Category

dressage lessons

dressage, dressage lessons, riding, Tina Steward

A Fresh New Perspective on Riding

The new year brought a flurry of snow and several new beginnings: Pfifer, my wonderful new (lease) horse invited me to take a fresh look at my riding — learn to ride her correctly while breaking old, bad habits and building new skills. Every horse has something to teach. 

Early on, Claudia, Pfifer’s owner, videotaped one of my riding lessons with Natalie. The video made it painfully obvious that Micah (my previous ride) and I had created some bad habits together that I needed to address. Ow.Out of that developed my New Year’s riding goal: quiet those legs! 

When I shared my thoughts with Natalie, she cheerfully took my resolution to heart and we once again tackled the issue of my busy legs. Pfifer’s more correct responses to the aids offer me a perfect opportunity to work on my self. Indeed, she is good for me!

To increase my chances of success and put my New Year’s intentions to work, I signed up for a clinic with Tina Steward. Tina has a depth and breadth of experience that is quite remarkable. Better yet, she relays her experience and expertise in a direct manner, quickly honing in on horse/rider issues. I was excited to have her take an objective look at my issues, knowing she would do so in a kind manner. (It’s no small thing to invite an expert to pick apart your flaws!)

Tina watched me ride, analyzed my position, and used a slightly different approach to help me stretch and quiet my busy legs. While I’ve long tried to ‘lengthen the leg and lower the heel’, I was trying to force this to happen…which hasn’t been very effective. In fact, my issues start high in the leg and I need to relax the entire leg in order to lengthen and assume a more effective position.

With my feet out of the stirrups, Tina encouraged me to ‘drape the leg, just let it hang’. For a Type A personality like me (and a lot of dressage riders), just letting something happen is tough. I tend to want to MAKE things happen. However, when I let the legs relax and open at the hip, I got results! And, when my legs relaxed, my seat got softer, following the horse more fully — bonus!

Pfifer liked this as well! 

When I picked up my stirrups, I continued to focus on relaxing my legs, letting my thighs lose their death grip on the saddle. Tina also had me take my leg completely off of Pfifer’s side, occasionally — which increased my awareness of just how often I was nagging the poor horse.

“When your leg is on, it should mean something,” Tina said. Indeed, Tina wants us to ride and train as if we are preparing for the FEI level. We must be precise and our horses must learn to respond promptly.

While I still have plenty to work on, here’s a little video of our lesson. You can see what a beautiful girl Pfifer is and that she’s working hard to put up with me as I figure things out!

Today’s lesson was a combination of the right input (analysis, words, and visual images) at the right time. It was a coming together of just what I needed in the moment.

Had it been a little later in the day, I would’ve opened a bottle of champagne to celebrate. This is a big deal!

Today I am savoring the sense of breakthrough and reliving the muscle memory of what correct feels like. My new mantra is “soft legs, soft seat” and I’ll be starting each ride with my legs out of the stirrups to encourage the stretch.

I’m more than a little excited to see my new year off to such a productive start! If you have a riding goal for the year, make your intention known to your trainer as soon as possible. And, remember to be kind to yourself and your horse as you work toward that goal, good things take time.

And now for that glass of champagne! Cheers!

Related posts
Rodeo Dressage, First Level Test 1
May 4, 2019
Happy With the Halt
March 1, 2019
Pfabulous Pfifer
January 4, 2019
dressage, dressage lessons, natalie perry dressage

Pfabulous Pfifer

I’ve never been a big fan of the saying that ‘When one door closes, another one opens.’

While it can be true that change is for the better, when you’re in the midst of a loss, sometimes you just need to embrace the sadness before looking for the bright side.

In my case, letting Micah go to the retirement he deserves was painful. I loved him to pieces and losing him as my riding partner left a hole in my heart.

However, a door truly did open at just the right time and I have been graced with the opportunity to ride Pfifer, a wonderful Friesian/Quarter Horse-cross mare, for the next few months. The transition helped ease the pain of letting go and has proven to be a way for me to improve my riding, while giving Pfifer some exercise as her mom recovers from an injury.

Pfifer on a winter’s day

The timing has been so perfect, it’s a little scary.

I have long admired Miss Pfifer. Why? Because she’s strikingly beautiful — jet black with the tiniest of stars on her forehead. She has a gorgeous hind end and well-developed neck, put together in a package that is a just-right 16 hands. While she feels litle, after riding Micah, she really is a great size.

Thanks to regular training by Natalie Perry, Pfifer’s matured into a trustworthy girl who is rarely rattled by the ups and downs of barn life. (She does — for reasons no one understands – hate fly spray, but that’s a minor quirk that’s easy to live with.)

Much as I miss Micah, Pfifer is good for me and my affection for her grows with each ride. I have to keep my hands quiet and am sitting more upright. This leaves me time to focus on my New Year’s resolution: quieting my lower legs.

As I struggle with improving my position, Pfifer is tolerant of my failings and remains good-natured even when I confuse her. I love that.

2018 was my year to acknowledge how little control I have over things. In addition, it gave me the chance to embrace the things I am grateful for in my life. 

As I ride into 2019, I am begin the new year with hopes of improving my riding and a sense of gratitude for my support team: my trainer, Natalie Perry; the Pfabulous Miss Pfifer; and her generous owner, Claudia.

Related posts
Rodeo Dressage, First Level Test 1
May 4, 2019
Happy With the Halt
March 1, 2019
A Fresh New Perspective on Riding
January 10, 2019
canter, dressage, dressage lessons, dressage training, equestrian, horses, natalie perry dressage

DIY Dressage


I’ve always been a Do-It-Yourself fan. When it comes to riding, I usually enjoy doing the work myself and only occasionally ask my trainer to ride my horse. However, there are times when it is well worth it to ask my trainer to help us get over a significant hurdle.
In this week’s lesson, I had the strong desire to get off my horse and ask my trainer to please do it for me.
Natalie was yelling, “Don’t give up! I know it’s hard. Keep at it!”
I was cantering around in circles, feeling like the human fly. Micah was blowing me off. I have worked less hard mountain biking, nordic skiing, and running a half marathon.
Micah simply didn’t want to give up control of his right shoulder in the left lead canter and he especially didn’t want to give me a trot/canter transition while doing it. With Natalie’s encouragement, I ‘won’ (aka: got what I was asking for) but it was exhausting.
While I can’t wait to ride again tomorrow and test out what I learned, I also realize that having Natalie do some schooling will speed up the process. Micah’s the kind of guy who gives in once he knows the game is up. I can’t wait to see the look on his face when Natalie climbs aboard next week. She is my secret weapon.
While DIY is great, it’s silly not to use all of the tools that are available to us as riders. And, I’m having so much fun anticipating next week’s lesson. . 🙂

Related posts
You’ve Gotta Have Go
June 28, 2017
Ride Like You Mean It
April 25, 2017
I Wish You Rode
April 11, 2017
dressage, dressage lessons, dressage training, equestrian, natalie perry dressage

Resisting the Temptation to do What’s Easy

I’m learning a lot about training, thanks to our new puppy. Whimsy’s a bright girl who quickly realized who was in charge (mom) and who was Mr. Fun (dad).

Whimsy makes an honest attempt to pay attention in puppy class.


Dad spends a lot of time avoiding the things that set Whimsy off, into a frenzy of playful jumping and biting. I understand the desire to avoid conflict, but it’s clear that the more you avoid something, the more important it is to actually address the issue.
Of course I see the parallels in my riding.
Everything I do with Micah is more difficult to the left — due to issues in my body as well as his. As a result, it’s so much easier to linger on the right side, where everything is easier.
Two years ago, Natalie even said to me, “You’re riding Second Level to the right; First Level to the left.” Ow!
While we’ve made big progress and the issues aren’t nearly as glaring now, the right is still our preferred direction.
Thanks, to Whimsy, I’ve decided to renew my commitment to working on what’s difficult, resisting the temptation to do what’s easy.
Granted, there are times when it helps to get things rolling in the easy direction, then try to copy that ‘feel’ in the harder direction. However, I’ve let that become a crutch. It’s time to break the habit.
Today, I vowed not to start off to the right, where’s it’s easy. I picked Micah up at the walk going to the left, asked for a marching walk, asked the neck to bend in both directions, and gave a prompt correction if he slowed down or pulled on the rein.
It’s obvious that this work is going to be good for me, my horse, and my puppy. While it’s tempting to do what’s easy — avoidance doesn’t pay off in the long run.
Give this a try with your horse (dog, husband etc) and let me know how it goes!

Related posts
Rodeo Dressage, First Level Test 1
May 4, 2019
Happy With the Halt
March 1, 2019
A Fresh New Perspective on Riding
January 10, 2019
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.

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
DIY Dressage
March 14, 2018
You’ve Gotta Have Go
June 28, 2017
Ride Like You Mean It
April 25, 2017