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
The Elegance of Elbows
November 28, 2016
Chocolate-Covered Canter Squares
October 18, 2016
First Snow at the Barn
November 30, 2015
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!

Related posts
Remembering to Ride the Outside of the Horse
December 1, 2016
Chocolate-Covered Canter Squares
October 18, 2016
First Snow at the Barn
November 30, 2015
canter, dressage, dressage for mere mortals, dressage humor, dressage lessons

Counter (Canter) Intuitive

I’ve been working on the counter-canter the last two months and I’m pleased to report we’re making progress. I’ve found this movement difficult, so the progress is especially rewarding.
I learned something very entertaining about myself in the process. When trying to execute the three-loop serpentine, the more difficult the movement became, the more I would try to “help” the horse by leaning forward. In fact, this is exactly the wrong thing to do.
If we were making a loop toward “B”, for example, the closer I rode to the letter, the more I would sit forward. It was as if a giant magnet imbedded in the letter was pulling me out of the saddle. In fact, as we approach this stress point, I need to be sitting more solidly in the saddle, encouraging my horse to move forward!

A giant magnet pulls me out of the saddle. I must resist!

A giant magnet pulls me out of the saddle. I must resist!


This image of the giant magnetic was useful to me, because it gave me something solid to focus on. Resist the pull of the magnet!
Once I began sitting back (and continuing to ride) things began to improve immediately. If there’s a mental image you can use to help counter (pun intended) your own demons, give it a try.
I’ve found this image to be very useful.
Cheers!

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October 18, 2016
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September 28, 2016
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canter, dressage, dressage lessons, dressage training, riding lessons, training

Chocolate-Covered Canter Squares

As delicious as they sound, chocolate-covered canter squares

As delicious as they sound, chocolate-covered canter squares


My new favorite exercise is the canter square. It’s not actually covered in chocolate but the name has a delicious ring to it.
Canter squares are hard work for both horse and rider. I love them because they are really making me ride the canter. No more wishful thinking! No leaning forward out of the saddle! No giving away the outside rein!
If done correctly, canter squares make the horse really use his hind end, so it’s a great strengthening exercise. Micah’s canter is improving by leaps and bounds. Plus, canter squares are so hard, it makes the counter canter seem less intimidating (to me). I think it’s good to always have at least one really hard exercise in your repertoire, so you can keep redefining your definition of difficult.
If you’ve never ridden a canter square, first master the exercise at the walk and then the trot. If you have an instructor to help you, even better. Instead of riding a circle, thinking of riding a square. Move your horse’s shoulders over to make a right-angle turn at each corner. This takes lots of outside rein and a bit of outside leg up toward the shoulder. Sit back to encourage your horse to use his haunches and lighten his front end. Be sure to give (but not throw away) the reins after the turn to reward your horse (and avoid hanging on his mouth).
Once you get the basic idea down, you can start to finesse it. I ask Micah to slow down for a stride just before the turn. This really makes him use his haunches.
Canter squares are hard work for your horse (like weight-lifting), so don’t overdo it. And, be sure to tell him he’s a good boy!
Good boy!

Good boy!

Related posts
Counter (Canter) Intuitive
November 6, 2016
Determined, yet Relaxed
September 28, 2016
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dressage, Full Body Clip, Grooming

Micah’s Fall Haircut

Much as I hated to do it, I gave Micah another trim last week. I’d just body-clipped him in August, prior to going to Adult Amateur camp. That clip was a necessity as temps were in the 90’s and Micah had put on a dense coat in response to a few unseasonably cold summer nights.

Partway through the clip, I make a change of plan. Much as I love the elegance of a full-body clip, I decide to keep hair under the saddle area and across the back.

Partway through the clip, I make a change of plan. Much as I love the elegance of a full-body clip, I decide to keep hair under the saddle area and across the back.


Less than two months later, Micah was again winter-ready and sweating heavily during our regular rides. I got out my clippers with every intention of doing another full body clip — and then reconsidered.
Much as I love the elegance of a full body clip, I hate worrying about whether or not my horse is properly clothed for the conditions. Here in Central Oregon temps can fluctuate wildly from night to day and even throughout the day. When I’ve had horses at home I could change blankets as needed, but I can’t expect a boarded horse to be fussed over as frequently. It’s just not feasible.
In winters past I’ve done trace clips to keep Micah cool yet provide warmth and protection where he needs it. But I have to admit he looks awfully rough around the edges with this cut, since his hair gets so long and dense.
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This year I decided on a compromise. I removed the hair from the neck and shoulder area, where Micah sweats, yet left hair under the saddle area and over the back — like a quarter sheet. I’m calling this the Quarter Clip. Next week I’ll post a picture of the finished cut.
Here’s hoping this cut works out for us. If not, I’ll sure I’ll have the chance to try again in another two months.
May your summer to fall transition find you happy and well!

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canter, dressage, Second Level, shallow loop canter

Determined, yet Relaxed

This month we’ve been revisiting the shallow loop at the canter, a move introduced in Second Level Test 1.

Happy campers. Micah & I return to work after an injury-imposed break.

Happy campers. Micah & I return to work after an injury-imposed break.


Micah and I had been working on this movement back in March, before he was injured, and it was our nemesis. The loop to the right wasn’t too bad but to the left it was a nail-biting, gritty affair.
Work to the left has always been harder for Micah and I, both of us being less coordinated and strong in this direction. Looking back, I’m certain that while the move was physically more challenging for Micah in this direction, I was making things harder than they should have been by tensing up. I was trying too hard.
Micah went from thinking the move was difficult to wondering what the heck was wrong with me throughout it. Instead of imparting a confident “You can do this” attitude, my tension was giving Micah the impression that something potentially life-threatening was occurring. No wonder he was resistant.
At the time we were preparing for our first Second Level outing at a local schooling show. I wanted to do good so badly — but sometimes wanting to do good pushes us too far down the Type A trail, making us push rather than ask, demand rather than suggest.
When Micah was injured in April, it threw my plans of a show season out the window. There was a time when I wasn’t sure Micah would ever be truly sound again. Second Level didn’t seem so important any more.
In the end, this break from work was good for both of us. We spent the better part of two months at the walk and trot, rebuilding Micah’s strength and flexibility. I worked hard to help balance him through corners and maintain a moderate pace while putting as little pressure on his back as possible. On cooler days, Micah just wanted to ‘go,’ so protecting him from himself was a challenge.
I picked a fine, warm day to reintroduce the canter — taking advantage of Micah’s aversion to working hard in warm weather. He seemed quite surprised to be asked to canter again after so much time away from it.
Starting with canter work on straight lines only, in short segments, we cautiously increased the work, moving from straight lines to big circles, until the day we were finally able to canter ‘round the entire arena. What a gift — to feel my horse moving strong and balanced beneath me!
Our return to Second Level work has been so slow and systematic, Micah and I were both better prepared to readdress the once-dreaded shallow loop at the canter. Micah returned to the work stronger and more balanced than before. And the time off gave me perspective: I’d been making much too big of a deal out of this movement. If it failed, I could try again. If Micah got tense, I could switch to something else and then return to it.
Simply approaching the work with a fresh start and a more relaxed attitude brought us better success almost immediately. Now I look back in wonder.
Lesson learned: determination is a fantastic thing — but shouldn’t involve the gnashing of teeth, especially when trying to teach a horse.

Related posts
Counter (Canter) Intuitive
November 6, 2016
Chocolate-Covered Canter Squares
October 18, 2016
When Life is Beyond Your Control
April 19, 2016