Category

dressage lessons

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
You’ve Gotta Have Go
June 28, 2017
Ride Like You Mean It
April 25, 2017
Working Out with the Outside Rein
February 1, 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
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, 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!

dressage, dressage lessons, Improving the Canter, Outside Rein

Dressage Necessities: Determination & Guidance

I’ve noticed that a lot of Determination is required to convince a 1,000 pound herbivore that Dressage is more fun than grazing in a pasture. Perhaps you’ve noticed the same.
Yet, Determination alone does not a Dressage rider make. If that were true we would not need trainers.

The Dressage Training Pyramid for Mere Mortals


What we need first and foremost is Guidance. Without Guidance, we are likely to practice making mistakes and creating bad habits with Determination. I am guilty of this and have successfully taught my horse numerous bad habits. I shudder to think of how thoroughly I could un-train my horse without a trainer.
Talent would be a lovely thing to add into the mix but that’s beyond my control. I am who I am and have to work with that, just as I have to work with my horse’s strengths and weaknesses.
Fortunately, my horse is a Very Nice Guy. He is, however, smart enough to realize when I am asleep at the wheel and is quite amenable to taking charge when offered the opportunity.
Most recently, we had a disagreement as to who owned the outside shoulder. I had been focusing on other issues (ok, nodding off) and let him get away with owning the outside shoulder about 100 too-many-times.
In last week’s lesson, things came to a head and a mighty battle ensued. Micah had the weight advantage and — with a great deal of Equine Determination said — “No, I own this shoulder and this rein.”
Thank goodness this was during a lesson and my trainer stepped in with Guidance. I could have flailed along on my own trying to match Micah’s Determination but without correcting the primary issue. (Me.)
Even with Guidance, I suffered mightily to correct the problem. It had gone on just a little too long. My Determination was a poor match to Micah’s superior strength.Fortunately my trainer channeled into me some of her inner fortitude along with Guidance. I prevailed just enough to get the correction drilled into my head and Micah’s.
I started my next ride knowing that if I did nothing else, I had to get this right.
Micah knew, as horses often do, that the game was up. Our improvement was measurable.
It’s been a good week. And if I do nothing else, I will employ my Outside Rein with diligence. Because now I have Determination, Guidance, and a distinct desire to avoid going backwards on this issue.
May your week be just as full of successful moments. Happy riding!

Related posts
You’ve Gotta Have Go
June 28, 2017
Dressage for Dummies: Turn on the Haunches
March 22, 2017
A Different Kind of Warmup
January 25, 2017
dressage, dressage lessons, natalie perry dressage, warmup strategy

A Different Kind of Warmup

This year’s record snow has made turn-out a sad state of affairs for the horses. When the snow was light and fluffy it wasn’t a big deal. Then it got deep. Only the most youthful horses frolicked in it. The older gentlemen preferred standing by the gate, sending telepathic messages to the barn in hopes of hay coming their way.

Frozen whiskers tell the tale of freezing temperatures, which make barn life a lot more work.


Now we’ve entered the thawing and freezing stage, which means treacherous, icy spots make moving about dangerous. As a result, our horses are doing a lot of standing around.
Micah, who is normally pretty easy to warmup at the trot, is feeling stiff and resistant as a result of this lack of activity. What was once easy began to feel like a fight. I’ve tried to get more loosening up at the walk but wasn’t happy with the results. Something needed to change.
In yesterday’s lesson I asked Natalie to help us adjust our warmup routine. As Micah’s canter work has improved I’ve had a gut feeling that he’s more comfortable in the canter these days, than in the trot. Natalie agreed.
“Let’s do just a little trot, then go straight to the canter,” she said. “But you have to make sure he’s listening and adjustable. That’s your responsibility.”
Bingo! After getting over the initial shock of moving to the canter so quickly, Micah settled in and was cantering nicely in a matter of minutes. When we then returned to the trot it was much more forward and fluid (although it’s taking a lot of leg and adjustments through the trot to keep Micah from slacking off).
I was really happy with our change of approach. The lesson proceeded nicely with Micah putting in good work. Thank goodness for my trainer and her input.
If your warmup routine isn’t working, ask for help. Warmup sets the tone for everything else.

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