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Tina Steward

dressage, natalie perry dressage, Tina Steward

The Quiet Inspiration of Mary & Dante

Soft-spoken and small in size, Mary Cuevas is one of those riders you might overlook as you stride through the barn, busy with the demands of your own life. Mary quietly goes about the business of setting goals and working to achieve them without calling attention to herself. Should you compliment her on a show score or well-executed movement, she’ll break into a smile and most likely credit her horse and trainer with each success.

Mary & Dante’s 16-year partnership ended far too soon

I was aware that Mary was working her way up the levels with her horse, Dante, but like most people, I only knew parts of the story. I learned a bit more when we attended Adult Rider Camp together. But what solidified our relationship was when we began working together on a Pas De Deux. Our hours in the saddle turned into a true friendship.

And so, I was honored when Mary confided that she’d finally written up the story of her journey with her beloved Dante. Dante’s loss had been so painful, it had taken Mary a year to put pen to paper. What resulted was a six-page, account that Mary handwrote in a single sitting.

“Would you consider publishing it in your blog?” Mary asked. “If it’s good enough?”

“Of course, I would,” I said. I didn’t know exactly what I was getting myself into … but had a sense that it would be worthwhile.

I took Mary’s story home, read, it, and found myself in tears. Mary’s love for her horse came through loud and clear and her dedication to her goals was impressive.

“This is definitely worth publishing,” I told Mary. “But I want it to reach a larger audience than my blog. I’m going to see if Flying Changes magazine will publish it.”

“Really?” Mary said. She was thrilled.

I emailed Kim Curzi, the magazine’s owner, and gave her a brief synopsis of the story. I felt sure the story, with its Northwest focus, would be a good fit.

“I’d be happy to look at it,” Kim said.

Now came the hard part: I was tasked with editing Mary’s 2,600 words down to something closer to 1,200 words — a standard length for most magazines. I had to shorten the story while preserving Mary’s tone and intention — not an easy task. With each edit, I’d find myself in tears over Mary’s loss — which, while draining, told me that the story had what it took to touch hearts.

To round out the story, I asked Mary’s trainer, Natalie Perry of Alliance Equestrian Center and clinician Tina Steward DVM to sum up their impressions of Mary and Dante. Their words were perfect. And, although the story exceeded or goal of 1,200 words, Kim included the quotes in their entirety. She also used my favorite suggestion for a title, “In it for the Long Haul,” which came to me at the last minute and really summed up Mary’s commitment.

Mary has inspired me to raise my expectations of what I can do with my riding. For a bit of quiet inspiration, please read Mary and Dante’s story in the April issue of Flying Changes magazine. I think you’ll appreciate the journey.

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Chiropractic, Dr. Taryn Yates, dressage, dressage training, natalie perry dressage, Tina Steward

Skipper Gets a Tune Up

Thirty years ago, at the Circle P Ranch in San Diego, I stopped to watch a horse receive chiropractic treatment. Before I saw the treatment, I thought,  “What a bunch of hooey.”
To my surprise, the horse relaxed and sighed into the work — better yet, he went from being stiff to sound after his adjustment. The difference was striking.

I began having my own horse adjusted after that on kind of an emergency basis — waiting for obvious signs of discomfort before calling in my local expert. I had a tight budget and it was the best I could do at the time.
Since then I still have a tight budget but I manage to make regular chiropractic care for my horse work. It means I don’t get massages for myself, drive a fancy car, or have the latest and greatest in equestrian apparel — but that’s ok. The benefits I’ve seen from regular chiropractic care are worth it.
Taryn Yates of Active Balance has been adjusting Skipper for years on an as-needed basis with his previous owner. Since he became my responsibility, we upped the program to every six weeks with wonderful results.
Skipper came to me after having several months off of work — fat and out of shape. He was weak in the left hind and stiff traveling to the right. I enlisted Taryn to help Skipper’s body adjust from vacation mode to regular riding, easing sore joints and sore muscles, helping to put his hips back into a more correct alignment. I think it helped Skipper maintain a willing attitude about his transition back to work.
Each month I’d gradually feel Skipper’s hips get out of whack, then Taryn would put him back together again. Month by month, Skipper lost weight, built muscle, and moved with more suppleness and swing.
This month, after nine months of regular adjustments, Skipper’s hips ‘held’ through a full seven weeks. I had felt it and Taryn confirmed it. As we move into Second Level work, asking Skipper to carry more weight on his hind end, this is terrific timing.
But we’re not done. Because horses move in diagonal pairs, Skipper’s right front end has been compensating for the left hind all along.
“He has legitimate reasons for finding the work to the right difficult,” Taryn said.
She adjusted his ribs, base of the neck, and base of the head. When the work was done, Skipper sighed with relief. As the hind end stabilizes we can make real progress with the front end.
As I took Skipper out to graze in hand for a bit, I thanked him for giving me his best, despite his physical limits. His unwillingness to bend wasn’t naughtiness … he was trying to avoid discomfort.
My trainer Natalie Perry and clinician Tina Steward, DVM have worked patiently with Skipper and I through all of this, letting Skipper’s muscles develop and our partnership grow. Less knowledgeable (and kind) trainers would have forced the issue.
As we make Skipper more comfortable, it will be easier for him to give me even more of his best self. And that makes my heart sing.

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Back to the Barn
January 12, 2017
Micah Comes Back
June 29, 2016
dressage, dressage training, horses, natalie perry dressage, Tina Steward

Ride the Ears

This past month I’ve had the pleasure of working with a new horse.

I had been leasing Pfifer and, much as I love her, it was time for owner to take back the reins. Pfifer will always have a place in my heart. She truly is a sweetheart and I am really grateful.

Happily, Natalie and Mari helped to orchestrate a new lease for me, one I share with another rider at the barn. Please welcome Skipper, a cute as a bug Morgan gelding with Third Level training. Skipper is smart and sweet and has been working hard to figure me out.

Here’s a short video of my first lesson with Skipper. Natalie is patiently coaching as we struggle through. There’s nothing like a new horse to humble an amateur rider 🙂

The move to our barn has been a big life change for Skipper. He’s had one owner and lived at home his entire life. He’s been to shows, out camping, and on trail rides, but boarding is new to him. While I know it hasn’t been easy for him, Skipper has been settling in, made some good friends out in the pasture (he’s having a bromance with Gatsby), and has come to accept Mary and I as his new People. 

Skipper’s been a big change for me, as a rider. He’s the smallest horse I’ve ridden in a long time. This means I’ve had to adjust everything I do into smaller increments. When Natalie says, “Move your leg back” I want to move it five inches, when all I really need is an inch. My rein aids need to be more subtle as well. And, Skipper feels every shift of my weight. He gives me flying changes when he thinks my leg position isn’t correct enough. 

Skipper’s been a good boy through our first few weeks together. He’s been a little insecure, with all the change, calling to his friend Gatsby and trying to keep a close eye on the comings and goings in the barn. I feel for him — how unsettling it must be to have your life turned upside down.

Natalie’s been helping us figure things out, which has been oh so helpful. I think I would have confused and frustrated Skipper to pieces without her. Nothing like a nervous horse with a clueless rider!

I also had two lessons with Tina Steward, who comes to Bend once a month to help us. She gave me the following piece of advice, which I treasure. 

“Ride the ears,” she said. “His ears tell you what he’s paying attention to.”

By watching Skipper’s ears, it’s easy to tell what he’s paying attention to. Is he listening to what’s going on outside the arena or focused on me? Now, any time I lose Skipper’s focus, I do something to bring it back — maybe a little more bend, a little more leg, perhaps a wiggle on the inside rein. The more consistently I say “Hello, over here please” the steadier he is in his work. I love the simplicity of this and hope you’ll find it useful, too!

Stay tuned for our continuing adventures.

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Love in a Time of Colic & Chaos
March 15, 2020
Skipper Gets a Tune Up
March 6, 2020
The Beauty of An Excellent Halt
January 24, 2020
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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Love in a Time of Colic & Chaos
March 15, 2020
Skipper Gets a Tune Up
March 6, 2020
The Beauty of An Excellent Halt
January 24, 2020