Tag

dressage lessons

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
You’ve Gotta Have Go
June 28, 2017
Ride Like You Mean It
April 25, 2017
I Wish You Rode
April 11, 2017
dressage, dressage barns, School Horses, Schoolmasters

Jaffa Heart of Gold

Jaffa is the 20-something schoolmaster in our barn. I took lessons on him for several months when I was a newcomer to the barn. It was a great way for me to get to know Natalie and, likewise, for her to assess my strengths and weaknesses.

Old man whiskers detract from Jaffa's noble head

Old man whiskers detract from Jaffa’s noble head


Jaffa is one of those worth-their-weight-in-gold horses, which is probably why his full name is Jaffa Gold. You can put a child on Jaffa and he’s happy to cart them around. Put an adult amateur on him and he’ll work just as hard as you make him. A professional can remind him of his former, show ring abilities and make him look downright fancy. Many of us in the barn have a soft spot for Jaffa.
This week I couldn’t help but notice Jaffa’s long, goat-like facial hairs. He has a noble head but it was hidden under too much of a good thing. As Jaffa advances in age, he’s slower to shed his winter coat than the rest of the horses, so he needed a little help.
I wasn’t ready to tackle a full body clipping, but I did give Jaffa a mini makeover this morning. As you can see from the photos, there’s still a lot to be done … but the next time a student goes to bridle Jaffa, I’ll bet she notices the difference.
Shorter whiskers and a tidier mane give Jaffa a wee bit tidier look.

Shorter whiskers and a tidier mane give Jaffa a wee bit tidier look.


The old guy was a saint for me, standing stock still for his makeover. He was a little worried when the lunch wagon went ’round, afraid that he’d be missing a meal. I assured him that everything would be alright and gave him a lump of sugar to help soothe his nerves.
There’s something lovely and rewarding about older horses who have paid their dues. I nearly always have an extra treat in my pocket for Jaffa, just to let him know I haven’t forgotten how kind he was to me during our lessons together.
Thank you, Jaffa heart of Gold.

Related posts
A Personal Best, for Many Reasons
October 16, 2017
Ode to a Fallen Friend
October 10, 2017
You’ve Gotta Have Go
June 28, 2017
Charlotte Dujardin, dressage, engaged seat, equicube

My Kingdom for a Good Seat

For an equestrian, a good seat and hands are two of the most difficult and elusive pursuits of the sport. It’s one of the reasons why riding is a lifelong pursuit.

Fantasy hour: me and Charlotte Dujardin (world's best seat) riding in the same universe. Photos by Andrew Martin

Fantasy hour: me and Charlotte Dujardin (world’s best seat) riding in the same universe. Photos by Andrew Martin


Regarding my seat, my trainer had me return to the use of the Evil Dread Equicube this week. This is actually a fantastic and effective product but it does make you feel completely inept as you adjust to using it.
I hadn’t used the Equicube for several months, so picking it up again felt awkward and foreign. I had a heck of a time turning to the left. The Equicube forces you to use your legs and body to turn — as opposed to flailing about with your arms. Rather than squawk at me about my position, my trainer simply handed me the cube. Uh, oh.
Within minutes, I could feel how much I’d been moving my arms and shoulders.The weight of the cube forces you to bring your elbows in to your sides while using your core to stabilize yourself. I was also reminded to sit back on my bum and connect my shoulders together. The benefits are many and prompt.
The cube (and my trainer) helped me to identify my evil dread position errors and move toward correcting them. In my case, canter work to the left is the demon that haunts me. This week I learned that my left leg slides forward in the left lead canter, throwing off my position, my effectiveness, and my horse. I’m trying to balance frustration (aagghhh) and determination.
We did make progress this week and I was cheered by a surprise compliment today, when my friend Nichole uttered these magic words: “You have a really good seat. You look like you’re glued into the saddle.”
These words melt my heart. If I was going to get a tattoo, this would be the phrase I would choose. I keep playing these words over in my mind and letting a warm glow (not unlike the effect of a shot of tequila) encompass me.
If my friend watched my riding more closely, she’d see those fall-apart moments when my riding starts to come undone — since there is still much work to be done. Still, I’m going to cherish this compliment and use it to inspire and encourage myself to do better.
Be sure to look over your own progress and give yourself an atta boy for the good work you’ve done. While you’re at it, give support and encouragement to the people you ride with. Just as horses respond to a kind word, so do we. (And, if you get the chance to try an Equicube, do it!)

Related posts
You’ve Gotta Have Go
June 28, 2017
My Show Ring Moment
January 12, 2016
The Walk to Poo Transition, An Open Letter to Charlotte Dujardin
October 12, 2015
dressage, dressage lessons, dressage training, horse personalities

Like Falling in Love

If you’re lucky, there’s a moment when your horse decides to trust you. It’s a turning point in your relationship that feels a bit like falling in love.

Natalie riding Pfifer at a recent show

Natalie riding Pfifer at a recent show. I wish my position looked that good. Photo by Andrew Martin

I actually fall in love with my horse over and over again, because I know he’s choosing to do what I ask him when he has so many other options. He’s going along with a plan that has nothing to do with his dreams or desires. When he tries despite a faulty effort on my part, I love him even more.

This week, I had the chance to ride another horse while Micah was at a show, leaving me temporarily horseless. I hadn’t ridden another horse in several months, so the prospect of trying to connect with a new one was exciting.

When Natalie texted me, “Do you want a lesson on a different horse?” I jumped at the chance. “Yes!,” I replied.

I resisted the urge to ask “Which horse?” knowing that, horse nerd that I am, I’d have more fun wondering which horse I’d get to ride.  “It’s like ordering a box of chocolates,not knowing what flavor you’re getting,” I told my husband. Carmel? Coconut? Anything but blobby cherry filling is fine with me. When it comes to horses, I’m fine with any flavor (aka: personality type) that doesn’t try to kill me. There’s always something to learn. Getting to know any new horse is a venture into the unknown — exciting.

My friend Claudia’s Friesian/Paint cross mare is super cute and I’ve always thought she’d be fun to ride. This was my chance. I settled into the saddle and marveled at the difference between my horse, Micah (a tank), and Pfifer (a more petite model). I got the sense that Pfifer was wondering about me, as well.

It took a little while to get a feel for how sensitive Pfifer is in the bridle. Thank goodness I’d had a lesson with the Equicube the previous week (see ‘What Dressage Trainers Do When Bored’ for details) — it helped me to use my hands in a less fidgety manner. I was also grateful to have Natalie guiding Pfifer and I through the getting-to-know-you process.

“Use more leg, less hand,” Natalie advised. I started using little squeezes of the reins with my fingers and Pfifer and I began to have a real conversation. She became more responsive as I started to get a feel for who she is and how she likes to be ridden. We relaxed into one another and she gave me some really lovely work.

I don’t know about you, but I always feel it’s an honor to be trusted by a horse. Pfifer was very generous today, offering me a sense of connection so quickly. After our ride, I gave her a bath, some carrots, and thanked her for being so sweet. I left a little piece of my heart at the barn with her, grateful for the experience.

As I told Natalie, “I could fall in love with this horse.”

Related posts
A Personal Best, for Many Reasons
October 16, 2017
Ode to a Fallen Friend
October 10, 2017
You’ve Gotta Have Go
June 28, 2017