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natalie perry dressage

Aimee Witherspoon, dressage, dressage competition, natalie perry dressage

A Personal Best, for Many Reasons

Micah & I after a rewarding show day. Photo by Barbara Dudley Photography


Yesterday I overcame adversity.
Today the memory dances in my head, strengthening my resolve and helping to heal my battered heart. I came home with a blue ribbon and a score that was a personal best — reaffirming that pushing on through pain is not just possible, but necessary.
I owe this win to my trainer, Natalie Perry, and my friend, Aimee Witherspoon. Both taught me much.
To say that the past few months have been challenging is an understatement. August brought bad news; September the loss of my dog; and just weeks later Aimee was thrown from a horse and died.
Aimee’s death was both terribly sad and a harsh reminder of the inherent dangers of equestrian sports. Her death rattled me emotionally and shook my confidence on my horse. I asked my trainer for help.
“I need you to help me keep my riding positive,” I said, explaining what had happened. “Please help me keep my confidence up.”
Natalie, who is always positive, was on it.
“We can do that!,” she said.
Her support meant the world to me. I made the decision to ride only with her supervision until I regained my sense of self. We had a show coming up quickly and I couldn’t afford to un-train my horse. Micah’s a great guy but, like most horses, will take charge if he senses a lack of commitment.
And so Natalie helped me keep my mind in the present moment — on my horse and the job of riding. Her comments were positive and supportive, even when I faltered.
Come the morning of the show, I knew I was better prepared than I’d ever been. And yet, I wasn’t sure I could do it. I wanted to scratch out of our two classes — even hoped Micah would throw a shoe to give me an easy way out.
As my determination waivered, I knew that to quit would be an insult to Aimee. She’d be furious if I used her death as an excuse. One of the bravest riders I’ve known, Aimee loved competition.
I also felt I’d be letting Natalie down. She’d worked hard with me and was telling me “You can do this.” I needed to believe her.
And so, I tacked Micah up for our class despite my doubts, trying to maintain focus. He felt fresh, energetic, and willing to listen.
“Let’s do this,” I told him.
I even remembered to smile at our show photographer as I went by.
When my efforts were rewarded with my best-ever score, I was elated. I truly needed to be reminded that I can and should carry on, even when it hurts.
This weekend I’ll be attending Aimee’s Celebration of Life along with many of the Northwest’s finest equestrians. As we share stories, laughter, and tears, I’ll thank Aimee for helping me push on past fear and discouragement.
My sense of gratitude toward my trainer remains tightly wrapped around me. While non-horsepeople will never understand it, it’s always more than ‘just’ about the horses.

Related posts
Ode to a Fallen Friend
October 10, 2017
canter, Charlotte Dujardin, dressage, horses, natalie perry dressage

You’ve Gotta Have Go

The art of dressage is continually realizing you don’t really know what you thought you knew. Or you don’t understand it thoroughly.

So has it been with my coming to terms with the basic premise: You’ve gotta have go.

Leann Johnston and HS Black Magic have go – beautiful forward movement. Magic is owned by Tina Billings.

How many trainers have tried to get this idea through my head? Too many to count.

Yes, even at the walk, you’ve gotta have go. HS Black Magic, owned by Tina Billlings, ridden by Leann Johnston.

Happily, last week’s lesson brought a breakthrough. Here’s what happened.
Micah and I were working on the canter/walk transition. Mine tend to be either a) abrupt or b) sloppy. I pointed this out, as if perhaps Natalie hadn’t noticed. She laughed, agreeing that this would be good to work on.
My tendency has been to immediately start asking for a shorter, more compressed canter, then ask for the down transition. There’s a major problem with this approach.
“You have to have him going forward before you can get the collection,” Natalie reminded me.
Something clicked. The week before we’d worked on 10 meter circles at the canter — which was terrifically helpful. “Really feel like you’re sitting him down,” Natalie said.
This meant that I had to really ride — as in a) steer, b) drive Micah forward with my legs, c) sit deep in the saddle, and d) guide the shoulder around the circle using outside rein and leg.
This was really challenging at first — especially with Natalie standing at the edge of the circle saying, “Go in front of me.”
I was strongly motivated not to run over my trainer.
The great thing was, this really engaged Micah’s hind end, giving me the sense of forward power I need to feel before asking for a great canter/walk. In short, you’ve gotta have Go before you can ask for collection.
A voice in my head hearkened back to the Charlotte Dujardin symposium we attended two years ago. Charlotte’s primary emphasis to riders of all levels was on what she called The Go Button. Wheels churned and clicked in my brain. Rusty memories arose … all with the same message. Without Go, you have nothing.

HS Black Magic shows off a gorgeous hind end – ably ridden by Leann Johnston, owned by Tina Billings

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Ride Like You Mean It
April 25, 2017
I Wish You Rode
April 11, 2017
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February 1, 2017
canter, Carl Hester, dressage, dressage lessons, haunches in, leg yield, natalie perry dressage

I Wish You Rode

I came home from the Carl Hester dressage clinic inspired and ready to ride.
Fortunately, I had a lesson scheduled for the very next morning. My trainer, Natalie had been at the clinic, as well, so we had a grand time discussing clinic highlights and which horse we wish we could have come home with.

One of the horses from the Carl Hester clinic that I wouldn’t mind owning.


We got down to work and I tried SO hard to keep my upper body elevated, per Carl’s instruction. I tried to keep my hands in front of the saddle and use my legs more independently, knowing he’d be pleased if I did so. Awareness is the first step toward improvement.
The lesson was SO good, on the way home I found myself wishing that more of my friends would ride. Why? Because this is such an important thing to me — and yet I can’t share it with them.
Let’s say I called Kim, the good friend I mountain bike and nordic ski with. Imagine the conversation.
Me: “Our haunches in is really improving! I am so excited!”
Kim: “Huh? What’s a haunches in?”
By the time I explained the exercise, Kim she would be sorry she picked up the phone.
Perhaps I would do better to lead with the canter exercise, since it was more dynamic.
Me: “We did a great exercise at the canter! Canter down the long side, leg yield off the wall to the quarter line (which I’ve never done before) and then back to the wall! It really tuned Micah up to the leg, straightened him, and was a great obedience exercise. It also made me use both legs.”
Kim: “I have to go clean toilets now.” (Hanging up)
Me: “Damn.”

Kim enjoying a different kind of saddle. No haunches in here.

Related posts
You’ve Gotta Have Go
June 28, 2017
Ride Like You Mean It
April 25, 2017
Working Out with the Outside Rein
February 1, 2017
dressage, dressage lessons, dressage training, Turn on the Haunches

Dressage for Dummies: Turn on the Haunches

“Dressage for Dummies” has yet to be written, despite the serious need!


The ‘For Dummies’ book series includes a mind-boggling range of topics, including dating, the internet, law, and nearly every sport under the sun. Every sport except dressage, that is.
After today’s lesson, where we labored through the Turn on the Haunches, I was prepared to write the book myself.
For reasons I can’t fathom (perhaps because I am a dummy), I find Turn on the Haunches to be a serious mental challenge. I’ll think I have it, then lose it.
When I gave it an attempt today, Natalie said, “That’s turn on the forehand.”
“Ack.”
I tried again.
“That’s turn around the middle,” she said. A new movement, yet to be documented.
“Ack.”
Natalie broke it down for me in this way. On a fairly small circle, with the horse walking, put him in a haunches in position. No problem.
Now make the circle smaller, asking the shoulders to move over as you ask the hind legs to keep moving in response to your legs. Your outside rein asks the shoulders to move to the inside of the circle. Your horse is moving his shoulders around the circle, as opposed to moving forward.
I found this to be very helpful, although my mind spins trying to comprehend the logistics of what’s going where/when. I also get dizzy really quickly.
When I suggested the horse needed a break, Natalie said, “This is really easy for him. He could do this all day.”
Ok, I couldn’t.
I came home and watched a few YouTube videos of Turn on the Haunches to put a visual image of the movement into my brain. Here’s hoping it sticks.
Clearly Dressage for Dummies hasn’t been written because it’s a more complex subject than dating, the internet, or law. Alas.

Related posts
A Personal Best, for Many Reasons
October 16, 2017
Ode to a Fallen Friend
October 10, 2017
You’ve Gotta Have Go
June 28, 2017
dressage, dressage lessons, Improving the Canter, Outside Rein

Dressage Necessities: Determination & Guidance

I’ve noticed that a lot of Determination is required to convince a 1,000 pound herbivore that Dressage is more fun than grazing in a pasture. Perhaps you’ve noticed the same.
Yet, Determination alone does not a Dressage rider make. If that were true we would not need trainers.

The Dressage Training Pyramid for Mere Mortals


What we need first and foremost is Guidance. Without Guidance, we are likely to practice making mistakes and creating bad habits with Determination. I am guilty of this and have successfully taught my horse numerous bad habits. I shudder to think of how thoroughly I could un-train my horse without a trainer.
Talent would be a lovely thing to add into the mix but that’s beyond my control. I am who I am and have to work with that, just as I have to work with my horse’s strengths and weaknesses.
Fortunately, my horse is a Very Nice Guy. He is, however, smart enough to realize when I am asleep at the wheel and is quite amenable to taking charge when offered the opportunity.
Most recently, we had a disagreement as to who owned the outside shoulder. I had been focusing on other issues (ok, nodding off) and let him get away with owning the outside shoulder about 100 too-many-times.
In last week’s lesson, things came to a head and a mighty battle ensued. Micah had the weight advantage and — with a great deal of Equine Determination said — “No, I own this shoulder and this rein.”
Thank goodness this was during a lesson and my trainer stepped in with Guidance. I could have flailed along on my own trying to match Micah’s Determination but without correcting the primary issue. (Me.)
Even with Guidance, I suffered mightily to correct the problem. It had gone on just a little too long. My Determination was a poor match to Micah’s superior strength.Fortunately my trainer channeled into me some of her inner fortitude along with Guidance. I prevailed just enough to get the correction drilled into my head and Micah’s.
I started my next ride knowing that if I did nothing else, I had to get this right.
Micah knew, as horses often do, that the game was up. Our improvement was measurable.
It’s been a good week. And if I do nothing else, I will employ my Outside Rein with diligence. Because now I have Determination, Guidance, and a distinct desire to avoid going backwards on this issue.
May your week be just as full of successful moments. Happy riding!

Related posts
You’ve Gotta Have Go
June 28, 2017
Dressage for Dummies: Turn on the Haunches
March 22, 2017
A Different Kind of Warmup
January 25, 2017
canter, dressage, dressage humor, dressage lessons, riding lessons

Remembering to Ride the Outside of the Horse

In today’s lesson I had a complete brain fade: I forgot to ride the outside of the horse.

Just a reminder that every horse has two sides & you need to ride both of them!

Just a reminder that every horse has two sides & you need to ride both of them!


It was an excellent lesson because I’m not about to forget that again soon. I’ll forget something else.
Here’s what happened. When Micah and I fall apart it’s usually to the left — we’re both weaker in that direction.
Today we started cantering to the left with Micah doing a superb job of ignoring my right (outside) rein and leg. Instead of asking with more emphasis, I forgot everything I’d learned and began hauling on the inside rein. The more I hauled, the worse things got.
“Something’s wrong,” I thought, but the answer was so obvious, I couldn’t see it.
Natalie had me bring Micah back down to a trot and do a leg yield from the right (ineffective) leg … just to get him listening. The bigger problem, however, was me — I simply forgot to ride the outside of the horse.
When Natalie had me do a small trot circle (which simply isn’t possible without moving the outside of the horse), things clicked in my fuzzy brain.
“I forgot to ride the outside of the horse!” I said. “How could I have forgotten something so obvious?!”
“We all do it from time to time,” Natalie said, laughing.
I respect and enjoy Natalie’s ability to laugh both at and with me. Plus, I need her to understand how deeply baffled I can be from time to time.
Shaking my head in wonder, I resumed riding the canter, this time remembering to influence both sides of the horse. Things improved instantly.
This is what I love about lessons. On my own, I would have wasted a lot of time and probably not resolved the problem. Which was me. Sure, my horse was trying to evade the outside aids but I have to give him credit for having a plan and sticking with it. If I’m not smart enough to ride him properly, he deserves to have an easy go of it.
I’m going to make a short list of the 10 most important things to remember in each and every ride. I’ll post it inside my tack locker and review it before tacking up. I’ll let you see it after I’ve drafted it up. You can contribute your own list of must-do’s. Together, we’ll fight brain fade and attempt to ride our horses more effectively, each and every ride.
Until then, happy riding!

Related posts
Working Out with the Outside Rein
February 1, 2017
The Elegance of Elbows
November 28, 2016
Chocolate-Covered Canter Squares
October 18, 2016