Category

riding

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!

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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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Why do you STILL take riding lessons?

If there are non-horsepeople in your life, it’s likely that they have asked you why you still (emphasis on still, tone of voice indicating disbelief) take riding lessons. One friend of mine even went on to say, “I thought you’d be teaching by now.” This is someone who has never seen me ride and who clearly knows nothing about dressage. The fact is, most people just don’t get it.
For them, I’ve come up with the following analogy, which you may feel free to use when the subject comes up in your life … at your child’s school, at cocktail parties, and even in family gatherings.

Dressage, like piano, takes a lifetime to master.


Dressage is somewhat like learning to play the piano. Almost anyone can learn to play “Mary Had a Little Lamb” or “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” in a reasonable length of time. But to play Bach, you study for many years. To play at a concert level, you study for a lifetime.
Adding to the complexity of dressage is that, unlike with your piano, you are working with another living being with its own set of physical and mental strengths and limits. While your piano will need occasional tuning to perform consistently, you and your horse will need regular tuning as the demands increase as horse and rider move up the levels. The rider, like the piano student, will have good and bad days but the piano will remain tried and true throughout the years. The horse, on the other hand, will have ups and downs of his own, which the rider must constantly adjust to, sometimes asking for more, sometimes less.
While your piano may weigh as much as a horse, it will never refuse to play, wake up sluggish and/or stiff, or feel naughty. Your piano will never try to outsmart you or remove you from the piano bench.
This, my friends, is why I take lessons week after week, year after year. I’m trying to bring out the best not just in myself, but in a living, breathing instrument with a mind of its own. When it works, it is beautiful music, indeed.

dressage, dressage training, riding

Back in Order

I carefully warm up my horse, paying attention to where he feels stiff. Until he’s completely warmed up physically and mentally, he’s not likely to give me his best work. Since he’s 20 now, I have to respect the fact that his body has its limits.
My body has limits, too, but I sometimes cut corners, trying to save time and money. About once a quarter a I need a tune-up from my favorite chiropractor/muscle worker. Putting it off isn’t a smart move.
Last Thursday I tried riding with a back that felt like a rusty chain. It tweaked in the rising trot and squawked during sitting trot and canter. A couple of the links in the chain had rusted shut. I got off my horse, gave him a sugar cube, and called the chiropractor.
Rusted_chain
The result? After my tune-up, today’s ride was 300% better! On top of that, I wasn’t in pain! That’s always a bonus.
Note to self: take the time to work on your own body — it’s just as important a part of the ride as is taking care of the horse.
I suspect that some of last week’s struggles were related to a tilted pelvis and a few locked-up vertebrae. I was working against myself.
Today’s ride was so rewarding, my biggest struggle was in not shouting out to everyone in the barn how good my boy was. Micah’s probably just as grateful as I am that my back is more supple and fluid.
Let’s remember to take care of ourselves, acknowledging that it’s time and money well spent.

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Getting There is 1/4 of the Fun

Those who know me know that math is not my strong point. There are other ways to say that, most of them less flattering but probably more accurate than any attempt I could make to solve a quadratic equation.
I especially enjoy making up fake statistics. Who’s going to check, anyway?!
Today, driving to the barn was harrowing. Due to shenanigans on the icy roads, it too me 32.1% longer than normal to get to the barns. At least 25% of the drivers were timid, moving along at 15 mph drivers. Another 30% of the drivers were assertively driving 45 mph in their 4WD vehicles, some of them ending up in ditches. That left the remaining 45% of drivers moving along at a somewhat sane speed.

Road to the barn. Packed snow made for exciting driving.

Road to the barn. Packed snow made for exciting driving.


By the time I got to the barn, I decided that 1/4 of the fun was in getting there. I was particularly intrigued by the two women who got their car turned 360-degrees in the opposite lane. I have no idea how they accomplished this going uphill. They were unharmed but bewildered. The oncoming traffic was 100% stalled and not amused.
By the time I reached the barn, the temps were a chilly 24.2 degrees in the sun, so I was sporting a layered-up clothing combination that can best be described as “chunky.” The extra clothing resulted in an 11.2% reduction in my ability to feel attractive, while increasing my heat comfort level by 12.9%, resulting in a net loss of 2.4%.
For the 2nd time in a row, Micah was happy to meet me at the gate of his snow-covered pasture for a carrot. That’s a 19.7% improvement over his usual ‘come and get me’ attitude! There’s a 98.2% chance that the gate-greeting response was food motivated; 1.4% chance that he misses me so much, he’s willing to walk an extra mile (1.609344 kilometers) to see me. Such is the reality of equine love.
I had allowed 1 extra hour (60 minutes) to account for erratic driving experiences, as well as time (19 minutes) for lunging before my lesson. I hate lunging but it’s better than death by dressage.
After only 1.3 emphatic canter departs, Micah indicated that he could handle a lesson with an admirable 89% degree of sanity. It was time to climb aboard.
It’s hard to feel loose and limber in the saddle when you are wearing 12.7% more clothing than usual. I was only able to zip my boots 2/3 of the way up, since the extra layers of long johns, fleece britches, and wooly socks added 9% more bulk, along with warmth.
Despite the cold and a recent lack of work (77% below normal), Micah was 99.7% excellent. He was definitely more warmed up than I was (36.8%) despite my ‘exercise’ on the steering end of the lunge line. We got some good work done (90%!), then bundled Micah up in a 200% snuggly cooler. He returned to his snowy pasture (4 inches deep) with a sense of having done a good day’s work.
Being back on my horse and in the barn, with all of its camaraderie, made the trip well worth the exciting drive. Of this I am 100% certain.

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Hesitation Blues: the Equine/Human Mind Meld

They say a horse can feel a fly anywhere on his body. This time of year, watching horses twitch, swish their tails, and stomp their feet, this does appear to be true. But can a horse feel a thought?
I’m not saying that horses are psychic but clearly my horse, Micah, feels every waiver of my attention. Let’s say we’re doing a leg yield and someone walks by the arena with a wheelbarrow. My eyes flicker to take that in and there’s an instant wobble in the leg yield. Micah felt my attention stray and his mind went off course with mine. The wobble was minor but real.
You could say Micah was paying such close attention to me and that he responded accordingly. Or you could say Micah took advantage of a moment. Regardless, he felt my focus fade and responded accordingly. No matter how you describe or interpret the behavior, it’s rare to find a horse who will go on auto-pilot for long, unless you’re asking for an amble.
I’ve begun to see just how important focus and the human/equine mind meld is in training. The other day we were practicing halt/trot transitions — an excellent exercise. I was trying to get Micah to move briskly off my leg into the trot. In my first attempts, Micah was sluggish. I realized that I was hoping he’d spring into the trot but not really following through with my body language. As a result, Micah would lumber into the trot, with me just a bit behind the movement. We’d pull it together within a matter of seconds, but it really wasn’t good enough.

Even at the halt, we need to maintain focus

Even at the halt, we need to maintain focus. Photo by Andrew Martin


Improvement only came when I made a full commitment to the transition. Instead of hoping Micah would trot off briskly, I rode him forward into the trot, expecting a crisp response.
In the first instance I was tentative, saying “I hope you’ll go.” In the other, I committed and moved with Micah into the transition. This time I said, “Let’s go!” and Micah heard me. The difference was impressive.
Moving out of the halt. Could have used more forward focus. Photo by Andrew Martin

Moving out of the halt. Could have used more forward focus. Photo by Andrew Martin


If you hesitate mentally or physically, you horse is likely to respond with a hesitation of his own. He’ll give you what you ask for: a half-hearted transition.
As riders, our attention has to be riveted on the task at hand. Our bodies need to commit, as well — going with the horse’s movement, anticipating a prompt response, and giving at exactly the right moment.
Try this exercise yourself and see what kind of a response you get. Once you fine-tune it, you should get more prompt trot transitions throughout your ride. You can work on all of your transitions this way. Let me know how it goes!

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