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dressage lessons

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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Micah Comes Back
June 29, 2016
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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February 1, 2017
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November 28, 2016
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canter, dressage, dressage lessons, dressage training, dressagemortals, equestrian, horsewomen

The Elegance of Elbows

Despite what non-horsepeople say about the horse doing all the work, those in the know are all too aware that dressage is a total body workout. To persuade the horse to do anything other than graze, run off with you, or haul himself around on his forehand takes a lot of convincing. It also takes a super-human coordination of the rider’s legs and limbs in concert with the seat, core, and shoulders. It looks so easy when done by a professional.
As an adult amateur dressage rider, I am constantly trying to align errant body parts. To have them work up to a full concert would be fantastic. For now, I’d settle for something resembling a recognizable melody.
This past week my elbows stepped up as the body part of the month. I’m sharing this story because I’m impressed with how paying attention to the elbows has made a significant difference in my effectiveness.

Assuming you don't want to look at my elbows, here's a shot of Micah (right) with Harrison, the handsome new guy at the barn.

Assuming you don’t want to look at my elbows, here’s a shot of Micah (right) with Harrison, the handsome new guy at the barn.


My trainer has long been nagging me to keep my elbows at my side (especially the right elbow, which colludes with my horse to give away the right rein), and while I’ve improved, I only really got it last week. (Note: I reserve the right to back-slide at a moment’s notice.)
We were working on haunches in, a counter-intuitive maneuver which messes with the mind and body of both beast and rider. We were flailing along, kind of getting it, when I glued my elbows to my sides and voila! haunches in happened.
I applied this technique to the trot and — amazing — it improved! As expected, gluing the elbows at the canter is more difficult so that’s going to be an ongoing effort. Gluing the elbows while remaining relaxed and fluid is another challenge, since it’s easier to turn into a chunk of concrete when becoming uber-focused on correcting a habit.
Try it and see if focusing on your elbows helps you. You may have noticed that all of the professional riders keep their elbows at their sides while the less skilled of us flail our arms about. Keep a mental picture of the rider you want to be in your mind as you try bringing your awareness to your elbows this week. Give it a go at the walk, then work your way up.
Happy riding!

Related posts
Working Out with the Outside Rein
February 1, 2017
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December 1, 2016
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canter, dressage, dressage for mere mortals, dressage humor, dressage lessons

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.
Cheers!

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Chocolate-Covered Canter Squares

As delicious as they sound, chocolate-covered canter squares

As delicious as they sound, chocolate-covered canter squares


My new favorite exercise is the canter square. It’s not actually covered in chocolate but the name has a delicious ring to it.
Canter squares are hard work for both horse and rider. I love them because they are really making me ride the canter. No more wishful thinking! No leaning forward out of the saddle! No giving away the outside rein!
If done correctly, canter squares make the horse really use his hind end, so it’s a great strengthening exercise. Micah’s canter is improving by leaps and bounds. Plus, canter squares are so hard, it makes the counter canter seem less intimidating (to me). I think it’s good to always have at least one really hard exercise in your repertoire, so you can keep redefining your definition of difficult.
If you’ve never ridden a canter square, first master the exercise at the walk and then the trot. If you have an instructor to help you, even better. Instead of riding a circle, thinking of riding a square. Move your horse’s shoulders over to make a right-angle turn at each corner. This takes lots of outside rein and a bit of outside leg up toward the shoulder. Sit back to encourage your horse to use his haunches and lighten his front end. Be sure to give (but not throw away) the reins after the turn to reward your horse (and avoid hanging on his mouth).
Once you get the basic idea down, you can start to finesse it. I ask Micah to slow down for a stride just before the turn. This really makes him use his haunches.
Canter squares are hard work for your horse (like weight-lifting), so don’t overdo it. And, be sure to tell him he’s a good boy!
Good boy!

Good boy!

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counter canter, dressage, dressage humor, dressage lessons

Death by Counter Canter

countercanter
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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