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, Horse Care, Horses & Mud, Shedding

Mud Season at the Barn

Temps have soared into the high 40’s and low 50’s, which feels downright balmy after this winter’s frigid temps. We’re happy to say farewell to snow and ice, as it’s easier and safer to walk outside the barn and turn the horses out again. Alas, the ground is soaked with melted snow, which means mud is our new theme. Mud, I did not miss you.

If there’s mud, horses will find it. Elle takes advantage of our False Spring, carefully camouflaging herself to blend in with her paddock. I’m grateful not to own a grey.


As a result of our False Spring weather (Yes, I am bitter! Winter will be back just as soon as we adapt to warmer temps), the horses are beginning to shed. Think buckets of hair.
Combine long-haired horses with muddy turnout and what do you get? A filthy horse, nearly impossible to groom without a bath. Goodbye clean saddle pads. I miss you already.
I admit I was feeling sorry for myself as I turned Micah out after today’s awesome lesson. “The next time I see you, you’ll be a muddy mess,” I said.
But as I turned to go, a blotchy apparition caught my eye. Elle, a normally elegant grey mare, had done a thorough job of camouflaging herself. She looked combat ready.
“Things could be worse,” I thought to myself, grateful that Micah is a bay.
May your own Spring be true and may you and your horses stay happy and healthy through the change of season.

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dressage, dressage lessons, Improving the Canter, Outside Rein

Dressage Necessities: Determination & Guidance

I’ve noticed that a lot of Determination is required to convince a 1,000 pound herbivore that Dressage is more fun than grazing in a pasture. Perhaps you’ve noticed the same.
Yet, Determination alone does not a Dressage rider make. If that were true we would not need trainers.

The Dressage Training Pyramid for Mere Mortals


What we need first and foremost is Guidance. Without Guidance, we are likely to practice making mistakes and creating bad habits with Determination. I am guilty of this and have successfully taught my horse numerous bad habits. I shudder to think of how thoroughly I could un-train my horse without a trainer.
Talent would be a lovely thing to add into the mix but that’s beyond my control. I am who I am and have to work with that, just as I have to work with my horse’s strengths and weaknesses.
Fortunately, my horse is a Very Nice Guy. He is, however, smart enough to realize when I am asleep at the wheel and is quite amenable to taking charge when offered the opportunity.
Most recently, we had a disagreement as to who owned the outside shoulder. I had been focusing on other issues (ok, nodding off) and let him get away with owning the outside shoulder about 100 too-many-times.
In last week’s lesson, things came to a head and a mighty battle ensued. Micah had the weight advantage and — with a great deal of Equine Determination said — “No, I own this shoulder and this rein.”
Thank goodness this was during a lesson and my trainer stepped in with Guidance. I could have flailed along on my own trying to match Micah’s Determination but without correcting the primary issue. (Me.)
Even with Guidance, I suffered mightily to correct the problem. It had gone on just a little too long. My Determination was a poor match to Micah’s superior strength.Fortunately my trainer channeled into me some of her inner fortitude along with Guidance. I prevailed just enough to get the correction drilled into my head and Micah’s.
I started my next ride knowing that if I did nothing else, I had to get this right.
Micah knew, as horses often do, that the game was up. Our improvement was measurable.
It’s been a good week. And if I do nothing else, I will employ my Outside Rein with diligence. Because now I have Determination, Guidance, and a distinct desire to avoid going backwards on this issue.
May your week be just as full of successful moments. Happy riding!

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Century Ride, Chronicle of the Horse, dressage, The Dressage Foundation

Barbara Bagg’s Special Century Ride

Every Century Ride is special, given the amount of time and good fortune it takes both horse and rider to reach the combined magical age of 100, while still able to compete. Unfortunately, the stars don’t always align. In this case, victory was bittersweet … and hard earned.

Barbara Bagg and her mare, Irish April, carefully prepared for their Century Ride Competition. Barbara wanted to show how wonderfully off-the-track Thoroughbreds can perform, given the right training


I am really grateful to the people who brought this story to my attention. I gave it my best, to tell this tale honestly and with respect to those involved. They have my admiration and respect.
I hope you enjoy this story as much as I did. For the full story visit the Chronicle of the Horse’s website:
Barbara Bagg’s Special Century Ride

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cantering, dressage, Improving the Canter, Outside Rein

Working Out with the Outside Rein

Today I practiced horse lifting. Yes, me versus 1,000 pound Micah. Micah definitely had the advantage.
As always, it was my fault. I had been gradually letting the right, outside rein slip … obsessing instead on getting bend to the left. Micah was training me more effectively than I was training him.

Today’s workout: me vs. Micah. Micah had the advantage


Things reached a head today, with Micah deciding he owned the outside rein and outside shoulder. He was blowing me off, ignoring my leg, and drifting to the outside. Not so bad at the walk and trot but a disaster at the canter.
Back to the Outside Rein and its importance! At the walk, we worked to regain my authority with both reins. We used the square exercise to move Micah’s shoulder over in response to my leg. We also used turn on the haunches to move the same shoulder over. Cover your ears, gentle reader, but it took some whacking with both leg and crop. (No horses were harmed during this exercise — I assure you I was working much harder than Micah was.)
We then progressed to making squares at the trot and canter. The trot improved quickly but the canter remained the sticking point.
Natalie put two poles across the arena and I used them to keep my steering accurate while trying to make canter squares (see Chocolate Covered Canter Squares, an earlier posting, for specifics of this exercise).
We made big improvement, mainly as the message to: USE THE OUTSIDE REIN made its way to my brain. My right arm may fall off.
Thankfully I have a day to recover before attempting this feat again. Wish me luck.

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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.

Related posts
You’ve Gotta Have Go
June 28, 2017
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April 25, 2017
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April 11, 2017