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natalie perry dressage

Central Oregon Chapter ODS, dressage, dressage barns, dressage competition, dressage show, horses, natalie perry dressage

Rodeo Dressage, First Level Test 1

Pfifer and I had been training together for just over four months and things were going great. I loved her laid-back temperament — she was fun to ride and I was really happy with how things were going.

Feeling confident, I signed up for First Level, Tests, One and Two when the Central Oregon Chapter of the Oregon Dressage Society offered their Swing Into Spring league show. Both tests were well within Pfifer’s capabilities, as she’s schooling Third Level with trainer Natalie Perry.

Six days before the show, Pfifer came into heat in a big way. She was flirting and showing her stuff to anyone and everyone. Oh, dear.

She gave a big kick at the first canter depart I asked for in our Tuesday lesson, but otherwise settled in. No big deal.

Likewise, on Thursday, just days from the show, she was a bit grumpy and didn’t really want to bend, but no big deal.

The weekend of the show arrived and the weather was predicted to be great. What could be better? I had visions of respectable scores and a couple of nice ribbons.

We arrived at the show grounds early enough for me to walk Pfifer around and let her take in the sights. She’d been to the venue the previous summer, so I was a surprised when she got nervous and spooked a couple of times on our walkabout. Oh, well. She’ll settle in, right?

Natalie coached our warm up, and while it wasn’t fantastic, it was respectable. Pfifer still felt resistant to bending and while it wasn’t as apparent that she was in heat, she was still a bit edgy.

Our time to ride came up and we entered the ring, ready to show our stuff. Pfifer balked a little at the judge’s stand, but without conviction. The bell rang, and off we went!

First Level, Test One rides nicely. I felt good about our trot work and got a fairly prompt canter depart. We started down the long side for an extended canter and, without warning, Pfifer started to buck. And buck. And buck some more.

My survival skills kicked in and I sat back, held tight to the reins so she couldn’t get her head down any further, and rode it out. My head was spinning, wondering “What????”

“If this gets any worse, I’m coming off,” went through my mind.

But the big issue was this: “Wait! I can’t fall off in front of mom!!”

Yes, of all the shows I’ve competed in, this was the first one my mom came to watch. My husband and two friends from out of town also stopped by. (Undoubtedly the cause of the bucking.)

Here’s the thing: Mom is terrified of horses, even when they are on best behavior. This was supposed to be a fun outing for her.

Fortunately, I’d asked Pfifer’s owner, Claudia, to sit with mom and explain to her what our dressage test was all about. I’d imagined a conversation along the lines of, “That was a nice trot lengthening.” Instead, mom was gripping Claudia’s arm, asking, “Is Lauren ok?!”

Claudia is a retired medical professional, skilled at remaining calm in stressful situations.

“Of course she is,” Claudia said in her most soothing voice.

“Is the horse trying to buck her off?” Mom asked. A reasonable question, applicable to other equestrian sports in addition to dressage.

“Of course not,” Claudia said, bending the truth.

Mom gasped a few times and Claudia patted her arm.

Pfifer bucked down the long side, settled into a trot, and kicked up a few more bucks as I asked for the canter again to make a circle at ‘P’. She actually cantered enough of the circle that the judge remarked: Good recovery.

Alas, there was more canter yet to come and more bucking. Our score reflected this but it was a small enough class that I got the most hard-earned fifth place of my life.

I ended the test with our highest score of the test — an 8 on our halt! I saluted the judge, relieved it was over, and raised an imaginary cowboy hat to the onlookers. I got applause for courage.

My poor mother had lost all color in her face and looked very unhappy. 

“I didn’t like that,” she said.

“Neither did I,” I replied, but I was laughing now, because it was over and I’d stayed on.

Mom stuck around for my second ride, which was better but included a buck at the end of our second canter, right in front of mom. I doubt we’ll see mom at dressage shows in the future.

My horsey friends will be wondering if I had Pfifer checked out by a chiropractor. Yes, and she’s fine. I can only assume she wanted me to practice my staying on skills. Clearly she wasn’t out to get a ribbon.

Once again, I am humbled by a horse. Disappointed? Yes, dammit, we’d worked hard. 

And, of course, in our next lesson she showed none of weekend’s predilection for drama … so there was really not much to school other than some minor resistance.

I did get some nice photos of Pfifer looking innocent at the show!

Horses!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Rodeo Dressage, First Level Test 1
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Central Oregon Dressage, dressage, dressage competition, dressage training, natalie perry dressage

Anything Can Happen at a Horse Show

Pfifer rose to the occasion, ignoring blustery weather, making her mother oh so proud. Photo by Kaitlyn Young Photography


They say anything can happen at a horse show — and it usually does.
At the Central Oregon Dressage Classics a dramatic shift in the weather inspired the horses to bring their most spirited selves to the party.
After weeks of summer-like weather with temps in the 70’s, June-uary, June’s evil cousin arrived to gleefully drop morning temperatures into the 40’s. A bitter wind blew in squalls of rain and tossed in a bit of hail just for fun. When the horses reacted with extra impulsion, the riders rose to the occasion with Serious Positive Attitude.
Volunteering as a groom that weekend, I found my favorite spot beside the warm-up ring. Here, I witnessed a lot of Rider Brain Freeze, a symptom I, myself, have experienced.. The trainers encouragingly called out simple instructions such as “Ride a circle” and the rider would boldly continue on their merry way down the long side of the ring, certain they were following instructions to a ‘T’. We’ve all been there: show nerves can turn the simplest of tasks into major challenges. I was impressed with the good humor the trainers showed, as their riders struggled to shorten their reins, change direction, and — most importantly — breathe. Learning to ride is one thing; learning to show is another skill, altogether.
The highlight of the show, for me, was helping my friend Claudia as her groom. I’ve seen a lot of progress in her riding and her horse responded accordingly despite the challenging weather.
On Saturday afternoon we walked over to the show’s West Ring for Claudia’s second ride of the day. The wind whipped dark clouds over the Cascade Range, where the peaks (when you could see them) sported new coats of snow. The horses felt the excitement of spring and summer fighting for dominance.
As Claudia waited for her turn in the show ring, the horse in the arena in front of us acted up, ungraciously unloading his young rider in the footing. Fortunately, the rider wasn’t badly hurt but it’s always troubling to see a rider fall. She was able to stand but not support her weight well enough to walk. Show management responded immediately and the on-site EMT was on his way.
A recently retired nurse anesthetist, Claudia called me over.
“Lauren, hold my horse,” she said. “I’ll go help that girl.”
I was about to obey, but then said, “Wait. This is your day and your time to ride. Help for that rider is on the way.”
I knew exactly how hard Claudia had worked to get to that moment.
Claudia considered my words and then nodded her head and said, “Thank you.”
The young rider was given a lift by the EMT and, happily, was able to return to ride the following day.
So, when Claudia went in and rode her test with complete focus, I was more than proud. Her generous nature and desire to help another could have stolen that moment from her. Her qualifying score and the judge’s comments rewarded her hard work … topped off by a beautiful ribbon.
As I said, anything can happen at a horse show. I’m so glad I got to be there.

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The Equestrian’s Guide to Staying Married

That’s me. The woman in the trench coat and dark glasses trying not to be noticed.
I’m not proud of what I’m doing, but I’m trying to stay married.
Perhaps you’ll judge me. Or perhaps you’ve been there.

I know there are services that can provide what I need but it’s really not in my budget.
Sure, I could throw my barn laundry into the washer at home, but that’s where the ‘staying married’ part comes in. My husband cringes (and worse) at the sight of a saddle pad anywhere near our not-even-new washer/dryer.
I comb my dirty saddle pads with my dog’s slicker brush, taking out as much hair as possible. I spray them with Oxy Clean (who may want to sponsor me) and sometimes even hose them off before throwing them in the wash. But you know how bad saddle pads can get.
That’s why I’m sneaking into the laundromat, saddle pads hidden in a Kirkland Draw-String Trashbag (they may want to sponsor me, as well) , planning to wash them in one of the large, commercial washers.
I bring my own Kirkland laundry soap, Brawny paper towels, and some 409 All-Purpose Spray (sponsor, anyone?) to wipe out the washer after the deed is done. I do have a conscience. I think of the new mom washing her newborn’s clothes and hope she’ll choose a different washer.
In an ideal world, I’d have a commercial washer of my own, right next to my Grand Prix horse’s stall, just off my full-size indoor competition arena. In fact, my handsome stable boy would be loading it for me!
Please linger on that fantasy and look the other way as I commit a mild misuse of commercial equipment in the name of staying married.Thank you!

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Rodeo Dressage, First Level Test 1
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