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natalie perry dressage

dressage, dressage training, Forward, natalie perry dressage, riding, Round, transitions

Forward AND Round

Photographer Barbara Dudley captured this moment at our chapter’s last show of the season. I call it “A Moment of Prayer” as I am clearly gathering my strength and wits about me, http://www.barbaradudleyphotography.com/.

This week Micah and I revisited the concepts of forward AND round — emphasis being on AND.
I’d been working on my leg position (again) and, per usual, when I’m working on position I let a lot of other things go.As a result, in our Thursday lesson, Micah offered me a choice of forward OR round.
“He can do better than that,” Natalie said.
At the walk, I insisted on both, which wasn’t as easy as it sounds. Micah’s a wonderful guy but he tends to ignore my legs. However, persistence paid off. Once I gathered enough determination to sincerely insist on forward AND round at the walk, Micah gave me both.
Next up, bring it to the trot. As expected, it took a little while to get both forward AND round at the trot, and then at the canter … but establishing this at the walk was the most critical element.
To test our skills, Natalie threw in transitions — down and up. Lo and behold, if I could hold the forward/round in the transition, the next gait started and continued in a better frame.
On the other hand, if I let things fall apart, I’d have to spend several strides bringing it back together.
Bottom line — don’t give away what you’ve earned! Insist on forward AND round and maintain it through up and down transitions and all gaits.
This was an excellent (if tiring) lesson. I brought this attention to detail to Sunday’s practice ride got better results right off the bat.
Micah can always feel my intention and tends to go with the program when he’s certain I mean it. Good boy!

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Of Ponies & Puppies

Less than a week ago, we brought a new puppy into our lives and the training has begun in earnest. As I watch my dear husband puzzle through the process, it strikes me just how much we equestrians learn about training from our trainers and horses. The insights and experiences are as relevant with household pets as with our barn buddies.

Alert & energetic, it will take careful training to develop our puppy’s best self.


On day three of new puppy parenthood, we overtired our puppy, underestimating how much sleep she needs. As a result, I headed off to an evening get-together with girlfriends only to receive a string of texts from my husband indicating that our 10 pound ball of fluff was out of control: jumping, biting, and unable to calm down. Of course Whimsy fell promptly to sleep minutes before I returned home, presenting a picture of angelic sweetness.

While Al claimed to have a wild child on his hands, I came home to an angelic ball of fluff.


As Al and I sat on the couch, enjoying a moment of peace, I described to him the process we use with horses. The trainer teaches the horse to be manageable, then teaches the owner how to achieve these results themselves.
While that’s how it’s supposed to work, it’s not an easy process and tends to move forward in fits and starts since most owners lack the quick reflexes and physical skill of a professional trainer, as well as a thorough understanding of why horses respond the way they do. Looking at our sleeping puppy, it struck me how thoroughly training can improve or ruin an animal.
Having ridden horses for years and raised several puppies, much of Whimsy’s training is intuitive for me. Al, however, was a newbie —inadvertently bring out her wild side — flashing, razor-sharp puppy teeth enthusiastically applied. While I could calm her down, Al was at a loss.
“Just as my horse trainer can bring out the best in my horse, she can’t do it for me,” I said. “You have to learn the skills and practice them.”
We watched several training videos as Whimsy dozed peacefully and developed some training ideas for the following day. I left Al with the goals of bite inhibition and stopping play before it escalated, then headed to the barn for a riding lesson.
During my lesson, Natalie encouraged me to be more firm with Micah when he ignored my leg aids. As it turned out, it was just the right advice. Being tentative is one of the most damaging things you can do in your animal/human relationship. A horse or a dog will look for a leader and if you don’t insist on the leadership position, you’ll quickly lose it. After a couple of firm canter/walk transitions, Micah shaped up and gave me more prompt, correct responses.
I was fortunate that Natalie was there to strengthen my resolve. It’s hard to exude confidence when you’re not quite sure what to do. As riders, we’re lucky to have trainers to guide us, telling us when to be firm, when to give, when to repeat an exercise, and when to move on. They help us choose which battles to fight and when to wait another day. We gain confidence from our trust in them … although at times we need to fake that confidence until we have enough experience to make it real.
At home, Al is learning the skills and developing the confidence to keep our bundle of joy from turning into a tiny terror.
“Imagine what it’s like to deal with a 1,000-pound animal when you’re feeling unsure,” I said. “Now that’s scary!”
As we correct the problem of over-tiring our puppy, letting her settle into our household routine, we’re all working things out. Training is a big job, requiring thought, consistency, and diligence — the time spent is well worth it.

Note: In September we lost our 16 year old Standard Poodle, Skittles. She loved going to the barn and visiting with the other dogs up until her final month. She was truly an exceptional dog. Little Whimsy is also a Standard Poodle, and I have high hopes that she’ll one day be barn-worthy. Her joyful presence has filled a hole in our lives.

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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.

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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

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.

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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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