"And, when you want something, the entire Universe conspires in helping you to achieve it." -The Alchemist, by Paulo Coehlo

Tuesday, February 19, 2013


Tuesday Trails was cancelled today due to nasty horrible wet weather, which sucked because Tina and I were going to be joined by Heather and Nate, and Ana and Jazzy. Boooo rain!

Ana walked Jazzy and left, Heather played with Nate on the lunge and did groundwork with him, Tina rode Houdan, and I initially took Lily into the indoor for some groundwork.

Charles will tell you that I'm a worrywart. I'm always worrying about one thing or another. It's not always high-tension worrying, but there's usually something that I'm fretting about to some degree at the back of my mind, whether it's family, friends, finances, work, the cars or the animals. The problem I have with worrying about my pets, especially the horses, is that if there is something I think is off about them, I will automatically distance myself emotionally from them. It's a defense mechanism, but it is not fair to the pet.

So I realized yesterday that I had been doing that with Lily, that it had been awhile since I'd taken the time to really love on her and just spend time with her. I honestly didn't really feel like riding, so I groomed her, put her rope halter on, and took her into the indoor.

I'm not going to give details, but while watching another rider, I was reminded of why I personally dislike German-style dressage.

I mean, why on earth would you choose to do this:

This is considered "correct" dressage work. But note how the horse often goes/is pulled into hyperflexion and the switching of the tail. The rider pumps her upper body, and sometimes yanks on the reins. To me, there is nothing graceful or beautiful about this, yet it is what we see in the dressage competition arena today-what is considered German-style or "modern" dressage, and what the judges give awards to.

if you can do this:

This is Nuno Oliveira, one of the great classical dressage masters. Look at this horse-he is in a correct frame, with his poll at the highest point and completely relaxed while he does more and more complex movements (including a series of levades and cantering backwards!!!) This is what lightness in riding is all about. Look at Nuno-he barely moves while his horse becomes more and more collected, never losing impulsion. Oh, and the reins? There is slack, and they are held in only one hand. I really don't get it-in the light of the natural horsemanship and barefoot movements, and this era where it's supposed to be about the well-being of the horse, why does no one practice this method anymore?

I could go on and on about this, but the point is that I just don't understand the principle of German style dressage, and it is what turned me off about dressage competition. The rider in the arena today was a prime example of German style dressage.

I didn't get to do much groundwork-wise, because there was just too much going on, but Lily was UBER responsive with everything we did: lateral movements, walking, trotting, stopping and backing up when I did, disengaging hindquarters or shoulders if I only pointed a finger at the body part. It was very cool. But I couldn't get lost in what we were doing for fear of being run over by some horse or another.

I took her back out and tacked up.

After warming up at the walk while waiting for some of the other riders to finish, I asked Lily to move up into a trot. She wanted to move out more today, so I allowed her to, and after a series of baby leg yields, I asked her to go into a canter, left lead first. She picked up the right lead instead, I checked her to bring her to bring her back into a trot, and she seemed to become tangled up for a moment. I just knew it was me-she is the 3rd horse in a week that has trouble with the left lead. We walked, then trotted some more, then I asked her for the left lead canter again, making sure this time that my weight was shifted onto the inside seatbone, and my hip and shoulder were angled to the outside. She picked up the left lead without a problem. However, then I was having a terrible time keeping her going at the canter. I don't know if it's because of the 10-10-10 exercises we'd been doing prior, but she was practically spluttering into a trot before we finished a whole loop around the arena. We tried again in the opposite direction, and it was only slightly better. Our shoulder-ins and haunches-in were also somewhat of a struggle-instead of staying on the track, she was drifting into the center of the arena when asking for these movements, and she was having difficulty with anything to the left. We practiced trotting on a longer rein to stretch, then coming back up into a more collected frame. As the session progressed, she became worse and worse about staying by the rail, especially going to the left. I couldn't figure it out. I kept checking my weight to make sure it wasn't because I was sitting crooked, yet every time I fixed my seat, it made no difference. It actually almost made it worse. If we went down to a walk and tried to stay on the rail, Lily would start zig-zagging all over the place...she was relaxed while she was doing it, so it wasn't her being difficult, and when I argued with her, "No, I want you over here!", she tossed her head: "But you're telling me you want to be HERE!", so I let her be. I knew it had to be me, one way or another, I just couldn't put a finger on what I was doing wrong.

We finished with a single circle at the canter in each direction, then walked around the arena to cool down, and I took these pics:

In front of one of the arena mirrors. For whatever reason, she used to get worried about this mirror.

The other mirror in the opposite corner. She did NOT want to hold still here. You can  kind of see her turning her head to nudge my right foot, "Mom, this is BORING! Let's move!!"

She finally stopped wiggling.
When I dismounted, I got my answer. Today when I woke up, my left hip was literally being a pain (I have a ton of scar tissue there from having a horse flip over backwards on top of me and cracking it). When this happens, all of the muscles become tight and pull my entire back out of alignment. So I was having some mild pain halfway up my back on the left side. I knew what it was, and knew that movement makes it better, so I continued with my day. But when this happens, it tends to affect my riding imperceptibly, and today was no different. When my feet touched the ground after dismounting, a sharp shooting pain flew down my left hip all the way down to the back of my knee. I don't know wtf I was doing while riding, but it sure was the cause of Lily's case of sideways, and it had been enough to get my sciatic nerve worked up!

While untacking and grooming her, the pain subsided and eventually disappeared. I took Lily back into the now-empty indoor to pick up her poop (one of BQ's dogs will only go in the indoor, so she walks them there because of that, but all 3 dogs love to eat horse poo, so she asks everyone to please clean up after their horses.) I set Lily free, and she followed me around without a lead rope, perfectly happy to stay with me. She never once tried to wander off, so after I was done picking up the poop, I just stood with her, petting her and scratching her withers.

I tell you, thanks to her astounding sensitivity and the fact that I listen when she reacts to the little stupid things I do, this mare has taught me more about dressage and body mechanics than any other horse I have ever owned or ridden!

Thank you, Lily.


  1. One day when I'm done with school and skiing and the weather is cooperative I need to start working on all the exercises you gave me so my horse can move laterally with a shift of my weight... Onnneeee daayyyy. One day which should be here in about 2.5 weeks!

  2. Okay, so post-workout today I wanna be like Mr. Oliveira very much. And I very much agree with your comment about natural horsemanship/barefoot and why the hell aren't more people riding like Nuno now? Makes me think about Guy McLean and his horses/training. For his demos at Equine Affaire and other events he rides bareback/bridleless on nearly all of his stockhorses at some point. One of them he will get on and he has him collect up into a beautiful frame and, if my memory serves me, he even performed a piaffe! NO TACK. NOTHING. Beautiful and perfect. There is no need for the forceful manner with which so many ride. Hmmph.

  3. Funny-I was just looking at Guy McLean's videos the other day for the first time! I enjoyed them very much! If you like Guy McLean, you should totally check out Karl Hempfling. I LOVE his book "Dancing with Horses."