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dressage lessons

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.

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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!

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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.

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Barn, Chiropractic, dressage, dressage lessons

Back to the Barn

After the holidays, head cold, freezing temps and seasonal flu, my barn time has been seriously limited for the past two months. Having gone through the 12 stages of grief, I finally had to give up and accept that nothing is going as planned.

Cold temps and lots of snow mean time off for many of the horses in our barn.

Cold temps and lots of snow mean time off for many of the horses in our barn.


Today I made out to the barn for Micah’s chiropractic session, choosing to let Natalie ride Micah during my lesson time rather than risk a relapse of the head cold. Between lesson and chiropractic time, I would have needed to spend nearly four hours in the barn, which I just didn’t feel ready for at 30 degrees. (Granted, 30 degrees is feeling almost balmy compared with this season’s foray into the low teens.)
Despite not riding my horse, it was good to be home. How I’ve missed my horse and barn buddies.
Micah and his pasture mates were hunkering under their shelter, likely complaining about the two feet of snow covering the grass. Micah saw me coming and headed my way, certain that the carrot in my pocket was better than a mouthful of snow.
Horses stay under shelter, hiding out from heavy snowfall

Horses stay under shelter, hiding out from heavy snowfall


Chiropractic went well, with Dr. Taryn Yates giving Micah a thorough adjustment. “His back is doing so much better than when we first started working on him,” she said. “Just some minor sore spots.”
Dr. Taryn has been seeing lots of sore shoulders from horses walking and slipping on ice. So, while Micah hasn’t been getting much work this month, at least we’re not letting minor problems turn into major events.
As my head cold subsides and temperatures rise above 20 degrees, I’m ready to start bringing Micah and myself back to work. While it’s harder to get myself out the door when it’s cold, it’s certainly worth it to spend time with my barn family and my horse.
May your roads be plowed, your pipes thaw, and you and your horse stay healthy through the season.

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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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