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dressage training

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!

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And Then I Turned the Page: Second Level, Test 2

Last week, I left my lesson ecstatic. I loved Second Level!
Second Level Test 1 was tough, but doable. I bubbled with enthusiasm and hope for the future. I imagined a fun and successful show season.
The next day, on a long flight to Florida, I reopened the test booklet and turned the page: Second Level, Test 2.

Second Level, Test 2 begs the question: Who am I? Where am I going?

Second Level, Test 2 begs the question: Who am I? Where am I going?


Reading through the test I found myself lost several times. I started to panic. Who was I? Where was I going? The test includes an abundance of counter canter. Plus, you do some fancy half-turns and half circles that look like freeway on-ramps, if viewed from above. Who made up these tests?
I had to look it up: was travers the same as haunches in? (Yes) Speaking of haunches, the test also includes the turn on the haunches — which are an intuitive nightmare. You’re not actually moving the haunches so much as moving the forehand around the haunches. You employ a mysterious mishmash of aids which confuse the heck out of me and the horse. It all happens in slow motion (at the walk, right in front of the judge) and try as I might, I can’t really tell what the hind legs are doing.
My previous day’s confidence eroded and I found myself swimming without a life vest in a sea of self-doubt. As the plane landed, I texted my trainer: “Just read Second Level Test 2. OMG.”
As we waited for our rental car, small children scampered through the airport. They were delirious from lack of sleep and the excitement of being so near DisneyWorld. I snarled at them as they passed, exhausted from my own day of travel.
Plugging my phone into a nearby power outlet, I began watching youtube videos of real-life competitors riding the test. I needed to know what was happening as soon as possible.
The videos gave me a better picture of what happens/when and helped me to calm down. I started breaking the problem down into manageable pieces. I also started to have fun, watching those really expressive horses who were practically calling out to the judge, “Not enough preparation on that transition!” or “Could have been more tactful!” By the time my husband got the car, I was snorting with pleasure watching wringing tails and the occasional buck into the canter depart.
My trainer texted me back, “It’s going to be fun!” And so I cheered up.
Upon my return home, we worked on several of the harder parts of Test 2 in our lesson. It is going to be a lot of work, but it really is going to be fun.
Dare I read Second Level, Test 3? Perhaps not yet. I’ll work up to it, perhaps after a shot of tequila.

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Back in Order

I carefully warm up my horse, paying attention to where he feels stiff. Until he’s completely warmed up physically and mentally, he’s not likely to give me his best work. Since he’s 20 now, I have to respect the fact that his body has its limits.
My body has limits, too, but I sometimes cut corners, trying to save time and money. About once a quarter a I need a tune-up from my favorite chiropractor/muscle worker. Putting it off isn’t a smart move.
Last Thursday I tried riding with a back that felt like a rusty chain. It tweaked in the rising trot and squawked during sitting trot and canter. A couple of the links in the chain had rusted shut. I got off my horse, gave him a sugar cube, and called the chiropractor.
Rusted_chain
The result? After my tune-up, today’s ride was 300% better! On top of that, I wasn’t in pain! That’s always a bonus.
Note to self: take the time to work on your own body — it’s just as important a part of the ride as is taking care of the horse.
I suspect that some of last week’s struggles were related to a tilted pelvis and a few locked-up vertebrae. I was working against myself.
Today’s ride was so rewarding, my biggest struggle was in not shouting out to everyone in the barn how good my boy was. Micah’s probably just as grateful as I am that my back is more supple and fluid.
Let’s remember to take care of ourselves, acknowledging that it’s time and money well spent.

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Forward & Back, That’s How Dressage Works

After months of working on keeping the right rein, today I gave it away. Not totally, mind you, but I had to ask for it (sometimes firmly), then give. Giving is hard when you’ve set your mind on taking.
At home, out of the saddle, I’m trying to transmit that message down … from brain, through neck, into right shoulder/arm/hand. Ask, then give. Ask, then give.

Exhilerating cold weather riding. Photo by Andrew Martin

Exhilerating cold weather riding. Photo by Andrew Martin


We’re at a new level of conscious incompetence, so I know we’re on the right track. Grasping a new thought and gasping at the difficulty often come hand in hand.
Collected canter is super hard — but a breakthrough from 1st to 2nd level. Thankfully, going to the right is easier than going to the left, so I get something of a break.
To the left, where I’ve tended to give away the right (outside) rein, it’s time for me to try to add in some finesse. Ask/give. Ask firmly if need be, give.
While our canter work is steadily improving, there are some really rough moments. It feels like we’re going backwards, but I know it’s the way forward.
Sometimes it’s me, my wavering attention, aids that aren’t prompt, a seat with moments of insecurity. Sometimes it’s Micah, saying ‘This is your idea, not mine … if there’s a way out, I’m smart enough to take it.’
Forwards and back. Just a reminder to myself and the rest of you who struggle, this really is part of the process.

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Getting There is 1/4 of the Fun

Those who know me know that math is not my strong point. There are other ways to say that, most of them less flattering but probably more accurate than any attempt I could make to solve a quadratic equation.
I especially enjoy making up fake statistics. Who’s going to check, anyway?!
Today, driving to the barn was harrowing. Due to shenanigans on the icy roads, it too me 32.1% longer than normal to get to the barns. At least 25% of the drivers were timid, moving along at 15 mph drivers. Another 30% of the drivers were assertively driving 45 mph in their 4WD vehicles, some of them ending up in ditches. That left the remaining 45% of drivers moving along at a somewhat sane speed.

Road to the barn. Packed snow made for exciting driving.

Road to the barn. Packed snow made for exciting driving.


By the time I got to the barn, I decided that 1/4 of the fun was in getting there. I was particularly intrigued by the two women who got their car turned 360-degrees in the opposite lane. I have no idea how they accomplished this going uphill. They were unharmed but bewildered. The oncoming traffic was 100% stalled and not amused.
By the time I reached the barn, the temps were a chilly 24.2 degrees in the sun, so I was sporting a layered-up clothing combination that can best be described as “chunky.” The extra clothing resulted in an 11.2% reduction in my ability to feel attractive, while increasing my heat comfort level by 12.9%, resulting in a net loss of 2.4%.
For the 2nd time in a row, Micah was happy to meet me at the gate of his snow-covered pasture for a carrot. That’s a 19.7% improvement over his usual ‘come and get me’ attitude! There’s a 98.2% chance that the gate-greeting response was food motivated; 1.4% chance that he misses me so much, he’s willing to walk an extra mile (1.609344 kilometers) to see me. Such is the reality of equine love.
I had allowed 1 extra hour (60 minutes) to account for erratic driving experiences, as well as time (19 minutes) for lunging before my lesson. I hate lunging but it’s better than death by dressage.
After only 1.3 emphatic canter departs, Micah indicated that he could handle a lesson with an admirable 89% degree of sanity. It was time to climb aboard.
It’s hard to feel loose and limber in the saddle when you are wearing 12.7% more clothing than usual. I was only able to zip my boots 2/3 of the way up, since the extra layers of long johns, fleece britches, and wooly socks added 9% more bulk, along with warmth.
Despite the cold and a recent lack of work (77% below normal), Micah was 99.7% excellent. He was definitely more warmed up than I was (36.8%) despite my ‘exercise’ on the steering end of the lunge line. We got some good work done (90%!), then bundled Micah up in a 200% snuggly cooler. He returned to his snowy pasture (4 inches deep) with a sense of having done a good day’s work.
Being back on my horse and in the barn, with all of its camaraderie, made the trip well worth the exciting drive. Of this I am 100% certain.

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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.

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