Tag

cantering

cantering, dressage, dressage lessons, horses, natalie perry dressage

Revelation on Center Line

Skipper taught me a valuable lesson this week, with Natalie’s help.

Skipper looking adorable

We’ve been working on a pas de deux with my friend Mary and her horse, Dooley. Part of the choreography includes cantering down the long side on the right lead, making a turn to the right onto the center line, then at the far end of the arena making a trot transition and a turn to the left.

As we approached the turn, Skipper threw in a lead change. We tried again, he did it again.

“Why’s he doing that?” I asked Natalie. 

It seemed like an odd thing for him to do.

“You’re anticipating the turn,” she said. “He thinks you want a lead change.”

I wasn’t intentionally asking for a lead change but I rode the movement again — this time paying attention to all the little signals I was giving Skipper. I noticed that I turned my head to the left, anticipating the turn. And, much as I was trying to keep the bend of a right lead canter, with my outside leg back, I was shifting in the saddle in anticipation.

Which is why Skipper threw in another change of lead. 

I stopped at the wall and laughed out loud, giving Skipper a pat.

“He was doing exactly what I was telling him,” I said. 

Natalie laughed as well. What was a revelation for me had been obvious to her.

With my new knowledge, I rode down center line as if I was going to make a turn to the right. Within a stride or two of reaching the wall, I asked Skipper for a trot and we made the left turn. Success. I had made what I wanted clear to my horse.

It was another brilliant example of how horses listen to us — and the best ones try, even we’re less than perfect. 

I’m so grateful to my trainer for remaining patient when I’m sometimes so unaware of what my body is doing. Instead of chastising me, Natalie gave me the time to feel what I was doing (aka: learn from my mistake). 

This lesson reminded me that we’re always communicating with our horses and if they don’t respond the way we anticipate, we need to look again at what we’re telling them. Sometimes they’re doing the “wrong” thing because that’s exactly what we asked them to do!

Related posts
Working Out with the Outside Rein
February 1, 2017
Remembering to Ride the Outside of the Horse
December 1, 2016
The Elegance of Elbows
November 28, 2016
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.

Related posts
DIY Dressage
March 14, 2018
You’ve Gotta Have Go
June 28, 2017
Ride Like You Mean It
April 25, 2017
canter, dressage, dressage humor, dressage lessons, riding lessons

Remembering to Ride the Outside of the Horse

In today’s lesson I had a complete brain fade: I forgot to ride the outside of the horse.

Just a reminder that every horse has two sides & you need to ride both of them!

Just a reminder that every horse has two sides & you need to ride both of them!


It was an excellent lesson because I’m not about to forget that again soon. I’ll forget something else.
Here’s what happened. When Micah and I fall apart it’s usually to the left — we’re both weaker in that direction.
Today we started cantering to the left with Micah doing a superb job of ignoring my right (outside) rein and leg. Instead of asking with more emphasis, I forgot everything I’d learned and began hauling on the inside rein. The more I hauled, the worse things got.
“Something’s wrong,” I thought, but the answer was so obvious, I couldn’t see it.
Natalie had me bring Micah back down to a trot and do a leg yield from the right (ineffective) leg … just to get him listening. The bigger problem, however, was me — I simply forgot to ride the outside of the horse.
When Natalie had me do a small trot circle (which simply isn’t possible without moving the outside of the horse), things clicked in my fuzzy brain.
“I forgot to ride the outside of the horse!” I said. “How could I have forgotten something so obvious?!”
“We all do it from time to time,” Natalie said, laughing.
I respect and enjoy Natalie’s ability to laugh both at and with me. Plus, I need her to understand how deeply baffled I can be from time to time.
Shaking my head in wonder, I resumed riding the canter, this time remembering to influence both sides of the horse. Things improved instantly.
This is what I love about lessons. On my own, I would have wasted a lot of time and probably not resolved the problem. Which was me. Sure, my horse was trying to evade the outside aids but I have to give him credit for having a plan and sticking with it. If I’m not smart enough to ride him properly, he deserves to have an easy go of it.
I’m going to make a short list of the 10 most important things to remember in each and every ride. I’ll post it inside my tack locker and review it before tacking up. I’ll let you see it after I’ve drafted it up. You can contribute your own list of must-do’s. Together, we’ll fight brain fade and attempt to ride our horses more effectively, each and every ride.
Until then, happy riding!

Related posts
Revelation on Center Line
September 11, 2019
Working Out with the Outside Rein
February 1, 2017
The Elegance of Elbows
November 28, 2016
canter, dressage, dressage lessons, dressage training, dressagemortals, equestrian, horsewomen

The Elegance of Elbows

Despite what non-horsepeople say about the horse doing all the work, those in the know are all too aware that dressage is a total body workout. To persuade the horse to do anything other than graze, run off with you, or haul himself around on his forehand takes a lot of convincing. It also takes a super-human coordination of the rider’s legs and limbs in concert with the seat, core, and shoulders. It looks so easy when done by a professional.
As an adult amateur dressage rider, I am constantly trying to align errant body parts. To have them work up to a full concert would be fantastic. For now, I’d settle for something resembling a recognizable melody.
This past week my elbows stepped up as the body part of the month. I’m sharing this story because I’m impressed with how paying attention to the elbows has made a significant difference in my effectiveness.

Assuming you don't want to look at my elbows, here's a shot of Micah (right) with Harrison, the handsome new guy at the barn.

Assuming you don’t want to look at my elbows, here’s a shot of Micah (right) with Harrison, the handsome new guy at the barn.


My trainer has long been nagging me to keep my elbows at my side (especially the right elbow, which colludes with my horse to give away the right rein), and while I’ve improved, I only really got it last week. (Note: I reserve the right to back-slide at a moment’s notice.)
We were working on haunches in, a counter-intuitive maneuver which messes with the mind and body of both beast and rider. We were flailing along, kind of getting it, when I glued my elbows to my sides and voila! haunches in happened.
I applied this technique to the trot and — amazing — it improved! As expected, gluing the elbows at the canter is more difficult so that’s going to be an ongoing effort. Gluing the elbows while remaining relaxed and fluid is another challenge, since it’s easier to turn into a chunk of concrete when becoming uber-focused on correcting a habit.
Try it and see if focusing on your elbows helps you. You may have noticed that all of the professional riders keep their elbows at their sides while the less skilled of us flail our arms about. Keep a mental picture of the rider you want to be in your mind as you try bringing your awareness to your elbows this week. Give it a go at the walk, then work your way up.
Happy riding!

Related posts
Revelation on Center Line
September 11, 2019
Working Out with the Outside Rein
February 1, 2017
Remembering to Ride the Outside of the Horse
December 1, 2016
canter, dressage, dressage lessons, dressage training, riding lessons, training

Chocolate-Covered Canter Squares

As delicious as they sound, chocolate-covered canter squares

As delicious as they sound, chocolate-covered canter squares


My new favorite exercise is the canter square. It’s not actually covered in chocolate but the name has a delicious ring to it.
Canter squares are hard work for both horse and rider. I love them because they are really making me ride the canter. No more wishful thinking! No leaning forward out of the saddle! No giving away the outside rein!
If done correctly, canter squares make the horse really use his hind end, so it’s a great strengthening exercise. Micah’s canter is improving by leaps and bounds. Plus, canter squares are so hard, it makes the counter canter seem less intimidating (to me). I think it’s good to always have at least one really hard exercise in your repertoire, so you can keep redefining your definition of difficult.
If you’ve never ridden a canter square, first master the exercise at the walk and then the trot. If you have an instructor to help you, even better. Instead of riding a circle, thinking of riding a square. Move your horse’s shoulders over to make a right-angle turn at each corner. This takes lots of outside rein and a bit of outside leg up toward the shoulder. Sit back to encourage your horse to use his haunches and lighten his front end. Be sure to give (but not throw away) the reins after the turn to reward your horse (and avoid hanging on his mouth).
Once you get the basic idea down, you can start to finesse it. I ask Micah to slow down for a stride just before the turn. This really makes him use his haunches.
Canter squares are hard work for your horse (like weight-lifting), so don’t overdo it. And, be sure to tell him he’s a good boy!
Good boy!

Good boy!

Related posts
DIY Dressage
March 14, 2018
You’ve Gotta Have Go
June 28, 2017
Ride Like You Mean It
April 25, 2017
dressage, dressage training, transitions

First Snow at the Barn

After five days in Palm Springs, over Thanksgiving, it was a bit shocking to come home to snow and temperatures in the 20’s. We’d been hoping for snow, so of course it came the day after we arrived in Palm Springs. We were jealous — although I did enjoy an afternoon by the pool, soaking up the sun.
I worked hard to muster up enough enthusiasm to head to the barn this afternoon. I waited until the temperature was supposed to peak at a grand 30 degrees, then took off.
It was my first snow drive of the year, so I started with white knuckles but relaxed as the Honda Element and its snow tires did their job. This doesn’t mean the other drivers were doing their part. The drive took much longer than normal as people either a) drove too fast, showing off their 4WD; b) drove slow, in fear for their lives; or c) gawked at cars stuck off the side of the road.

Micah makes a beeline to the gate upon my arrival.

Micah makes a beeline to the gate upon my arrival.


Finally I reached the barn, gorgeous under a coating of snow. I’d been worried that Micah had been cooped up in his stall for nearly five days. Without snow pads on his feet, he doesn’t get turnout if the snow forms balls under his hooves. This horse loves his pasture time, so stall time makes him cranky and energetic.
On top of the stall time, it’s been so cold that Micah wasn’t being ridden. Riding when the temps are in the teens isn’t much fun or especially good for the horse.
As I drove up, I was happy to see Micah out in his pasture with his buddies. It ws so cold and dry that the snow didn’t stick to his feet.
Micah was happy to see me, too, and made a beeline for the gate. This is rare. I’d like to think it was love — but he probably wasn’t getting much grass, through the snow. I am his human treat dispenser.
The human treat dispenser has arrived!

The human treat dispenser has arrived!


It was 24 degrees in the sun (the forecasted 30 degrees never happened), and even colder in the barn. My knees were knocking from the cold, despite lots of layers.
My thoughts of riding went out the door, freezing into icicles on the way out. A gentle lunging would be more than enough in this weather.
No one else had ventured out (imagine that!), so we had the barn and arena to ourselves. I let Micah thoroughly stretch out at the walk in both directions, then asked for a relaxed trot. Micah was happy enough to comply. He likes having a job and this was easy work.
If Micah has any silliness in him, it’s going to show up in the canter depart. I really didn’t want him hurting himself, so I kept things as relaxed as possible when asking for an up transition. While he thought about doing a little rodeo work, he held back.
A few circles of canter, then a trot transition. Wait until the trot is relaxed, then back to canter. We even got some stretchy trot moments.
I called it quits long before Micah started to sweat. No need for that in this weather. While I missed getting to ride, better to keep myself and my horse healthy, give ourselves time to adjust to the weather, and hope the week’s forecast of a warming trend (into the low 40’s!!) is correct.
Until then, brrrrr.

Related posts
Revelation on Center Line
September 11, 2019
Working Out with the Outside Rein
February 1, 2017
Remembering to Ride the Outside of the Horse
December 1, 2016