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natalie perry dressage

Central Oregon Dressage, dressage, dressage competition, dressage training, natalie perry dressage

Anything Can Happen at a Horse Show

Pfifer rose to the occasion, ignoring blustery weather, making her mother oh so proud. Photo by Kaitlyn Young Photography


They say anything can happen at a horse show — and it usually does.
At the Central Oregon Dressage Classics a dramatic shift in the weather inspired the horses to bring their most spirited selves to the party.
After weeks of summer-like weather with temps in the 70’s, June-uary, June’s evil cousin arrived to gleefully drop morning temperatures into the 40’s. A bitter wind blew in squalls of rain and tossed in a bit of hail just for fun. When the horses reacted with extra impulsion, the riders rose to the occasion with Serious Positive Attitude.
Volunteering as a groom that weekend, I found my favorite spot beside the warm-up ring. Here, I witnessed a lot of Rider Brain Freeze, a symptom I, myself, have experienced.. The trainers encouragingly called out simple instructions such as “Ride a circle” and the rider would boldly continue on their merry way down the long side of the ring, certain they were following instructions to a ‘T’. We’ve all been there: show nerves can turn the simplest of tasks into major challenges. I was impressed with the good humor the trainers showed, as their riders struggled to shorten their reins, change direction, and — most importantly — breathe. Learning to ride is one thing; learning to show is another skill, altogether.
The highlight of the show, for me, was helping my friend Claudia as her groom. I’ve seen a lot of progress in her riding and her horse responded accordingly despite the challenging weather.
On Saturday afternoon we walked over to the show’s West Ring for Claudia’s second ride of the day. The wind whipped dark clouds over the Cascade Range, where the peaks (when you could see them) sported new coats of snow. The horses felt the excitement of spring and summer fighting for dominance.
As Claudia waited for her turn in the show ring, the horse in the arena in front of us acted up, ungraciously unloading his young rider in the footing. Fortunately, the rider wasn’t badly hurt but it’s always troubling to see a rider fall. She was able to stand but not support her weight well enough to walk. Show management responded immediately and the on-site EMT was on his way.
A recently retired nurse anesthetist, Claudia called me over.
“Lauren, hold my horse,” she said. “I’ll go help that girl.”
I was about to obey, but then said, “Wait. This is your day and your time to ride. Help for that rider is on the way.”
I knew exactly how hard Claudia had worked to get to that moment.
Claudia considered my words and then nodded her head and said, “Thank you.”
The young rider was given a lift by the EMT and, happily, was able to return to ride the following day.
So, when Claudia went in and rode her test with complete focus, I was more than proud. Her generous nature and desire to help another could have stolen that moment from her. Her qualifying score and the judge’s comments rewarded her hard work … topped off by a beautiful ribbon.
As I said, anything can happen at a horse show. I’m so glad I got to be there.

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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.

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DIY Dressage


I’ve always been a Do-It-Yourself fan. When it comes to riding, I usually enjoy doing the work myself and only occasionally ask my trainer to ride my horse. However, there are times when it is well worth it to ask my trainer to help us get over a significant hurdle.
In this week’s lesson, I had the strong desire to get off my horse and ask my trainer to please do it for me.
Natalie was yelling, “Don’t give up! I know it’s hard. Keep at it!”
I was cantering around in circles, feeling like the human fly. Micah was blowing me off. I have worked less hard mountain biking, nordic skiing, and running a half marathon.
Micah simply didn’t want to give up control of his right shoulder in the left lead canter and he especially didn’t want to give me a trot/canter transition while doing it. With Natalie’s encouragement, I ‘won’ (aka: got what I was asking for) but it was exhausting.
While I can’t wait to ride again tomorrow and test out what I learned, I also realize that having Natalie do some schooling will speed up the process. Micah’s the kind of guy who gives in once he knows the game is up. I can’t wait to see the look on his face when Natalie climbs aboard next week. She is my secret weapon.
While DIY is great, it’s silly not to use all of the tools that are available to us as riders. And, I’m having so much fun anticipating next week’s lesson. . 🙂

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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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