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natalie perry dressage

Aimee Witherspoon, dressage, dressage competition, natalie perry dressage

A Personal Best, for Many Reasons

Micah & I after a rewarding show day. Photo by Barbara Dudley Photography


Yesterday I overcame adversity.
Today the memory dances in my head, strengthening my resolve and helping to heal my battered heart. I came home with a blue ribbon and a score that was a personal best — reaffirming that pushing on through pain is not just possible, but necessary.
I owe this win to my trainer, Natalie Perry, and my friend, Aimee Witherspoon. Both taught me much.
To say that the past few months have been challenging is an understatement. August brought bad news; September the loss of my dog; and just weeks later Aimee was thrown from a horse and died.
Aimee’s death was both terribly sad and a harsh reminder of the inherent dangers of equestrian sports. Her death rattled me emotionally and shook my confidence on my horse. I asked my trainer for help.
“I need you to help me keep my riding positive,” I said, explaining what had happened. “Please help me keep my confidence up.”
Natalie, who is always positive, was on it.
“We can do that!,” she said.
Her support meant the world to me. I made the decision to ride only with her supervision until I regained my sense of self. We had a show coming up quickly and I couldn’t afford to un-train my horse. Micah’s a great guy but, like most horses, will take charge if he senses a lack of commitment.
And so Natalie helped me keep my mind in the present moment — on my horse and the job of riding. Her comments were positive and supportive, even when I faltered.
Come the morning of the show, I knew I was better prepared than I’d ever been. And yet, I wasn’t sure I could do it. I wanted to scratch out of our two classes — even hoped Micah would throw a shoe to give me an easy way out.
As my determination waivered, I knew that to quit would be an insult to Aimee. She’d be furious if I used her death as an excuse. One of the bravest riders I’ve known, Aimee loved competition.
I also felt I’d be letting Natalie down. She’d worked hard with me and was telling me “You can do this.” I needed to believe her.
And so, I tacked Micah up for our class despite my doubts, trying to maintain focus. He felt fresh, energetic, and willing to listen.
“Let’s do this,” I told him.
I even remembered to smile at our show photographer as I went by.
When my efforts were rewarded with my best-ever score, I was elated. I truly needed to be reminded that I can and should carry on, even when it hurts.
This weekend I’ll be attending Aimee’s Celebration of Life along with many of the Northwest’s finest equestrians. As we share stories, laughter, and tears, I’ll thank Aimee for helping me push on past fear and discouragement.
My sense of gratitude toward my trainer remains tightly wrapped around me. While non-horsepeople will never understand it, it’s always more than ‘just’ about the horses.

Related posts
Ode to a Fallen Friend
October 10, 2017
canter, Charlotte Dujardin, dressage, horses, natalie perry dressage

You’ve Gotta Have Go

The art of dressage is continually realizing you don’t really know what you thought you knew. Or you don’t understand it thoroughly.

So has it been with my coming to terms with the basic premise: You’ve gotta have go.

Leann Johnston and HS Black Magic have go – beautiful forward movement. Magic is owned by Tina Billings.

How many trainers have tried to get this idea through my head? Too many to count.

Yes, even at the walk, you’ve gotta have go. HS Black Magic, owned by Tina Billlings, ridden by Leann Johnston.

Happily, last week’s lesson brought a breakthrough. Here’s what happened.
Micah and I were working on the canter/walk transition. Mine tend to be either a) abrupt or b) sloppy. I pointed this out, as if perhaps Natalie hadn’t noticed. She laughed, agreeing that this would be good to work on.
My tendency has been to immediately start asking for a shorter, more compressed canter, then ask for the down transition. There’s a major problem with this approach.
“You have to have him going forward before you can get the collection,” Natalie reminded me.
Something clicked. The week before we’d worked on 10 meter circles at the canter — which was terrifically helpful. “Really feel like you’re sitting him down,” Natalie said.
This meant that I had to really ride — as in a) steer, b) drive Micah forward with my legs, c) sit deep in the saddle, and d) guide the shoulder around the circle using outside rein and leg.
This was really challenging at first — especially with Natalie standing at the edge of the circle saying, “Go in front of me.”
I was strongly motivated not to run over my trainer.
The great thing was, this really engaged Micah’s hind end, giving me the sense of forward power I need to feel before asking for a great canter/walk. In short, you’ve gotta have Go before you can ask for collection.
A voice in my head hearkened back to the Charlotte Dujardin symposium we attended two years ago. Charlotte’s primary emphasis to riders of all levels was on what she called The Go Button. Wheels churned and clicked in my brain. Rusty memories arose … all with the same message. Without Go, you have nothing.

HS Black Magic shows off a gorgeous hind end – ably ridden by Leann Johnston, owned by Tina Billings

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Ride Like You Mean It
April 25, 2017
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April 11, 2017
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cantering, dressage, dressage competition, natalie perry dressage, The Go Button

Ride Like You Mean It

This morning’s ride was a bit of a rough go.
I swear my horse reads my every mood and he knew I wasn’t totally present. Indeed, I was feeling a bit down and lacking in physical and mental fortitude.

Horses find dressage more challenging than grazing in pasture.


Micah finds the collected work to be much more difficult than grazing in the pasture and has started to complain a bit. He also hates marching at the walk — he was certain he owned that gait.
Today we did a run through of Second Level, Test One and Micah knew an imaginary judge was looking over my shoulder, critiquing the ride. When he balked in his canter transitions, rather than school him for it, I tried to ride on hoping the judge wouldn’t notice. I could feel the points slipping through my fingers. It was a miserable test.
Natalie gave me a pep talk about the Go button and Riding with Determination. After a brief break, we had at it again. This time I rode it like a cross-country course. We had to go or die.
Clever boy that he is, Micah sensed this and off he went. It was perhaps one of our best rides.
When show day rolls around, I’ll need to set aside hopes of high marks and, instead, focus on riding really, really well. (That’s supposed to be our focus, anyway, but let’s face it — we’re all hoping for blue ribbons.) I also need to be prepared to school any naughtiness without regard for the judge’s opinion. I’m sure she’s been there herself.
Next time I ride, I’ll put an ounce of determination in my pocket before I get in the saddle. My horse always knows when I’m carrying it.

Related posts
You’ve Gotta Have Go
June 28, 2017
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April 11, 2017
Working Out with the Outside Rein
February 1, 2017
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.

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June 28, 2017
Ride Like You Mean It
April 25, 2017
Working Out with the Outside Rein
February 1, 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, 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
A Personal Best, for Many Reasons
October 16, 2017
Ode to a Fallen Friend
October 10, 2017
You’ve Gotta Have Go
June 28, 2017