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dressage

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.

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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!

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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.

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Working Through Lameness

Micah’s had a run of bad luck in the past two weeks — first a minor lameness in the left front, then a small wound on the right hind. At Micah’s age (and mine), a few aches and pains are to be expected – but how we treat them is so important to recovery and longevity. That’s where I’m so grateful to have the help of my trainer, Natalie Perry and assistant trainer, Mari Valceschini.

Having extra sets of eyes on the ground is so useful when considering a lameness. I’ve gotten better at detecting which body parts are involved but it’s great to have those observations confirmed — and get some guidance about recovery.
Today I went out for a lesson knowing Micah had been sore. I was ready to take stock of his current condition and didn’t really expect to have a full lesson. (In contrast, when my very first horse, decades ago, came up lame I was a tearful mess.) I’ve been through this enough times through the years to know that it comes with the territory, so I came prepared to develop a recovery strategy. (I was also grateful that we’re not right in the middle of show season — so there’s no sense of pressure.)
Micah went nicely on the lunge line except for one rambunctious canter depart and looked reasonably sound. I wasn’t sure if he was dragging his right hind toe a little more than usual … or if I was being paranoid. That’s where those extra eyes come in.
Once Micah had warmed up lightly on the lunge line, I got on and let him warm up under saddle, adjusting to my weight. The trot felt pretty good and the canter to the right was close to normal. To the left, the right hind didn’t have quite the push it usually does, making it apparent that although Micah was showing improvement, he wasn’t quite sound.
Natalie suggested I go ahead and do some walk work and test him out again the next day. He’ll be restricted from full pasture turnout, so keeping him moving will be good for him mentally and physically. When on stall rest he gets terribly bored and is constantly calling out to remind everyone that he’s being neglected.
So, this morning I worked on Micah’s marching walk, alternating it with the stretchy walk. It’s good for me to work on lengthening and shortening the reins smoothly, without taking half the arena to get it done.
I also focused on keeping my right hand low, close to the saddle (an ongoing effort for me) and my left leg down and back (another issue). Rather than being discouraging, it was a productive little workout and I felt really happy to be spending some time with my horse.
As for Micah, he thought it was the perfect ride! Lots of treats and little effort. I’m quite sure he was happy we didn’t try to ‘push him through it.’
Again, I’m really grateful to have the support of Micah’s owner and our trainers as we work through this with the well-being of the horse as our foremost concern. I’ve found that taking time with lamenesses and developing a careful recovery program can be very successful — which is so rewarding.

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Forward AND Round

Photographer Barbara Dudley captured this moment at our chapter’s last show of the season. I call it “A Moment of Prayer” as I am clearly gathering my strength and wits about me, http://www.barbaradudleyphotography.com/.

This week Micah and I revisited the concepts of forward AND round — emphasis being on AND.
I’d been working on my leg position (again) and, per usual, when I’m working on position I let a lot of other things go.As a result, in our Thursday lesson, Micah offered me a choice of forward OR round.
“He can do better than that,” Natalie said.
At the walk, I insisted on both, which wasn’t as easy as it sounds. Micah’s a wonderful guy but he tends to ignore my legs. However, persistence paid off. Once I gathered enough determination to sincerely insist on forward AND round at the walk, Micah gave me both.
Next up, bring it to the trot. As expected, it took a little while to get both forward AND round at the trot, and then at the canter … but establishing this at the walk was the most critical element.
To test our skills, Natalie threw in transitions — down and up. Lo and behold, if I could hold the forward/round in the transition, the next gait started and continued in a better frame.
On the other hand, if I let things fall apart, I’d have to spend several strides bringing it back together.
Bottom line — don’t give away what you’ve earned! Insist on forward AND round and maintain it through up and down transitions and all gaits.
This was an excellent (if tiring) lesson. I brought this attention to detail to Sunday’s practice ride got better results right off the bat.
Micah can always feel my intention and tends to go with the program when he’s certain I mean it. Good boy!

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Of Ponies & Puppies

Less than a week ago, we brought a new puppy into our lives and the training has begun in earnest. As I watch my dear husband puzzle through the process, it strikes me just how much we equestrians learn about training from our trainers and horses. The insights and experiences are as relevant with household pets as with our barn buddies.

Alert & energetic, it will take careful training to develop our puppy’s best self.


On day three of new puppy parenthood, we overtired our puppy, underestimating how much sleep she needs. As a result, I headed off to an evening get-together with girlfriends only to receive a string of texts from my husband indicating that our 10 pound ball of fluff was out of control: jumping, biting, and unable to calm down. Of course Whimsy fell promptly to sleep minutes before I returned home, presenting a picture of angelic sweetness.

While Al claimed to have a wild child on his hands, I came home to an angelic ball of fluff.


As Al and I sat on the couch, enjoying a moment of peace, I described to him the process we use with horses. The trainer teaches the horse to be manageable, then teaches the owner how to achieve these results themselves.
While that’s how it’s supposed to work, it’s not an easy process and tends to move forward in fits and starts since most owners lack the quick reflexes and physical skill of a professional trainer, as well as a thorough understanding of why horses respond the way they do. Looking at our sleeping puppy, it struck me how thoroughly training can improve or ruin an animal.
Having ridden horses for years and raised several puppies, much of Whimsy’s training is intuitive for me. Al, however, was a newbie —inadvertently bring out her wild side — flashing, razor-sharp puppy teeth enthusiastically applied. While I could calm her down, Al was at a loss.
“Just as my horse trainer can bring out the best in my horse, she can’t do it for me,” I said. “You have to learn the skills and practice them.”
We watched several training videos as Whimsy dozed peacefully and developed some training ideas for the following day. I left Al with the goals of bite inhibition and stopping play before it escalated, then headed to the barn for a riding lesson.
During my lesson, Natalie encouraged me to be more firm with Micah when he ignored my leg aids. As it turned out, it was just the right advice. Being tentative is one of the most damaging things you can do in your animal/human relationship. A horse or a dog will look for a leader and if you don’t insist on the leadership position, you’ll quickly lose it. After a couple of firm canter/walk transitions, Micah shaped up and gave me more prompt, correct responses.
I was fortunate that Natalie was there to strengthen my resolve. It’s hard to exude confidence when you’re not quite sure what to do. As riders, we’re lucky to have trainers to guide us, telling us when to be firm, when to give, when to repeat an exercise, and when to move on. They help us choose which battles to fight and when to wait another day. We gain confidence from our trust in them … although at times we need to fake that confidence until we have enough experience to make it real.
At home, Al is learning the skills and developing the confidence to keep our bundle of joy from turning into a tiny terror.
“Imagine what it’s like to deal with a 1,000-pound animal when you’re feeling unsure,” I said. “Now that’s scary!”
As we correct the problem of over-tiring our puppy, letting her settle into our household routine, we’re all working things out. Training is a big job, requiring thought, consistency, and diligence — the time spent is well worth it.

Note: In September we lost our 16 year old Standard Poodle, Skittles. She loved going to the barn and visiting with the other dogs up until her final month. She was truly an exceptional dog. Little Whimsy is also a Standard Poodle, and I have high hopes that she’ll one day be barn-worthy. Her joyful presence has filled a hole in our lives.

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