Category

dressage

The sport of dressage is so difficult, it is an excellent way for mere mortals to learn humility

dressage, dressage training, Halt, horses, natalie perry dressage

Happy With the Halt

It’s funny how horses have their own preferences for different types of work. Some like to Go!; others say No! Some like repetition, while others crave variety. The variety keeps things interesting. In the time that I’ve known Pfifer, this delightful mare has made it clear that she thinks the Halt is Stupid with a capital S.

Pfifer relaxes into the halt!

Thanks to Natalie’s hard work and my dedication to reinforcing her efforts, in recent weeks Miss Pfifer has overcome her aversion to standing still. It’s been a gradual, entertaining transition … as Pfifer has come to terms with a request that doesn’t make sense to her.

Previously, Pfifer would sidle into the halt and then adjust her position as if posing for a photo. “Wait, this is my better side,” she seemed to say. She would putter around at X, showing the judge that a Halt can be so much more than standing square. It was a movement to get into and out of quickly, hoping the judge wouldn’t notice, as fiddling with it didn’t improve things.

When I started riding Pfifer, I knew the halt wasn’t her favorite thing so I made it a point to incorporate into our daily work with lots of praise for effort. And because she was new to me, I wanted to test out all of her buttons. “Can we try the rein back?” I asked Natalie in one of our first lessons. “Sure,” she said, but I sensed some hesitation. Our attempts at a rein back were muddled. That’s when I realized that without a good halt, a good rein back is asking too much — and (pun intended) I took a step back, forgoing the rein back for the halt.

This decision paid off. Our halt is now reliable and prompt — not always perfect but so much better. And now that the halt is easy, we’ve returned to the rein back with better results. I’m only asking for one or two steps but I’m getting a clear response and no longer have the feeling that Pfifer is confused.

I never thought I’d be so pleased to progress with something that seems so simple. The work has improved without a fight — we just needed a little time to understand each other . It’s a reminder that each horse is different — and we have to measure progress accordingly.

Today, Pfifer comes to a halt promptly and without a fuss. I suspect that the halt still seems pointless to her but she is willing to please — and gets a lot of praise for this — plus a favorite treat (a banana) at the end of the ride.

There’s nothing better than a happy, willing horse and it’s been a delight to see this change in Pfifer … it’s not “just” halt, it’s the relationship that’s developing.

Related posts
A Fresh New Perspective on Riding
January 10, 2019
Pfabulous Pfifer
January 4, 2019
My Next Adventure
December 13, 2018
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
Happy With the Halt
March 1, 2019
Pfabulous Pfifer
January 4, 2019
My Next Adventure
December 13, 2018
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
Happy With the Halt
March 1, 2019
A Fresh New Perspective on Riding
January 10, 2019
My Next Adventure
December 13, 2018
dressage, dressage training, equestrian, natalie perry dressage

My Next Adventure

How many tears did I shed when Micah left our barn? At least a bucketful.
Although I knew Micah was heading home to a well-deserved retirement, my heart broke nonetheless. Five years is a long time to spend together — parting was truly a sweet sorrow.
At the same time, I’d known for several months that our time together was coming to a close. Micah and I had gone about as far as we could — he gave indications that the work was too hard and it took tons of stamina for me to ride him. I needed frequent breaks to catch my breath, despite my effort to stay fit through cycling, hiking, and skiing. My shoulders and legs ached from the effort. Deep down, I knew it would be good for me to ride other horses, even though it would mean letting go.
As fate would have it, the horse I was most interested in riding is owned by my friend, Claudia. Her mare, Pfifer, is lovely, level-headed, good natured, and has received excellent training from Natalie Perry. I’ve watched as Pfifer and Claudia’s partnership has blossomed, earning them ribbons in the show ring.

Pfifer in the show ring with Claudia


Unfortunately, Claudia has been temporarily sidelined by an injury and hasn’t been able to ride lately. Still, she’s kept up our Sunday tradition of meeting at the barn, then going out for coffee. After giving it much thought, I worked up the nerve to ask Claudia if I could take a lesson on her horse. To my delight, Claudia was enthusiastic!
Soon after our coffee date I learned that Micah’s retirement had been moved up. And then moved up again. Things happened so quickly, my head was spinning. Yet the thought that I could ride Pfifer boosted my morale and helped me cope with the sense of loss.
I scheduled a lesson with Natalie and knew almost immediately that Pfifer had much to teach me.
“Quiet your hands, keep them lower! Keep your right elbow in,” Natalie said. “You’re going to need to ride her from back to front.”
Wow! What a difference from Micah. And, the benefit of Pfifer’s being in full training with Natalie was obvious. Several lessons later, I’m learning to sit more quietly, keep my hands and (damn) right elbow still, and ride from back to front.
Much as I love Micah, we had a history of bad habits together. We were like the old married couple who bickers and laughs together, sometimes having the same argument over and over again. With Pfifer, I have the chance to make a fresh start on improving my skills. It’s a new perspective, fun and exciting — and helps me to think about the future, rather than the past.
Having the chance to ride Pfifer saved my sanity when Micah moved out. And if that’s not enough, Claudia came to the barn to be with me on the day I said good-bye to my guy. She let me cry, gave me a hug, and then took me out for coffee.
As I ride Pfifer, I’m rooting for Claudia’s recovery — because I know exactly what her horse means to her. I want her back in the saddle as soon as possible, at which point I’ll
step aside and look for my next Next Adventure.
In the meantime, I’m so appreciative of the opportunity to ride Pfifer. She truly proved her worth this week when cold temperatures and high winds made for chaos in the riding arena. When one horse bolted and another bucked its way around the lunge line, Pfifer kept quietly to her work.
So, when my friends and family ask “How are you doing without your horse?” My answer is, “Surprisingly well!”
Once again my horse community has boosted me through an important life transition.

Related posts
Happy With the Halt
March 1, 2019
A Fresh New Perspective on Riding
January 10, 2019
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dressage, Horse Care, Micah, senior horses

A Season of Change

Only those of us who are truly fortunate are able to retire before the work becomes too hard for mind or body. We all know it doesn’t always work out this way. So I feel tremendously lucky that my (lease) horse, Micah is one of the fortunate ones.
Our horses depend on thoughtful owners with the mindset and means to maintain them when they start showing signs that age is taking its toll. Horses with the best of luck take on easier jobs or spend their days on pasture, moseying about like old men in coffee shops. They savor the sunshine and unhurried pace of life. Micah will have this luxury.

Treats are a prerequisite before any ride! Photo by Hannah Rugg


I’ve had the pleasure of leasing Micah for the past five years. He has a kind and generous nature, although he doesn’t give anything away for free — you have to earn it. He can put up a fuss (like any horse who is smarter than his rider) but is generally easy-going and willing to go along with this crazy thing we call Dressage. So, when Micah began showing real resistance to our Second Level work, I was concerned. Micah can be lazy but he’s not a fighter.
Micah’s approaching his 24th birthday and, while he’s in great shape and receives regular chiropractic care, I suspect he has some of the cranky aches and pains that come with aging. I certainly have a few.
So, while I dreaded opening a door that, once opened, could not be closed, I felt it was my responsibility to to let Micah’s owner know what I felt Micah was saying. If he was my horse, I’d back him down to an easier level of work. Sad as I might be to lose Micah, I would rather retire him than break him.
Although it means parting ways with a horse I love, when his owner said “we are of like minds” my heart felt good. Carol had been worried about Micah and the thought lingered that perhaps the work was too much for him. This weekend Micah will ease into retirement with the best of care.
While I am sad for myself, I am happy for Micah — he has been a significant part of my life. He nickers when he hears me coming, knowing I always have treats in hand, and never runs from me in the pasture, even though I’m coming to ask him to work. Even when he protests about the work, he doesn’t try to hurt me. (If I was a horse, I’d do far worse!)
I have loved Micah as if he was my own, as we’ve struggled together trying to further our skills, forgiving each other along the way for our quirks and foibles. There have been countless times when Micah has outsmarted me and I’ve had to laugh — good for you, buddy! It has been an honor and a pleasure to ride such a horse.
Just as wonderful has been my relationship with Micah’s owner, Carol. Through the years, ours has been less of a financial arrangement and more of a partnership — a sharing in the care and well-being of a wonderful horse.
It is with great sadness that I let Micah go. But I fully believe we are doing what is right for him.
As for my future, the thought of horselessness is daunting. A horse is more than a means to exercise: it’s a relationship. (As I tell my non horse friends, imagine giving up your dog!) Yet I have been horseless before and another horse always comes along, with new lessons to teach. My trainer and my friends are keeping their eyes open for me and I trust something will work out.
As I come to terms with this change of season, I celebrate all Micah has given me. He has truly been a gift of good fortune. It is fitting to see him rewarded in his senior years with the best of care. We should all be so fortunate.

Related posts
Happy With the Halt
March 1, 2019
A Fresh New Perspective on Riding
January 10, 2019
Pfabulous Pfifer
January 4, 2019
dressage, dressage training, equestrian, Equitech

Vest Causes Climate Change

aka: My Magic Vest

My magical vest is so good, I don’t even need to wear it to feel cooler.

To deal with the heat, several of my barnmates purchased cooling vests this summer. These are nifty vests you soak in water, wring out, and they retain just enough moisture to keep you cooler in the heat.
Clever friends, they purchased their vests while temps were tipping 100 degrees. They got lots of good use out of them. Me, I waited until the week before Adult Amateur Riding camp to order mine. Of course there were delays and my vest arrived the week after camp.
The good news is that my vest is Magical! While my friends brag that their vests reduce their body temperature by 10 degrees below the outside temperature, my vest dropped the outside temperature by 30 degrees — we went from daytime highs of 100 degrees to temps in the 70’s. My vest has brought about the end of Summer! I am not joking — Fall is in the air.
This vest is so good, I don’t even have to wear it to feel cooler. I keep the vest in my closet, tags still attached, and savor its magical powers. I actually wore a jacket to the barn this morning. It was wonderful.
I may try soaking the vest in water, to see if that helps to squelch the forest fires that are plaguing the Northwest. It’s worth a try!

Related posts
Happy With the Halt
March 1, 2019
A Fresh New Perspective on Riding
January 10, 2019
Pfabulous Pfifer
January 4, 2019