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Dressage Struggles

dressage, dressage showing, Dressage Struggles, natalie perry dressage

Beyond Ribbons: The Unanticipated Training Opportunity

On June 11th and 12th our chapter hosted their annual recognized show. It was a hit. But as with any show, not every ride goes as anticipated.
Near the end of the weekend, I watched in admiration as my trainer, Natalie Perry, schooled a student as her horse refused to enter the show ring. The mare threatened to rear as the pair circled the arena, balking and turning sideways.
Natalie trotted gamely alongside, urging horse and rider forward, but the mare had her rider flummoxed and the pair opted out of their class.
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Undaunted, Natalie led horse and rider into the warm-up ring and put the mare back to work, reconstructing the rider’s shaken confidence as she did so. I was sympathetic — rearing is one of my least favorite things.
When the rider tried to dismount, Natalie said, “Oh, no you don’t.”
The mare had competed successfully in the morning, in an arena that was farther from the barn. Natalie suggested that the mare was hoping to return to her nearby stall. Regardless of the reason, she couldn’t get away with it.
The pair began moving forward again under Natalie’s supervision.
“Don’t take your feelings out on her,” Natalie said. “She’s being good now.”
Sage advice. Most of us know just how hard it is to set frustration and fear aside and simply ride the next moment. It’s easy to want to punish the horse.
I was reminded that, just like a dressage test, riding often asks us to let go of the moment that didn’t go well and focus on what we have in hand in the present.
Once the pair was going freely forward again, Natalie had her student exit and re-enter the warm-up arena several times. The mare balked initially but without much fight. Soon she was entering the ring and going back to work when asked.
As it was the end of the day, show management granted riders permission to school in the show rings after conclusion of the final class. Natalie jumped on the opportunity. The errant mare went straight from warm-up into the show ring and did some good work, without a fuss.
While Natalie had worked the entire weekend competing and coaching, she stuck with her student, making sure her rider had a renewed sense of confidence in her ability to work with the mare. In addition, the mare did not leave the show with an unwanted habit.
The coaching continued even after the mare finished her arena work.
“Walk her all over the show grounds before you get off and take her back to her stall,” Natalie said. “So she doesn’t think she gets to go back to her stall just because the work is done.”
While I enjoyed watching many beautiful rides over the course of the weekend, this ride was one of my favorites. If I could’ve handed out a blue ribbon for it, I would have been happy to reward this dedication to horse and rider. With horses, training needs to be more important than winning.

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dressage, Dressage Struggles, dressage training

Forward & Back, That’s How Dressage Works

After months of working on keeping the right rein, today I gave it away. Not totally, mind you, but I had to ask for it (sometimes firmly), then give. Giving is hard when you’ve set your mind on taking.
At home, out of the saddle, I’m trying to transmit that message down … from brain, through neck, into right shoulder/arm/hand. Ask, then give. Ask, then give.

Exhilerating cold weather riding. Photo by Andrew Martin

Exhilerating cold weather riding. Photo by Andrew Martin


We’re at a new level of conscious incompetence, so I know we’re on the right track. Grasping a new thought and gasping at the difficulty often come hand in hand.
Collected canter is super hard — but a breakthrough from 1st to 2nd level. Thankfully, going to the right is easier than going to the left, so I get something of a break.
To the left, where I’ve tended to give away the right (outside) rein, it’s time for me to try to add in some finesse. Ask/give. Ask firmly if need be, give.
While our canter work is steadily improving, there are some really rough moments. It feels like we’re going backwards, but I know it’s the way forward.
Sometimes it’s me, my wavering attention, aids that aren’t prompt, a seat with moments of insecurity. Sometimes it’s Micah, saying ‘This is your idea, not mine … if there’s a way out, I’m smart enough to take it.’
Forwards and back. Just a reminder to myself and the rest of you who struggle, this really is part of the process.

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November 25, 2017
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October 16, 2017
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