Tag

dressage

Adult Rider Camp, Alliance Equestrian, dressage, horses, Pre-Purchase Exam

The Pre-Purchase Exam

It’s a bright October day and Dr. Wendy Krebs is doubled-over Skipper’s hoof, doing the flexion test countdown. Her assistant, Anne, is at Skipper’s head and I’m at the tail end, whip in hand.

Anne gives the five-second warning and Dr. Krebs lowers Skipper’s foot to the ground.

Three, two, one, and we’re off at the trot, watching Skipper’s reaction. Without meaning to, I hold my breath through each flexion and am gasping for air as I trot alongside Skipper, motivating him.

Dr. Wendy checks the stifles. Skipper thinks this is stupid.

My friends have reminded me, with varying degrees of smirking, that I’d been adamant that I’d never buy another horse.

How did I get here?

I went from liking Skipper to loving him back in August, when he was superstar at dressage camp — our first off the property adventure together. He handled the new setting and the two-lessons-a-day schedule graciously. When I turned him out in the round pen to romp, he followed me like a puppy. 

When I returned from camp, singing his praises to his owner, she said, “You should buy him.”

Yikes. Suzanne has four horses, was preparing for a knee replacement, and was ready to downsize.

“I’d love to, but I can’t afford it,” I said. 

My retirement plans didn’t include boarding a horse — I’d done some downsizing of my own.

I told myself not to panic, that it could easily take six months for Skipper to sell and that if I was really lucky, someone would keep him at our barn, letting me lease him. 

This strategy worked until his ad came out on dreamhorse.com and someone made an appointment to ride My Horse. My anxiety and imagination kicked into full gear. Picture this: me standing in the barn’s driveway as Skipper is hauled off in a trailer, kicking up a small cloud of dust as he exits my life forever. Ow.

“I only have so many years left of riding,” I told my husband, Al. “I don’t want to waste them.”

Trying to explain the horse/human connection to an engineer is next to impossible, but I tried. Ever practical, Al suggested I contact our financial planner. I’m pretty sure Al was hoping Ken would deliver a death blow to my dream, so he didn’t have to.

I delayed a few days, afraid to make the call. Finally, I worked up the numbers: Skipper’s monthly costs, including board, medical, lessons, etc. and sent Ken an email. An hour later, he replied, “Let’s talk.”

We set up a three-way call, with Al, Ken, and I —and I braced for the worst. But here’s what happened.

“That’s what money is for,” Ken said.

Tears started rolling down my cheeks. 

Sure, I can’t take lavish vacations or live more than 30 years without downsizing further (trailer park, here I come), but that’s ok. Skipper passed his pre-purchase with high marks and I’m telling everyone I meet, “I bought a horse!”

I’m not sure if I own him or he owns me.

Natalie catches Skipper & I en route from the pasture. I can’t resist hamming it up. Check out Skipper’s cute ears!

Thank you to Mari Valceschini of Alliance Equestrian for facilitating my co-lease of Skipper, back in June, when I was between horses — and for facilitating the sale. Mari put the training on Skipper, transforming him from trail horse to dressage star. She saw the potential for a match long before I did. 

Related posts
dressage, Grooming Products, horses

Skipper Gets a Makeover

Skipper arrived at our barn in early June, after enjoying several months of trail rides and pasture time. Mostly unemployed, he put on a few pounds and showed up looking like a guy who’d been on an exercise-free vacation. As we set about upping his training, I carefully considered his appearance.

Skipper arrives at the barn in need of a makeover. Dry & brittle mane & tail — and not much of a forelock.

While Skipper had a nice shine to his coat, his mane and tail were dry and brittle. I didn’t like the look or feel of either. His forelock was almost nonexistent, more fuzzy than flowing. I wasn’t sure we could do anything about the forelock but I knew the mane and tail could be improved. So, I set about looking at haircare products, ready to experiment.

I decided to give Equi-Spa’s Fairy Tails! Lotion and Orchid Oil Gloss a try. The company uses natural ingredients and aromatic (aka: smell good) plant essences. The products feel nice and smell great — which I can’t say is true for all equine products, some are much too perfumy for me. I enjoy using the lotions because both Skipper and I end up smelling good.

Within a week, I saw results — and other people noticed as well.

“His mane and tail look better already,” Eileen said as we warmed up before a lesson.

“I need the name of those products,” Claudia said, running her hand through Skipper’s mane.

When Skipper’s owner stopped by a few weeks later, she was impressed. “His forelock has never looked that good,” she said. (She should know, having raised him from a foal.)

In August, I prepped Skipper for dressage camp by trimming his mane into a shorter, more dressage-appropriate length. The trim, coupled with the conditioning, looked terrific. Better yet, check out Skipper’s forelock. We headed out to our first public outing together with me feeling good about the impression we’d make..

After a little conditioning and a trim, Skipper is ready for dressage camp. Check out the forelock!

Through the summer, I’ve continued to use the Fairy Tails! Lotion and Orchid Oil and have seen a cumulative benefit. This weekend I braided Skipper up and took him out to our first League Show together — where he looked great and behaved beautifully, earning us two blues and a red.

Skipper’s makeover has been a combination of hard work under saddle and just a little attention to detail with his beauty regime. I’m so pleased with how much Skipper’s appearance has improved over the summer and I have high hopes that his tail will continue to grow in over the winter, adding to its fullness. This has been a fun, rewarding experiment.

Related posts
The Pre-Purchase Exam
October 26, 2019
Revelation on Center Line
September 11, 2019
Opening Up to Skipper
August 5, 2019
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
dressage, dressage lessons, dressage training, horses, natalie perry dressage

Opening Up to Skipper

For some time now, Natalie’s been telling me to bring my shoulder blades back and together. I understand what she’s saying and I try. It works temporarily, and then I forget. It feels forced and I tense up. It hasn’t stuck.

This week, Natalie tried a different approach.

“Open your chest,” she said. And what a difference it made.

Opening the chest achieves a similar result to “bring your shoulder blades back” but, for whatever reason, the image works better for me.

While it takes effort for me to open my chest, it doesn’t feel forced. I can feel my shoulders going back, my elbows sitting more naturally at my sides, and my pelvis opening up. I can breathe more deeply.

“Open up” makes me realize how much I tend to curl up, when I’m trying hard, which is most of the time. 

When I turned Skipper out, after our ride, he was in no hurry to return to his friends. We’ve turned a corner in our relationship.

A large part of riding Skipper, my* new horse, is that I need to ride with more relaxation. When I relax, he relaxes. When I tense up, he assumes I’m going to ask something from him. He’s an excellent communicator.

‘Open the chest’ is a subtle thing but the results are noticeable. My position is better and Skipper relaxes in response, moving his back and hips more freely. He’s more comfortable to ride and that creates a positive biofeedback loop — he’s relaxed, I relax, and so on. It’s pretty wonderful.

What amazes me is how important subtle changes can be. And, how the words we use can shape the images that influence us. Lots of lessons learned today.

Skipper is new to me and I really want to be a positive influence in his life. If I want him to be relaxed and responsive to me, I have to open up to him. Breathe deep and show him everything is ok. If I curl up my body in a defensive posture, how can I possibly convince Skipper to relax and trust me?

When I turned Skipper out to pasture today, he stopped to hang out with me. I scratched his neck, he sniffed my hair. He was in no hurry to run off with his friends. These are the moments I cherish. You can’t force a horse to like you. When you open yourself up to them — and you’re lucky — they open themselves up to you in response.

*I am co-leasing Skipper. I don’t own him but he is in my care … which makes him ‘mine’ figuratively. In short, I care for him as if I own him.

Related posts
The Pre-Purchase Exam
October 26, 2019
Skipper Gets a Makeover
October 8, 2019
Revelation on Center Line
September 11, 2019
dressage, dressage training, horses, natalie perry dressage, Tina Steward

Ride the Ears

This past month I’ve had the pleasure of working with a new horse.

I had been leasing Pfifer and, much as I love her, it was time for owner to take back the reins. Pfifer will always have a place in my heart. She truly is a sweetheart and I am really grateful.

Happily, Natalie and Mari helped to orchestrate a new lease for me, one I share with another rider at the barn. Please welcome Skipper, a cute as a bug Morgan gelding with Third Level training. Skipper is smart and sweet and has been working hard to figure me out.

Here’s a short video of my first lesson with Skipper. Natalie is patiently coaching as we struggle through. There’s nothing like a new horse to humble an amateur rider 🙂

The move to our barn has been a big life change for Skipper. He’s had one owner and lived at home his entire life. He’s been to shows, out camping, and on trail rides, but boarding is new to him. While I know it hasn’t been easy for him, Skipper has been settling in, made some good friends out in the pasture (he’s having a bromance with Gatsby), and has come to accept Mary and I as his new People. 

Skipper’s been a big change for me, as a rider. He’s the smallest horse I’ve ridden in a long time. This means I’ve had to adjust everything I do into smaller increments. When Natalie says, “Move your leg back” I want to move it five inches, when all I really need is an inch. My rein aids need to be more subtle as well. And, Skipper feels every shift of my weight. He gives me flying changes when he thinks my leg position isn’t correct enough. 

Skipper’s been a good boy through our first few weeks together. He’s been a little insecure, with all the change, calling to his friend Gatsby and trying to keep a close eye on the comings and goings in the barn. I feel for him — how unsettling it must be to have your life turned upside down.

Natalie’s been helping us figure things out, which has been oh so helpful. I think I would have confused and frustrated Skipper to pieces without her. Nothing like a nervous horse with a clueless rider!

I also had two lessons with Tina Steward, who comes to Bend once a month to help us. She gave me the following piece of advice, which I treasure. 

“Ride the ears,” she said. “His ears tell you what he’s paying attention to.”

By watching Skipper’s ears, it’s easy to tell what he’s paying attention to. Is he listening to what’s going on outside the arena or focused on me? Now, any time I lose Skipper’s focus, I do something to bring it back — maybe a little more bend, a little more leg, perhaps a wiggle on the inside rein. The more consistently I say “Hello, over here please” the steadier he is in his work. I love the simplicity of this and hope you’ll find it useful, too!

Stay tuned for our continuing adventures.

Related posts
The Pre-Purchase Exam
October 26, 2019
Skipper Gets a Makeover
October 8, 2019
Revelation on Center Line
September 11, 2019
Central Oregon Chapter ODS, dressage, dressage barns, dressage competition, dressage show, horses, natalie perry dressage

Rodeo Dressage, First Level Test 1

Pfifer and I had been training together for just over four months and things were going great. I loved her laid-back temperament — she was fun to ride and I was really happy with how things were going.

Feeling confident, I signed up for First Level, Tests, One and Two when the Central Oregon Chapter of the Oregon Dressage Society offered their Swing Into Spring league show. Both tests were well within Pfifer’s capabilities, as she’s schooling Third Level with trainer Natalie Perry.

Six days before the show, Pfifer came into heat in a big way. She was flirting and showing her stuff to anyone and everyone. Oh, dear.

She gave a big kick at the first canter depart I asked for in our Tuesday lesson, but otherwise settled in. No big deal.

Likewise, on Thursday, just days from the show, she was a bit grumpy and didn’t really want to bend, but no big deal.

The weekend of the show arrived and the weather was predicted to be great. What could be better? I had visions of respectable scores and a couple of nice ribbons.

We arrived at the show grounds early enough for me to walk Pfifer around and let her take in the sights. She’d been to the venue the previous summer, so I was a surprised when she got nervous and spooked a couple of times on our walkabout. Oh, well. She’ll settle in, right?

Natalie coached our warm up, and while it wasn’t fantastic, it was respectable. Pfifer still felt resistant to bending and while it wasn’t as apparent that she was in heat, she was still a bit edgy.

Our time to ride came up and we entered the ring, ready to show our stuff. Pfifer balked a little at the judge’s stand, but without conviction. The bell rang, and off we went!

First Level, Test One rides nicely. I felt good about our trot work and got a fairly prompt canter depart. We started down the long side for an extended canter and, without warning, Pfifer started to buck. And buck. And buck some more.

My survival skills kicked in and I sat back, held tight to the reins so she couldn’t get her head down any further, and rode it out. My head was spinning, wondering “What????”

“If this gets any worse, I’m coming off,” went through my mind.

But the big issue was this: “Wait! I can’t fall off in front of mom!!”

Yes, of all the shows I’ve competed in, this was the first one my mom came to watch. My husband and two friends from out of town also stopped by. (Undoubtedly the cause of the bucking.)

Here’s the thing: Mom is terrified of horses, even when they are on best behavior. This was supposed to be a fun outing for her.

Fortunately, I’d asked Pfifer’s owner, Claudia, to sit with mom and explain to her what our dressage test was all about. I’d imagined a conversation along the lines of, “That was a nice trot lengthening.” Instead, mom was gripping Claudia’s arm, asking, “Is Lauren ok?!”

Claudia is a retired medical professional, skilled at remaining calm in stressful situations.

“Of course she is,” Claudia said in her most soothing voice.

“Is the horse trying to buck her off?” Mom asked. A reasonable question, applicable to other equestrian sports in addition to dressage.

“Of course not,” Claudia said, bending the truth.

Mom gasped a few times and Claudia patted her arm.

Pfifer bucked down the long side, settled into a trot, and kicked up a few more bucks as I asked for the canter again to make a circle at ‘P’. She actually cantered enough of the circle that the judge remarked: Good recovery.

Alas, there was more canter yet to come and more bucking. Our score reflected this but it was a small enough class that I got the most hard-earned fifth place of my life.

I ended the test with our highest score of the test — an 8 on our halt! I saluted the judge, relieved it was over, and raised an imaginary cowboy hat to the onlookers. I got applause for courage.

My poor mother had lost all color in her face and looked very unhappy. 

“I didn’t like that,” she said.

“Neither did I,” I replied, but I was laughing now, because it was over and I’d stayed on.

Mom stuck around for my second ride, which was better but included a buck at the end of our second canter, right in front of mom. I doubt we’ll see mom at dressage shows in the future.

My horsey friends will be wondering if I had Pfifer checked out by a chiropractor. Yes, and she’s fine. I can only assume she wanted me to practice my staying on skills. Clearly she wasn’t out to get a ribbon.

Once again, I am humbled by a horse. Disappointed? Yes, dammit, we’d worked hard. 

And, of course, in our next lesson she showed none of weekend’s predilection for drama … so there was really not much to school other than some minor resistance.

I did get some nice photos of Pfifer looking innocent at the show!

Horses!

Related posts
The Pre-Purchase Exam
October 26, 2019
Skipper Gets a Makeover
October 8, 2019
Revelation on Center Line
September 11, 2019