Dressage tends to appeal to the perfectionists and the academics, those riders dedicated to the small details and finer points. Once a rider starts to feel some of the pieces start to come together, an obsessive quest for more is undertaken and Pandora’s box is opened. There is no going back. Once you’ve connected a horse, you can never again be satisfied riding a wiggly, upside down, crooked horse. Once you’ve felt the beginnings of collection, you will forever be aware of each moment your mount is on the forehand. Once you’ve felt bend, a horse that leans and falls around turns is no longer acceptable. You’re on the path, and if you’re like many dressage riders, you’ll be fueled by a dedication and passion that will drive you through the many challenges and hard times you’ll face along your journey.
This winter I think has been exceptionally trying for all of us, but I find myself inspired by my students. They have done such a great job of saddling up whenever the weather permits, even through frigid cold and winter storms that keep most people inside the house. We’re going on almost 3 months of unbearable winter weather now, and as we creep closer to March, there is still no end in sight. But tonight in the barn, I saw dedication, passion, and excellence. I saw riders showing up and giving it their best, and by no small miracle, demonstrating progress despite winter’s best efforts to keep us off our horses.
This winter Donna has done a lot of work to improve her position and balance in the saddle, despite years of riding experience. She has taken her independent seat to a new level, no longer just going along with her horse in harmony, she is now able to use her seat to influence her horse in a whole new way. Boomer has responded really well to this, and is offering her better contact and throughness, and is displaying markedly improved gaits. It’s been really neat to see him transform, especially since he is not your typical dressage horse (tb/appaloosa cross) and is around 20 years old!
Another one that really stands out to me is the work Caitlin has done with Peaches. They are another long-time pair, and have been working with me for almost 4 years now. Peaches is a 14.2 hand quarter horse, built like a quarter horse… short and stocky, slightly downhill, with small pleasure horse gaits. She also has a very high opinion of herself, and is generally more content to mosey around than put in a lot of effort. Caitlin really had her work cut out for her, and has been doing all the training on Peaches herself with just 2 lessons a week for guidance. A few years ago, you never would have thought Peaches could be a good dressage horse, but lately they have been working to make their leg yields and lengthenings letter-perfect for the show ring, and schooling shoulder-in and walk-canter-walk transitions! It is so amazing to me to see what Caitlin’s been able to do with her horse, and how Peaches has transformed, becoming more beautiful in her gaits and conformation as her muscling and balance have improved.
Obviously riding is the best way to improve as a rider, but I’ve had a few riders going the extra mile and doing work off the horse as well, which is paying off in spades. Sarah is one of these super dedicated riders, and she’s recently added Pilates to her regular exercise routine. The benefits to her riding are nothing short of amazing. We have been working to develop her position and carriage for a while, but the improvement in her core strength has given her the boost she needed. Despite less time in the saddle the past few months, with her new strength all her hard work is finally paying off… her riding has gone to a whole new level. She is able to carry herself in a better balance, keeping her hands quiet and using her seat effectively, and she’s finding she has access to new “buttons” that she could never quite get to work before. It’s so fun to watch her excitement as she describes riding transitions and half halts with her new-found core muscles, and it’s amazing to watch her horse, Derby, transform before my eyes. She now has him forward and through, correctly connected from behind, cruising around happily reaching into her soft hands. I cannot wait to see what they will look like in a few months when she can use these new muscles in the saddle on a daily basis and develop the corresponding muscles in Derby, I bet they will be unrecognizable. If her results are any testament, Pilates is something every rider should look into, especially when the weather keeps us home and limits our riding time.
Of course there are more, but this would be a very long blog post if I listed everybody’s recent achievements. In future posts I can highlight other riders and horses, there is such a diverse group in the barn there is sure to be a pair to inspire every reader! Til then, keep riding, and try to keep a sense of humor about the weather. If you’re local, come ride with my group! I have space in my program for two or three more horses and riders, and a couple stalls will be available March 1. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org for details.