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equestrian

Barn, dressage, dressage training, equestrian, horse/rider communication

Eyes Up, Looking Where You Want to Go

Through the darkest, most difficult times in my life, horses have been my safe haven — a source of joy and a reminder to live in the present moment. Your mind cannot, should not wander when you’re in the presence of a 1,000-pound animal, no matter how gentle and good-natured he or she may be.
Through this past year, as my mother and I held one another up, watching my father’s health decline, horses remained my reminder that life holds happiness even when sorrows are deep. While I sometimes arrive at the barn with a heavy heart, the familiar faces of my friends and their horses help me set my troubles aside for hours at a time. The barn is a world where priorities are clear and simple. A place where I define myself as a horse person, striving to meet the mind and spirit of another species. I find it deeply satisfying.
As I approach my horse in pasture, his halter in my hand, I bring my best self to him. I’m asking him to leave the leisure of his pasture to come with me, not simply for treats but to do a job that is my idea, not his.

Skipper sees me coming


As I approach, Skipper hears my voice, lifts his head from grazing, and strolls up to me, knowing I’ll have a carrot in my coat pocket. His ears prick forward and he chooses to leave his herd. My heart lifts at the sight. He is saying, “Yes, I’ll come with you.”
Even on the most painful days, where my dad’s memory stings with loss, the simple steps of caring for my horse soothe my soul. I brush Skipper’s coat, admiring its bright chestnut color. I comb out the stubborn shavings that cling to his tail and tidy up his mane. With each grooming, I check to make sure he’s healthy,his shoes are secure, and there are no new lumps, bumps, or bites from pasture mates that need attention.
Before I saddle up, I rub Skipper’s forehead in the spot he’s taught me is his favorite — the white star at the base of his forelock. He nods his head in approval but stands stock still to tell me he appreciates the attention. Skipper likes having a person and I love having a horse. Like happiness itself, a horse is not a thing to take for granted.
As I swing my leg over Skipper’s back, settling gently into the saddle, I remember the words of my trainers … all of whom have reminded me to keep my eyes up, looking where I want to go. Don’t stare at the ground, unless you want to go there, they advised. These words ring true for any riding discipline you choose. And, after this tough, trying year, it strikes me that this is good advice for living, in general.
I chose to buy Skipper just months ago, when I realized that after losing dad, I couldn’t bear yet another loss. My little horse soothes my sorrow and gives me hope for the future. With each riding lesson, I make a plan for what I need to work on, looking for ways we can improve, with hopes for a strong show season. As my relationship with my horse blossoms, my heart heals. My eyes are up and I’m looking toward the future.

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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.

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dressage, dressage training, equestrian, Equitech

Vest Causes Climate Change

aka: My Magic Vest

My magical vest is so good, I don’t even need to wear it to feel cooler.

To deal with the heat, several of my barnmates purchased cooling vests this summer. These are nifty vests you soak in water, wring out, and they retain just enough moisture to keep you cooler in the heat.
Clever friends, they purchased their vests while temps were tipping 100 degrees. They got lots of good use out of them. Me, I waited until the week before Adult Amateur Riding camp to order mine. Of course there were delays and my vest arrived the week after camp.
The good news is that my vest is Magical! While my friends brag that their vests reduce their body temperature by 10 degrees below the outside temperature, my vest dropped the outside temperature by 30 degrees — we went from daytime highs of 100 degrees to temps in the 70’s. My vest has brought about the end of Summer! I am not joking — Fall is in the air.
This vest is so good, I don’t even have to wear it to feel cooler. I keep the vest in my closet, tags still attached, and savor its magical powers. I actually wore a jacket to the barn this morning. It was wonderful.
I may try soaking the vest in water, to see if that helps to squelch the forest fires that are plaguing the Northwest. It’s worth a try!

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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!

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canter, dressage, dressage lessons, dressage training, dressagemortals, equestrian, horsewomen

The Elegance of Elbows

Despite what non-horsepeople say about the horse doing all the work, those in the know are all too aware that dressage is a total body workout. To persuade the horse to do anything other than graze, run off with you, or haul himself around on his forehand takes a lot of convincing. It also takes a super-human coordination of the rider’s legs and limbs in concert with the seat, core, and shoulders. It looks so easy when done by a professional.
As an adult amateur dressage rider, I am constantly trying to align errant body parts. To have them work up to a full concert would be fantastic. For now, I’d settle for something resembling a recognizable melody.
This past week my elbows stepped up as the body part of the month. I’m sharing this story because I’m impressed with how paying attention to the elbows has made a significant difference in my effectiveness.

Assuming you don't want to look at my elbows, here's a shot of Micah (right) with Harrison, the handsome new guy at the barn.

Assuming you don’t want to look at my elbows, here’s a shot of Micah (right) with Harrison, the handsome new guy at the barn.


My trainer has long been nagging me to keep my elbows at my side (especially the right elbow, which colludes with my horse to give away the right rein), and while I’ve improved, I only really got it last week. (Note: I reserve the right to back-slide at a moment’s notice.)
We were working on haunches in, a counter-intuitive maneuver which messes with the mind and body of both beast and rider. We were flailing along, kind of getting it, when I glued my elbows to my sides and voila! haunches in happened.
I applied this technique to the trot and — amazing — it improved! As expected, gluing the elbows at the canter is more difficult so that’s going to be an ongoing effort. Gluing the elbows while remaining relaxed and fluid is another challenge, since it’s easier to turn into a chunk of concrete when becoming uber-focused on correcting a habit.
Try it and see if focusing on your elbows helps you. You may have noticed that all of the professional riders keep their elbows at their sides while the less skilled of us flail our arms about. Keep a mental picture of the rider you want to be in your mind as you try bringing your awareness to your elbows this week. Give it a go at the walk, then work your way up.
Happy riding!

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February 1, 2017
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