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Tina Steward

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.

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Rodeo Dressage, First Level Test 1
May 4, 2019
Happy With the Halt
March 1, 2019
A Fresh New Perspective on Riding
January 10, 2019
dressage, dressage lessons, riding, Tina Steward

A Fresh New Perspective on Riding

The new year brought a flurry of snow and several new beginnings: Pfifer, my wonderful new (lease) horse invited me to take a fresh look at my riding — learn to ride her correctly while breaking old, bad habits and building new skills. Every horse has something to teach. 

Early on, Claudia, Pfifer’s owner, videotaped one of my riding lessons with Natalie. The video made it painfully obvious that Micah (my previous ride) and I had created some bad habits together that I needed to address. Ow.Out of that developed my New Year’s riding goal: quiet those legs! 

When I shared my thoughts with Natalie, she cheerfully took my resolution to heart and we once again tackled the issue of my busy legs. Pfifer’s more correct responses to the aids offer me a perfect opportunity to work on my self. Indeed, she is good for me!

To increase my chances of success and put my New Year’s intentions to work, I signed up for a clinic with Tina Steward. Tina has a depth and breadth of experience that is quite remarkable. Better yet, she relays her experience and expertise in a direct manner, quickly honing in on horse/rider issues. I was excited to have her take an objective look at my issues, knowing she would do so in a kind manner. (It’s no small thing to invite an expert to pick apart your flaws!)

Tina watched me ride, analyzed my position, and used a slightly different approach to help me stretch and quiet my busy legs. While I’ve long tried to ‘lengthen the leg and lower the heel’, I was trying to force this to happen…which hasn’t been very effective. In fact, my issues start high in the leg and I need to relax the entire leg in order to lengthen and assume a more effective position.

With my feet out of the stirrups, Tina encouraged me to ‘drape the leg, just let it hang’. For a Type A personality like me (and a lot of dressage riders), just letting something happen is tough. I tend to want to MAKE things happen. However, when I let the legs relax and open at the hip, I got results! And, when my legs relaxed, my seat got softer, following the horse more fully — bonus!

Pfifer liked this as well! 

When I picked up my stirrups, I continued to focus on relaxing my legs, letting my thighs lose their death grip on the saddle. Tina also had me take my leg completely off of Pfifer’s side, occasionally — which increased my awareness of just how often I was nagging the poor horse.

“When your leg is on, it should mean something,” Tina said. Indeed, Tina wants us to ride and train as if we are preparing for the FEI level. We must be precise and our horses must learn to respond promptly.

While I still have plenty to work on, here’s a little video of our lesson. You can see what a beautiful girl Pfifer is and that she’s working hard to put up with me as I figure things out!

Today’s lesson was a combination of the right input (analysis, words, and visual images) at the right time. It was a coming together of just what I needed in the moment.

Had it been a little later in the day, I would’ve opened a bottle of champagne to celebrate. This is a big deal!

Today I am savoring the sense of breakthrough and reliving the muscle memory of what correct feels like. My new mantra is “soft legs, soft seat” and I’ll be starting each ride with my legs out of the stirrups to encourage the stretch.

I’m more than a little excited to see my new year off to such a productive start! If you have a riding goal for the year, make your intention known to your trainer as soon as possible. And, remember to be kind to yourself and your horse as you work toward that goal, good things take time.

And now for that glass of champagne! Cheers!

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Ride the Ears
July 2, 2019
Rodeo Dressage, First Level Test 1
May 4, 2019
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March 1, 2019
Barn Dogs, dressage, dressage barns

Barn Dog Gone Bad

Skittles, my 14 year old Standard Poodle, has been on a bit of a crime spree lately, targeting our barn. Like many a ‘good dog gone bad’ story, things started will small misdemeanors: dumpster diving for old pizza crusts and begging for apple-flavored treats from unsuspecting barn buddies. Unfortunately, this was only the beginning.

Skittles, looking deceptively innocent. Portrait by Sarah Davis Baker.

Skittles, looking deceptively innocent. Portrait by Sarah Davis Baker (http://www.sarahdavisbaker.com)


While Skittles normally likes little to do with all things toddler, she’s made an exception of Jessie’s two-year old son, Knox. In Skittles’ eyes, Knox is a walking/talking treat dispenser. His string cheese snacks are in constant danger.
Last week, while no one was looking, Skittles stole and ate Knox’s peanut butter and Nutella sandwich from the top of a tack trunk. “It’s my fault, I had it down pretty low where she could reach it,” Jessie said, taking the blame. The next morning Skittles threw up the sandwich, which seemed fair punishment for petty theft. Unfortunately, I was stuck with the clean up.
This week, I noticed Skittles skulking around the far end of the barn with a guilty look in her tail. I was suspicious but saw no immediate evidence of criminal behavior.
I took a closer look as I led Micah out to the pasture. “Why are things so messy?” I wondered. There were bits and scraps of paper lying about the barn aisle. Highly unusual.
Upon closer inspection, I found a folded check written out to clinician Tina Steward and a $100 bill. The check was damp and there were suspicious tooth marks in one corner. Hmmmmm. I noticed a small bag on the ground, which was most likely left by a rider who’d hauled in for the clinic. If the rider had brought a lunch, it was long gone.
I took the contraband into the arena, where Tina was just starting a lesson. I hated to interrupt, but explained the situation and turned over the goods.
“I thought I’d put that in my bag!” the rider said.
“You probably did,” I told her, explaining my dog’s habit of snacking between meals at the expense of barn inhabitants.
The money situation was righted, although I suspect the rider went hungry.
Most importantly, the cash and check didn’t get blown out of the barn aisle and across the county. Imagine the distrust and suspicion that could have arisen, undermining our peaceful barn life. That possibility made me sad.
Should my dog’s errant behavior escalate (perhaps into credit card theft), we’ll have to reconsider her barn privileges. She adores coming to the barn, warmly greeting her barn cat and her human and dog friends. It is truly her home away from home — as it is for so many of us.
Until we get things worked out with Skittles’ probation officer, please protect your valuables by storing them separately from your lunch — or keep them locked safely above poodle-nose-height. My canine mastermind works quickly and quietly, under the cover of extreme cuteness.

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