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dressage training

dressage, dressage training, equestrian, natalie perry dressage

My Next Adventure

How many tears did I shed when Micah left our barn? At least a bucketful.
Although I knew Micah was heading home to a well-deserved retirement, my heart broke nonetheless. Five years is a long time to spend together — parting was truly a sweet sorrow.
At the same time, I’d known for several months that our time together was coming to a close. Micah and I had gone about as far as we could — he gave indications that the work was too hard and it took tons of stamina for me to ride him. I needed frequent breaks to catch my breath, despite my effort to stay fit through cycling, hiking, and skiing. My shoulders and legs ached from the effort. Deep down, I knew it would be good for me to ride other horses, even though it would mean letting go.
As fate would have it, the horse I was most interested in riding is owned by my friend, Claudia. Her mare, Pfifer, is lovely, level-headed, good natured, and has received excellent training from Natalie Perry. I’ve watched as Pfifer and Claudia’s partnership has blossomed, earning them ribbons in the show ring.

Pfifer in the show ring with Claudia


Unfortunately, Claudia has been temporarily sidelined by an injury and hasn’t been able to ride lately. Still, she’s kept up our Sunday tradition of meeting at the barn, then going out for coffee. After giving it much thought, I worked up the nerve to ask Claudia if I could take a lesson on her horse. To my delight, Claudia was enthusiastic!
Soon after our coffee date I learned that Micah’s retirement had been moved up. And then moved up again. Things happened so quickly, my head was spinning. Yet the thought that I could ride Pfifer boosted my morale and helped me cope with the sense of loss.
I scheduled a lesson with Natalie and knew almost immediately that Pfifer had much to teach me.
“Quiet your hands, keep them lower! Keep your right elbow in,” Natalie said. “You’re going to need to ride her from back to front.”
Wow! What a difference from Micah. And, the benefit of Pfifer’s being in full training with Natalie was obvious. Several lessons later, I’m learning to sit more quietly, keep my hands and (damn) right elbow still, and ride from back to front.
Much as I love Micah, we had a history of bad habits together. We were like the old married couple who bickers and laughs together, sometimes having the same argument over and over again. With Pfifer, I have the chance to make a fresh start on improving my skills. It’s a new perspective, fun and exciting — and helps me to think about the future, rather than the past.
Having the chance to ride Pfifer saved my sanity when Micah moved out. And if that’s not enough, Claudia came to the barn to be with me on the day I said good-bye to my guy. She let me cry, gave me a hug, and then took me out for coffee.
As I ride Pfifer, I’m rooting for Claudia’s recovery — because I know exactly what her horse means to her. I want her back in the saddle as soon as possible, at which point I’ll
step aside and look for my next Next Adventure.
In the meantime, I’m so appreciative of the opportunity to ride Pfifer. She truly proved her worth this week when cold temperatures and high winds made for chaos in the riding arena. When one horse bolted and another bucked its way around the lunge line, Pfifer kept quietly to her work.
So, when my friends and family ask “How are you doing without your horse?” My answer is, “Surprisingly well!”
Once again my horse community has boosted me through an important life transition.

Related posts
A Fresh New Perspective on Riding
January 10, 2019
Pfabulous Pfifer
January 4, 2019
A Season of Change
November 28, 2018
dressage, Horse Care, Micah, senior horses

A Season of Change

Only those of us who are truly fortunate are able to retire before the work becomes too hard for mind or body. We all know it doesn’t always work out this way. So I feel tremendously lucky that my (lease) horse, Micah is one of the fortunate ones.
Our horses depend on thoughtful owners with the mindset and means to maintain them when they start showing signs that age is taking its toll. Horses with the best of luck take on easier jobs or spend their days on pasture, moseying about like old men in coffee shops. They savor the sunshine and unhurried pace of life. Micah will have this luxury.

Treats are a prerequisite before any ride! Photo by Hannah Rugg


I’ve had the pleasure of leasing Micah for the past five years. He has a kind and generous nature, although he doesn’t give anything away for free — you have to earn it. He can put up a fuss (like any horse who is smarter than his rider) but is generally easy-going and willing to go along with this crazy thing we call Dressage. So, when Micah began showing real resistance to our Second Level work, I was concerned. Micah can be lazy but he’s not a fighter.
Micah’s approaching his 24th birthday and, while he’s in great shape and receives regular chiropractic care, I suspect he has some of the cranky aches and pains that come with aging. I certainly have a few.
So, while I dreaded opening a door that, once opened, could not be closed, I felt it was my responsibility to to let Micah’s owner know what I felt Micah was saying. If he was my horse, I’d back him down to an easier level of work. Sad as I might be to lose Micah, I would rather retire him than break him.
Although it means parting ways with a horse I love, when his owner said “we are of like minds” my heart felt good. Carol had been worried about Micah and the thought lingered that perhaps the work was too much for him. This weekend Micah will ease into retirement with the best of care.
While I am sad for myself, I am happy for Micah — he has been a significant part of my life. He nickers when he hears me coming, knowing I always have treats in hand, and never runs from me in the pasture, even though I’m coming to ask him to work. Even when he protests about the work, he doesn’t try to hurt me. (If I was a horse, I’d do far worse!)
I have loved Micah as if he was my own, as we’ve struggled together trying to further our skills, forgiving each other along the way for our quirks and foibles. There have been countless times when Micah has outsmarted me and I’ve had to laugh — good for you, buddy! It has been an honor and a pleasure to ride such a horse.
Just as wonderful has been my relationship with Micah’s owner, Carol. Through the years, ours has been less of a financial arrangement and more of a partnership — a sharing in the care and well-being of a wonderful horse.
It is with great sadness that I let Micah go. But I fully believe we are doing what is right for him.
As for my future, the thought of horselessness is daunting. A horse is more than a means to exercise: it’s a relationship. (As I tell my non horse friends, imagine giving up your dog!) Yet I have been horseless before and another horse always comes along, with new lessons to teach. My trainer and my friends are keeping their eyes open for me and I trust something will work out.
As I come to terms with this change of season, I celebrate all Micah has given me. He has truly been a gift of good fortune. It is fitting to see him rewarded in his senior years with the best of care. We should all be so fortunate.

Related posts
A Fresh New Perspective on Riding
January 10, 2019
Pfabulous Pfifer
January 4, 2019
My Next Adventure
December 13, 2018
dressage, dressage competition, dressage training, equestrian, horses, natalie perry dressage

All the Pretty Horses


For reasons I’ll never understand, I was born with a fascination for horses.
I was the kid hanging her head out of the car window, admiring horses in pasture, dreaming of owning one. I remember the sense of longing and my pure adoration for them. I read horse stories, drew pictures, collected Breyer models, and convinced my mother to get me riding lessons as often as she could tolerate.
Where did this come from? I doubt we’ll ever know.
Some people speculate that those of us who are ‘horse crazy’ have a primal sense of connection to these animals, due to our ancestors’ early dependence on them. If this theory is correct, we have an innate understanding of how important horses have been to our species.
Bullshit? Or not? Who cares — it’s fun to ponder.
As I’ve started prepping for this year’s show season, I’ve noticed how much more critical I’ve become of horses and their way of going. Call it education if you will, but I’ve lost that innocent admiration for each and every horse.
As I watch YouTube videos of riders competing, as a way to learn my tests, I find myself ‘judging’ each horse’s gaits, conformation, and temperament.
Still, I find myself fall in love from afar quite frequently, thinking, “I’d love to own that one.” (I have a strong preference for those honest, forgiving, yet forward horses who look more like lovers than fighters.)
I also spot the ones I’d prefer not to own. “That one’s gorgeous but looks like a fire-breathing dragon!” (Death by dressage still doesn’t appeal to me.)
As I look at my history with horses, I admit that I still don’t understand it but I’m grateful to have them in my life. I struggle, I learn, and I love. My life is so much the richer for it.

Related posts
A Fresh New Perspective on Riding
January 10, 2019
Pfabulous Pfifer
January 4, 2019
My Next Adventure
December 13, 2018
dressage, dressage training, horses, natalie perry dressage, Outside Rein

Riding the Outside of the Horse

Micah says, “Mom’s finally getting it!”


I had an ‘ah-hah’ moment during last week’s lesson, thanks to Natalie’s choice of words.
We’ve been working on the importance of ye old outside rein for an eternity. While we’ve made progress, my work to the left is never quite as balanced and fluid as the work to the right.
To the left, my right hand (outside rein) tends to float up magically, as if someone else is controlling my arm.
Last week, as we worked to the left Natalie said, “Ride the right side of the horse.”
This gave me a visual/mental image of the right side of my body engaging with the right side of the horse’s body. It connected my right rein, arm, leg, and seat — which is when I said “ah-hah!” What a difference.
When I rode again today, I kept that image in mind and it worked wonders. Micah and I are more connected to the left than we’ve ever been before — and, not surprisingly, riding the outside of the horse improved our work in both directions.
We’ve all had those moments when a simple choice of words creates an image that clicks in our brains, helping us to accomplish things we may have been struggling with.
When a concept isn’t working for you, keep asking questions. A simple change of words may make a big difference.

Related posts
A Fresh New Perspective on Riding
January 10, 2019
Pfabulous Pfifer
January 4, 2019
My Next Adventure
December 13, 2018
dressage, dressage lessons, dressage training, equestrian, natalie perry dressage

Resisting the Temptation to do What’s Easy

I’m learning a lot about training, thanks to our new puppy. Whimsy’s a bright girl who quickly realized who was in charge (mom) and who was Mr. Fun (dad).

Whimsy makes an honest attempt to pay attention in puppy class.


Dad spends a lot of time avoiding the things that set Whimsy off, into a frenzy of playful jumping and biting. I understand the desire to avoid conflict, but it’s clear that the more you avoid something, the more important it is to actually address the issue.
Of course I see the parallels in my riding.
Everything I do with Micah is more difficult to the left — due to issues in my body as well as his. As a result, it’s so much easier to linger on the right side, where everything is easier.
Two years ago, Natalie even said to me, “You’re riding Second Level to the right; First Level to the left.” Ow!
While we’ve made big progress and the issues aren’t nearly as glaring now, the right is still our preferred direction.
Thanks, to Whimsy, I’ve decided to renew my commitment to working on what’s difficult, resisting the temptation to do what’s easy.
Granted, there are times when it helps to get things rolling in the easy direction, then try to copy that ‘feel’ in the harder direction. However, I’ve let that become a crutch. It’s time to break the habit.
Today, I vowed not to start off to the right, where’s it’s easy. I picked Micah up at the walk going to the left, asked for a marching walk, asked the neck to bend in both directions, and gave a prompt correction if he slowed down or pulled on the rein.
It’s obvious that this work is going to be good for me, my horse, and my puppy. While it’s tempting to do what’s easy — avoidance doesn’t pay off in the long run.
Give this a try with your horse (dog, husband etc) and let me know how it goes!

Related posts
A Fresh New Perspective on Riding
January 10, 2019
Pfabulous Pfifer
January 4, 2019
My Next Adventure
December 13, 2018
dressage, dressage training, natalie perry dressage

Tough, Quick & Tactful

This week I asked Natalie to give Micah a tune-up.
The fact is, I’d gotten soft physically and mentally.

This week I’ll ask Clint Eastwood to remind me to be Tough and Quick. I’m counting on Natalie to help me to be Tactful.


Micah had experienced a brief lameness (happily resolved) and I’d been worried that he was out of shape and perhaps not feeling 100%. I asked less of him and he was happy to comply, with a distinct sluggishness under saddle.
When I reported my fears to Natalie she said, “Well, Hannah’s not having any problems getting him to go forward.”
 (Hannah’s a young rider who rides Micah three days a week.)
In that moment, I realized that I’d been had — my horse was taking advantage of me. Damn.
Since then, we’ve been working on getting Micah to be more forward. Things improved but I know he’s got more go in him than he’s been giving me. Which is why I asked Natalie to help.
It had been months since Natalie had given Micah a tune-up and I was looking forward to seeing her at work. Natalie is quick, tough, and tactful — a beautiful rider.
I’d warmed Micah up before Natalie got in the saddle, so he was ready to go. Within minutes, he was in trouble for pulling on the rein and slowing down. They had a ‘discussion’ wherein Natalie addressed the issue in no uncertain terms.
Micah rolled his eyes and looked over at me, asking me to bale him out.
“Sorry buddy,” I said. “You asked for this.”
Within 15 minutes Natalie had Micah forward and round. He looked terrific, like an upper level horse.
“Your turn,” she said.
I got on and could feel Micah’s forward energy beneath me. His engine hummed.
“So I need to stop letting him get away with so much,” I said. “Be tougher about all infractions.”
“Tough and quick,” Natalie said — emphasizing that I had to be just as quick to reward to correct response as an inappropriate or inadequate response.
The image of Clint Eastwood popped into my mind. His characters have never been tactful but they’re certainly been tough and quick.
This week I’ll try riding with Clint to toughen up my soft side but let Natalie’s voice remind me to be tactful.
“We need to do this more often,” I told Natalie – referring to her tune-up. The lesson was an eye-opener and extremely worthwhile. For once, Micah was more tired than I was. Note to self: use your trainer to your full advantage. It’s worth it.

Related posts
A Fresh New Perspective on Riding
January 10, 2019
Pfabulous Pfifer
January 4, 2019
My Next Adventure
December 13, 2018