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natalie perry dressage

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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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.

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Dr. Taryn Yates, dressage, Equine Rehabilitation, natalie perry dressage

Micah Comes Back

We’ve been moving cautiously ever since Micah was injured in early April. We think he got cast in his stall but will never really know for certain what started the soreness in his back and hips. Whatever caused it, it was a game stopper.
Sice then we’ve done regular chiropractic and acupuncture treatments with Dr. Taryn Yates and faithfully followed a rehabilitation protocol set by Dr. Yates and our trainer, Natalie Perry.

Micah stretches and relaxes as Dr. Yates works on his back.

Micah stretches and relaxes as Dr. Yates works on his back.


This has required a lot of slow, patient work. In the meantime, my hopes of competing at Second Level this summer have been set aside. After the first few weeks of oh-so-dull hand walking and lunging, when we were given the go-ahead to cautiously start back to the walk/trot under saddle, I was delighted.
Micah now shows significant improvement and it looks like (fingers crossed), we are out of the woods. It is so much fun to begin asking for more and feeling Micah respond. He especially loves his stretchy trot work.
This experience has helped me to become much more aware of Micah’s back. When I ride him I’m feeling every step and movement of through his hips and spine. At the same time, I’ve also learned a lesson or two about my own well-being.
While riding up an especially long hill on my mountain bike yesterday, I felt my back tighten up. “Should I pull over and take a break?” I wondered. “Or just power through it?”
Throughout Micah’s recovery we’ve given him generous walk breaks and done more rising trot than sitting, all to avoid over-tiring his back. On several occasions he’s taken bad steps, been given a walk break, and recovered quickly enough to resume work once again.
Thinking this over as I made my way up the winding mountain bike trail, I decided to give myself the Micah treatment — pausing for a break off the bike before tackling the most strenuous part of the hill. Just like Micah, the tension in my back eased and I was able to finish the ride feeling good.
The experience reinforced two things for me — it gave me a better understanding of how paying attention to fatigue and responding with walk breaks and stretching can help my horse. I was also reminded to take as much care with my own back as with my horse’s. After all, we’re in this together.
I am much cheered by my horse’s progress. Perhaps he’ll be strong enough to show this fall. Regardless, nurturing his recovery has been rewarding in its own way — as well as a reminder to never take your horse’s or your own well-being for granted.
Happy riding!

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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.
IMG_2394
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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cantering, dressage, dressage lessons, equestrian, horse husband, natalie perry dressage

Post Lesson Euphoria

My husband is getting tired of hearing me say, “Best lesson EVER!” every Tuesday afternoon.
Poor man. Little does he know that he’s in a much better position than the husband whose wife comes home discouraged, tired, or — worse yet — angry after every ride.
I am a rider who is cheered by each ounce of progress we achieve on a weekly basis. I ride a wonderful horse, who is consistent and sane, yet makes me work at it. Any time we make progress I have the dual pleasure of knowing that I worked for it and an appreciation of the gift my horse gives me by choosing to go along with this crazy sport we call dressage. After much hard work, we are hitting our stride.
IMG_0393
Credit goes to my trainer, Natalie, of Natalie Perry Dressage. Natalie has figured out my quirks and foibles and works really hard to get messages through my helmet and into my brain and body. It’s no small feat.
After some time off, I had backslid a bit with the my nemesis, the left lead canter and Natalie took me back to the trot to address the problem. She had me turn Micah with the outside of my body onto and off of the center line. The exercise fully illustrated the importance of the outside aids, which is a total body experience. You simply can’t make such a tight turn by hauling on the inside rein much as you might want to. Every time I think I understand the outside aids, I find a new level of understanding and appreciation.
The outside-aid turn was just what I needed to help me to more effectively use my body in the left-lead canter. I practiced the exercise during the week and we repeated it again today, with the result of some truly beautiful canter work. It’s music to my ears when Natalie says, “You’ve been practicing.”
I hope it’s rewarding to her that I am listening, paying attention, and trying hard to incorporate what she teaches. Her job isn’t easy.
No matter what level we ride, we can make progress with the help of caring instructors and kind horses. Let every bit of improvement cheer and inspire you — letting both your horse and trainer know how much it means to you. We’re all in this together.

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