to continue, rather forcefully, to ask for the right lead bend as they began the counter part of the canter.
Convincing the horse that this was a good idea wasn’t possible, so the rider settled for an encouraging leg and trying to keep her seat in the saddle. Pushing the horse forward, using her core to keep herself in the saddle, while using the reins in an alternating manner to remind horse that ploughing on the forehand was unacceptable … it was an awkward sort of dance. The term dance being used loosely.
Down the long side for a few strides, then the epic half-circle in the counter canter to the other side of the arena. A hold-your-breath turn across the next diagonal put the horse back on the ‘correct’ lead and both horse and rider breathed a sigh of relief. A few repetitions of this maneuver had both horse and rider gasping for air, again taking care to avoid the nice lady having a lesson.
The storm let up for a moment as the pair took a walk on a long rein, primarily for the rider’s benefit. She scanned the arena warily, wishing the nice rider on the lovely little mare was wearing a flak jacket. They looked small and defenseless.
As the rider picked up her reins, which were always too long, thunder rumbled overhead. A portent of things to come?
The left lead canter was always more of a challenge, even on a good day. Gathering up as much courage as an amateur rider of a certain age can have, she asked her horse to move forward. Her horse gave a sluggish response. “Must I?,” he asked. “Kick him!” her trainer cried, hoping to be heard above the swelling storm.
The rider tried but her horse sensed her lack of confidence and broke to the trot halfway across the diagonal. If she wasn’t going to give it a full effort, why should he?
Panting noisily, the rider reassembled her scattered wits and added a dose of determination. Her horse knew her weakness and used his strength against her, pulling her forward, out of the saddle – happily taking the upper hand. Curses!
A bolt of lightning briefly illuminated the arena, for dramatic effect. The static charge tingled through the rider’s brain, eliciting the following thought: “No horse is going to run off in the counter canter. You need to push him forward.”
All thoughts of being run off with dissipated. With a new sense of determination, the rider sat back, anchored her elbows to her sides, and kicked on. They managed the left lead counter canter with a minimum of carnage, both horse and rider breathing a little more easily, knowing that what had begun as a ride of terror was only a figment of their imaginations.
Sometimes, overthinking it is the worst thing you can do.
As expected, the storm lost its thunder and the clouds rolled away harmlessly, leaving behind a brilliant moon and a rider happily basking in the obvious.

Author’s note: Please note that the above is a fictionalized version of a true story. It was not a dark or stormy night. The rest is true.

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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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