Road to Bronze, Sept 3, 2015

This past weekend I spent in Norwood, at the Lone Cone Dressage Club, for a 3-day clinic with my trainer, Deborah Hindi.  The Lone Cone club is one of the most supportive group of riders I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet.  They hold monthly clinics, spring through fall with shared potlucks and plenty of mutual encouragement on one’s riding goals and progress.  This club goes the extra mile to help each other out, including driving 20 miles out of one’s way to rescue a stranded driver, trailering up a mountain to pick up a participant and her horses when her truck broke down, and graciously inviting me into their homes for meals and a bedroom during the long weekend.


I arrived late on Saturday, so I missed many of the other rides.  Since I had sprained my ankle earlier in the week, I had Deb warm up Monarch and school him.  She worked the 1/2 steps getting him quicker in the hind end.  Then she worked canter.  He was hooking his outside hind from the canter depart, thus losing engagement.  She told me this behavior was something I had created.  I believe it started when we worked on the simple changes (home alone) after the horse show.  When she worked the transitions, he also dropped his shoulder coming heavy onto his forehand, losing all impulsion.  Because all transitions need to be forward, even the down transitions, Deb told me that it is more important to make the transition with an active hind end- even if Monarch makes trot steps in the simple change.  I mistakenly thought I needed to work on eliminating those trot steps.  Now I understand that those trot steps will disappear through strengthening and insisting that the half halt comes through.  In making both the up transition and the down transition, I mustn’t worry about those errant trot steps.  In the down transition, I must continue to half halt, (ignoring the trot steps and sitting quietly) until Monarch proceeds from canter to walk.  In the up transition, I must first activate his hind end, even if he is “dancey” behind.  The dancey steps will go away when he understands that I am asking for an engaged canter depart from the walk.

Since my ankle was feeling better, I rode Monarch too.  When I mounted, she directed me to ride him forward with his neck coming straight from his shoulders.  She had me switch from my small spurs to her longer ones.  This made him very electric to the aids.  I was careful to aid the canter not from the legs, but from the seat bones, so he didn’t hook the outside hind.  The depart was initiated by scooping my inside seat bone.  To sustain the canter, I planted my outside seat bone down and back, while continuing to scoop with my inside seat bone.  If I needed a bit more engagement, I briefly used my inside spur.


On Sunday, we focused on the trot work: shoulder-in, the bends moving in and out of the shoulder-in, and the medium trot across the diagonal.  Second Level test 1: movements #4 & #5 have coefficients of 2.

4. K-E          Shoulder-in right           Angle, bend and balance; engagement and quality of trot         2                           4.     E           Turn right                       Angle, bend and balance; engagement and quality of trot         2

5. B                Turn left                         Angle, bend and balance; engagement and quality of trot         2

5. B-M          Shoulder-in left           Angle, bend and balance; engagement and quality of trot         2

 Our focus was to make a beautifully balanced turn with engagement.  The arena was the standard small arena used for lower level tests.  Luckily, I will not be required to ride in such a small arena for my second level tests.  However, it evaluated my ability to influence and position my horse much more quickly than the standard arena. To make the turn quicker with balance and bend, I needed to switch my legs from shoulder-in: (inside leg at the girth/outside leg back) to straighten the horse, then quickly move my inside leg back/outside leg at the girth, as I pushed the haunch into the turn on the B to E line across X.  This seemed very counterintuitive to me to have my inside leg back during the turn, until I practiced the movement later that evening off my horse, thinking about it bio-mechanically.  (What is my inside leg doing?  Why is it working?)  I practiced several times to get the understanding inside my body to create a muscle memory.  I think the key to switching from shoulder-in to bending is those few strides of straightening between each movement.  I need to practice this a bit more off my horse, so I have the pattern in my mind, and I can ride the movement with feel.

The shoulder-in is coming quite well with nice angle and engagement.  All the work we did getting Monarch on the outside rein and through the half halt in the leg yield has resulted in a cadenced, correct shoulder-in.

Finally we worked on medium canter to improve my seat.  I have had trouble sitting his medium canter without leaning back, which decreases his engagement and quality.  I just wasn’t sure where my body needed to be to prevent bouncing in the big trot.  I knew I needed to engage my core, but I didn’t realize that I needed to take the same position that I use in a stomach crunch.  I was sitting too long and too upright, which put me away from my horse, instead of more deeply into the movement and closer to my horse.  Making that small change in my body position made the sitting trot quite easy to sit, though it still requires quite a lot of strength.  Sitting across the diagonal from M to K is like doing 20 stomach crunches in quick succession.  Practicing several mediums across the diagonal is a strenuous workout!   I realized that I needed to go back to my Pilates routine several times/week if I wanted to ride the bigger movements.


Back to work in the canter.  We worked on the 10 meter canter circle to the counter canter along the long side.  I could not hold him in an engaged 10 meter circle, so he repeatedly broke along the diagonal or in the counter canter.

14. A            Circle right 10m     Shape and size of circle; bend; quality of canter; balance

15. K-B        Change rein             Regularity, quality and balance of canter; straightness

15.  B-M     Counter canter          Regularity, quality and balance of canter; straightness

The issue was one of dominance.  Monarch is a lovely horse and very fun to ride, but he has always had his own ideas and timetable about the canter.  His first level canter has become very forward and fun to ride.  Now in second level he needs to collect and engage through the difficult (small) 10 meter circle, then proceed into a counter canter.  Whenever Monarch feels the canter work is too hard, his go-to response is to buck.  This used to work well for him, because when I had my back injury, I never wanted him to buck for fear he would either hurt me from being bucked off, or he would tweak something if I stayed on and rode out the bucks.  I’ve been sitting the bucks for the past few years gaining strength and balance through Deb’s instruction, but he still responds with a buck as his first line of resistance.  To keep him active behind, Deb demanded I use my whip.  I tapped him repeatedly to get his hind end moving and engaged, which resulted in several bucks.  When that didn’t get the expected response, (that I would lessen the pressure to stay engaged through the complete circle), he decided he would simply break from K-B.  In the beginning, this was a good strategy for him, as I was quite tired from keeping him engaged through the 10 meter circle.  When he began to break out of the circle, Deb upped the ante, insisting that he become even more engaged until we could complete the full movement in both directions.  This movement still needs more work, convincing Monarch that he needs to stay honest and engaged through the whole movement.  I’m sure it will come, and Deb returns to Montrose this weekend, so we will get more guided practice very soon.

Needless to say the intensity of the work on Monday exhausted me.  Rather than relenting, Deb had me return to our medium trot work from the day before.  I was glad she did.  The medium had become much easier to sit on Monday and used a different set of muscles.  It showed me how hard we could work and still be successful.  The work at the canter really revved Monarch’s motor.  I was told from the auditors that the medium was beautiful to watch- simply poetry.  I knew it felt very good; the more a horse uses his back, the easier it is for the rider to sit.

I’m looking forward to this weekend.  I will practice what we covered in the Norwood clinic and begin to study the movements in the second level tests more closely.

Road to Bronze Sept 2, 2015

Day 2 of the show brought 2 more qualifying scores and a big boost to my confidence.  As a novice show rider, I learned a big lesson: always pick up the day sheets or have them downloaded to your phone.  I didn’t do this, and did not realize my rides had been moved up 10 minutes.  Needless to say, I entered the show arena with mere seconds to spare.  I was so flustered, I made some big mistakes.  Monarch on the other hand was brilliant and very forward.  Even with my mistakes, our score was good enough to place first.  I think if I had been more focused, we might have been able to score in the 70’s.  The second ride of the day brought another 2nd place finish.  I was qualified to move up to second level.


Though I’m disappointed in my mistakes, I’m grateful to my horse and must let go of any regrets.  With second level looming, I need to look ahead to those requirements of increased engagement and collection.  The Grand Junction show has been cancelled this weekend because of increased cases of VS- vesicular stomatitis.  This gives us more time to train, so our second level debut will be even better.

Road to Bronze, July 25th; My First Dressage Show

Autumn Hill Dressage Festival III Saturday  July 25, 2015 CSU Equine Center   Fort Collins, Colorado   My first show was well managed with a friendly, helpful staff.   The facilities at the CSU Equine Center were really nice, except the wash stalls weren’t working.  We had to bathe outside in a gravel parking lot.  The show arena had 2 rings and with two S judges, which gave me the opportunity to earn both my qualifying scores at First Level. 5:15 AM  After a fitful sleep, the alarm went off way too early.  I dressed and headed to the barn.  I was pleased to discover that Monarch was still pristine with a braided mane intact.  After feeding the horses and graining Monarch, I removed his fly sheet, brushed his coat, unbraided and brushed  his tail.  I was way ahead of schedule, and made a mental note to set my alarm for an hour later the next morning.  I returned to the camper to try to eat something, drink water, and dress for the show.  It felt good to don my new show clothes.  They gave me confidence. 8:00 AM  With the two of us in our show attire, we headed for the warm up arena.  Our test time was scheduled for 8:42 AM.  After a loosening walk, Deb instructed me to pick up the trot and get Monarch forward.  As expected, the warm up arena was crowded.  As I put Monarch into a forward trot, I learned to navigate among all the riders, horses, trainers coaching from the sidelines, and show nerves of various horses and riders.  Deb told me we would not do any specific movements, instead we would focus on developing the qualities of  dressage- forward, on the bit, obedient.  We worked the trot, doing transitions within the gait, as well as walk/trot.  Then we worked the canter, transitioning from working and lengthening the canter.  Monarch was amazing.  As a Lipizzan, he was bred for exhibitions.  Very quickly he became forward, prompt, and through.  He was enjoying himself.  With such a good warm up, Deb asked me to do a few leg yields, which were continuing to improve. At 8:35 I dismounted, put on my dressage coat, and headed for the show arena amidst well wishes and admiration for my beautiful horse.  My attention was so occupied keeping track of all the details needed to show,  it enabled me to keep my nerves in check.   The whistle blew, and there I was entering at “A working trot, X halt salute.  Proceed working trot.  C track left.”  Monarch felt good, I felt confident.  Then after the lengthen trot across the diagonal, as we made the walk transition at A, I heard the bell ring.  My brain went into rapid chatter: “wait, wait- I can’t be off course.  Why did the bell ring?  What should I do?  Should I approach the judge?”   Well my indecision put Monarch off the bit and he lost impulsion.  I looked up at Deb, and she seemed still focused on the test, so I proceeded.  When I did not get another ring from the judge, I simply continued with the test.  Before I knew it, we made the half circle at E, down centerline to G, halt, salute.

X halt salute

X halt salute

Leaving the arena, I was so grateful to have such a willing, lovely horse.  I didn’t think we had made any huge mistakes, except the bell at A.  I was soon to learn that in a 2 ring show, one judge uses a whistle and the other uses a bell.  I had heard the bell for the rider in ring 1 to enter.  We hadn’t gone off course, but if I had stopped riding to approach the judge, we would have.  Upon receiving my scores, I also learned that I had earned my first qualifying ride at First Level.  It’s a good thing I didn’t stop riding at A!  Including my coeffient scores, (which count double), I received 10 scores at 60%, 14 scores at 65%, and 2 scores at 70%, giving me 172 points for a final score of 63.704%.  My biggest errors were pilot errors, based on my inexperience in a regulation arena and my first first.  When I thought I was off course, the judge’s comment was “more forward in walk.”  I needed to better gauge the size of my circles, (though I erred on the side of small which helped me maintain a respectable score), aiming point to point in my diagonals, and overshooting the halt at X.  Monarch’s stretch in the trot circle and the free walk were deemed unsteady.  I was happy he did not jig!  Both 60%, barely passing.  The high point of this test was a 70% for the trot lengthen across the diagonal and a 70% in the collective marks for Gaits.  The rest of my collective marks were also respectable with 65% for all marks except Impulsion, which earned a 60%.  This was a big improvement for Monarch, as he is a laid-back horse.  We have worked very hard on creating a forward horse.

trot lengthening across diagonal

trot lengthening across diagonal

trot circle looking ahead for geometry

trot circle looking ahead for geometry

work in the trot             My second test came up shortly after the first, so I didn’t have time to study the judges remarks.  I also found the scribe’s handwriting very difficult to decipher.  Knowing that I had already qualified allowed me to relax a bit for my second test.  I couldn’t relax completely, as I knew we still had to  show an improved leg yield, particularly to the right.  With all the excitement of my first day showing, the second test was very much a blur.  Reading the judges comments from my second test, I see that I made many mistakes.  I was certainly keyed up and also tired from training so hard, then getting up very early on very little sleep.  The neither trot lengthening was brilliant, as we had trained (55%); wrong lead-left- at F, resulting in a 30%;  though we quickly corrected the lead, it set us up for a too-large (>15 meter) canter circle on the forehand (55%), and because I was fatigued my Rider Aid score also dropped to 55%.  On the positive side, we scored a 70% for the 15 meter half circle right, the leg yield left (wow!), the medium walk, and his Gaits collective mark also stayed at 70%.  The 70% scores and the coeffients scores, (all at 60% & 65%) were enough to  counter the low scores, resulting in 60.938% overall score.   Though my goal was not to compete, I was pleasantly surprised to receive 2 ribbons, a 2nd and 3rd place.  My daughter pointed out the rankings to me, as she is competitive.  “Mom, look at how many points you beat those other riders.”  In a sport that measures in fractions, the closest rider was 5 points below me.  The rest were even lower. Studying my test remarks that night, my task the next day was to get control over my weak left leg.  The judge commented that my heel was always up, and I used the spur too much.  (Repeated injuries and surgeries have made this my number one challenge in riding.  Besides my left heel coming up, the left leg tends to slip back, and then I tend to sit heavy on the left seat bone, even in movements to the right.  All this creates communication and balance issues for my horse, resulting in mistakes such as the wrong lead in movement 15, (working canter right lead- he picked up his left, and probably because my left seat bone was too heavy) and the loss of impulsion and contact in the right leg yield.) Other areas for improvement included the need to continue building energy and connection for the lengthenings in both trot and canter, the need to plan ahead for whip changes, the need to better visualize circles and half circles for correct geometry, and the need to turn sooner from the corner, making our path on centerline more accurate.  With sound feedback for focus, two qualifying scores, an extra hour of sleep, and even two confidence-building ribbons, I was ready for the next day’s test.

Road to the Bronze: July 8-24

On July 8th, we loaded Monarch to spend the next week and a half with Deborah Hindi, my talented, generous trainer.  I would be traveling for the next 12 days, so Deb agreed to work with Monarch to keep him fit and ready for our first show while I was away.  The show would be held at Colorado State University Equine Center July 25 and 26.  I would only have 5 days after returning to Colorado to work with Deb to polish my skills and learn how to ride for a show.  (Deb told me several times during that week, “First you learn to ride your horse; then you learn how to ride your horse to show.” )  This made me nervous since we were short on time, though I planned to use the Digital Horse to learn my tests and mentally ride them with the animation feature.  As it turned out, during the time I was away, I was unable to get internet, as our lodgings in the rural Shenandoah Valley had a very poor connection.  Unable to watch the animated tests, I was glad that I had downloaded the PDF tests with diagrams, so I could “ride” the tests in my mind and on a rectangle of carpet in my condo. On Monday, July 20th I met Monarch and Deb at a clinic in Montrose.  I arrived early to watch the other riders.  As my ride time approached, I tacked up and we entered the arena to loosen up on a long rein.  My back was very tight from all the traveling and poor mattresses.  I’ve learned that by following the horse’s rhythm and motion during walk on a long rein, the gentle undulations will loosen a rider’s tight back.  Just as our lesson was to begin, the weather turned ominous with black skies and continuous rumblings.  There was electricity in the air, and I felt Monarch grow tense.  Mary Pat’s husband called to warn us to take cover.  He was about 15 minutes away, and the storm was so bad, he had to stop driving and pull his car to the shoulder.   We reached a covered stall in the nick of time, with the wind roaring and the skies dumping.  With a break in the weather, we headed to the large covered round pen for our lesson.  On a large 30 meter circle, Deb focused on me- my position and my aids, first at trot and then at canter.  My aids were too strong, particularly in the canter.  I had to release and relax my leg to get it off my horse.  This resulted in an improved position, and the spur on only when asking for engagement.  By the end of the session, Monarch was nicely forward and relaxed, stepping through with a long neck. After the clinic, I followed Deb back to Gunnison where we would work for the next three days in preparation for my debut on the dressage show scene.  I was apprehensive; it didn’t seem like enough time.  How could we pull it all together?  Deb’s family warmly welcomed me into their home.  Her husband Beau is a world class cook.  Each long day included strenuous work, a hot shower, and fabulous dinners.  I fell gratefully asleep in anticipation of what the next day’s training would bring. Tuesday, July 21st was an intensive day of training.  We began by getting Monarch forward and through in the warm up.  Deb insisted that we needed to get right to work.  Gone were the days of leisurely walking on a loose rein for 15 minutes before the work would begin.  We began our work at walk, during the warm up, in the “sashay”on a long rein, (not loose).  The rider engages her core and “sashays” her seat in rhythm with the horse’s walk, she supples and releases the horse’s back.  After about 5 minutes of walk on a long rein, we began our trot work- still on a long rein.  I was learning how to ride Monarch with contact on a long rein to get him forward and tracking up.  This have been one of his greatest needs.  As I built his energy, he came more on the bit and through his back. At this point, it was time to learn the tests.  We began with First Level, test 2.  I rode the full test pattern several times at the trot to learn the geometry, (as I don’t have a regulation arena at home), to review the patterns, and to supple and connect Monarch.    I had to keep many tasks clear in this work, particularly navigating while focusing on improving my horse.  I later learned how important this exercise was, as it taught me how to focus on the task at hand when in a crowded, chaotic warm-up arena during a show.  While I was building Monarch’s fire and desire to go forward and through, Deb was building my increased stamina and the mental fire I would need to succeed in the show ring. During our first real run-through of the actual test 1-2, our holes were discovered and addressed.  I needed to better lengthen Monarch’s neck and lower his head for the trot and canter lengthenings to show brilliance.  I needed to encourage a bigger stride and longer neck in the free walk and stretchy-chewy trot circle while maintaining contact on a long rein.  This can be particularly tricky in the free walk, because Monarch has a tendency to jig when asked to take longer steps.  His walk has greatly improved over the past 2 years, but still needed more scope. Our biggest hole was leg yield, particularly to the right.  We spent the final time working to get him to remain parallel to the long side, while moving laterally in his bigger stride.  Though we drilled it many times, Monarch was not accepting contact on his outside (right) rein.  To compensate, I was making the classic mistake of holding him with an opening inside rein. When I let go of the inside rein, he ran through my outside rein.  I had no half halt, so I could not straighten him.  Without the outside rein, my inside leg was also ineffective, so instead of moving laterally, he just speeded up and moved diagonally toward M.  Deb was relentless in the pursuit of correcting my aids and our communication.  It was only after the movement had improved, that she allowed us to rest and end on a positive note.  She told me that Monarch can do this, as he had for her the previous week when she was riding him.  She insisted that I needed to find my right seat bone.  This was especially evident when our leg yield to the left was noticeably better than our leg yield to the right.  I needed time to process what my body was doing to confuse my horse and what I needed to do to clarify what I wanted. After our lesson, I thought about everything Deb had said, reviewing her feedback with what I was doing.  I practiced riding leg yield zigzags on the ground without my horse.  It was then that I realized I stay in my left seat bone whether I am leg yielding left or right.  -LIGHT BULB-  Now I could practice the outside half halt, shift my weight to the outside seat bone, put my inside leg on the horse, and yield over.  I practiced this all the way up the road from the arena to the house, mentally rehearsing what I would do with my horse the following day.  I was also doing some remedial re-patterning of muscle memory. Wednesday, July 22  More work on the leg yield.  It was becoming more honest, as I began to find and use my right seat bone.  I also needed to be clearer with my right half halt to put him in connection with the outside rein.  We had to slow the movement way down for Monarch and I to process the correct aids and to break our bad habits.  This did not please Deb, as the slower rhythm shortened his stride, and he was no longer tracking up.  However, it did help me learn a new movement pattern and develop some muscle memory.  Deb told me that when we are under pressure, we grab any muscle memory that happens to come into our brains without processing what we are doing.  To ensure that we are grabbing the correct memory, we want to deposit far more correct patterns into our brains, as opposed to incorrect patterns.  This is why it is so important to never practice a movement incorrectly, as we are patterning the wrong muscle memory for both ourselves and our horses.  The big lesson for me was to be very disciplined and correct when training, (and of course every moment with your horse is training.)  When I feel that the movement has become labored and out of balance, I should not continue to practice.  I should leave it alone until I can get guidance and direction to avoid creating ingrained bad habits.  Only when I am correct, can I correctly train my horse. Thursday, July 23  Our last training day- we still had not practiced First Level test 1 as Deb could not find a copy of this test in her barn.  Luckily, I had this test well memorized from the Digital Horse print outs.  We rode the test well, our lengthenings were balanced and rhythmic, the stretchy-chewy circle was well ridden, and Monarch’s free walk was showing scope.  One last day to practice the leg yield.  With a better feel for my right seat bone and a better connection in my right hand, the leg yield out of center line to M was certainly passable.  Time to give Monarch some rest, clean my tack, and pack for the “big show.” Friday, July 24  Up at 5 am, we loaded 4 horses, tack, and sundries into Deb’s trailer and hit the road.  We had a caravan with Team Hindi in the big rig and with me following in my truck with pop-up camper.  We arrived in Ft Collins around 12:30, checked in with the show office, found our stalls, and began the process of moving in for the next 3 days.  With the horses settled and everything unpacked, it was time for our final rehearsal.  Schooling was allowed in the main arena.  Since it was relatively early, the arena was uncrowded, and we had the time and space to work out the kinks.  Monarch found the spooky spots, and Deb told me to put him right to work.  “Give him something else to think about,” was her advice. This worked well.  In the electric environment of a show arena, it wasn’t long before he came on the bit, tracked up, and connected with me.  We practiced a few lengthenings, brushed up on the geometry of 15 meter circles at P and V in canter, practiced a few leg yields, and finished with a stretchy-chewy trot circle. Marissa, my daughter who lives in Ft Collins came to give me moral support and to help me bathe Monarch.  It takes some time and elbow grease to get a grey horse sparkling, and with the help of the “purple” shampoo, he began to transform.  Monarch has a huge, thick tail and mane.  It was especially hard to get the inner parts clean.  Repeated shampooing, conditioning, and brushing did the trick.  When we were done, his tail was huge.  It blossomed like a floribunda rose!  We decided to take the risk and French braid his mane that night, with the thought that even if it came loose, it would be easier to re-braid than starting from scratch in the morning.  We also braided his tail, just to keep the shavings and manure out of it, knowing that when I brushed out his tail braid in the morning, it would add more body for the show.  I admired his glowing silver coat before putting on a clean sheet and tucking him in for the night.  I spread an extra bag of shavings to help him stay pristine.  Before leaving the barn, I touched up my tack.  It was as spotless as my horse!

Monarch shows off his French braid to admirers.

Monarch shows off his French braid to admirers.

Marissa took me to the grocery store to stock up for the weekend before dropping me at my camper.  I “popped up,” got settled, then began preparing for the next day.  I unpacked my show clothes, Monarch’s show blankets, and the pdf diagrams of the tests for a last review.  I meticulously drew up a timeline of what I needed to do and where I needed to be from the moment I woke up until I rode my last test.  I was ready, I was tired, it was late, but sleep would not come.  Though I worked hard to stay calm and not give in to nerves, I was experiencing some pre-show anxiety, anticipation, and excitement.  I planned to get up at 5:15 am to be ready for an early test.  I had my ducks in a row, and it was time to show the judges where we were on the continuum of training.  I reminded myself that I was not competing.  It didn’t matter whether I won a ribbon or even placed last.  What mattered is that the judges deemed our tests to be worthy of 60% for qualifying scores at First Level.

Road to Bronze: July 6, 2015

This past weekend was so much fun.

FRIDAY NIGHT: 7/3/15    Monarch & I had company- our dear friends, Renee and Sonny, (15 yr old Morgan gelding) came over to play.  As we were tacking, it began to sprinkle- a welcome relief from the heat we’d been experiencing.  Ten minutes later, ominous rumblings changed to outright danger, as the sky was split by a close lightning strike.  We dismounted and waited it out in the barn.  Twenty minutes later we were back in the saddle.  After our warm up, we began to play with tandem movements.  Before we knew it, we had designed a pas de deux.  The coup de resistance was concentric circles going in opposite directions..  The inside horse had to collect while to outside horse needed to lengthen, so as we passed our 1/4 circle markers at noon, 3:00, 6:00, and 9:00, we were passing at the exact moment.  The horses became very adjustable and sensitive, as we alternated between the inner and outer circles.

SATURDAY:  7/4/15  Renee returned, and it felt like a shopping trip.  Renee is saddle shopping, so we tried on each of her trial saddles, as well as my Neidersuss.  Riding three saddles in the course of 90 minutes gave me insight into how design and fit influence both my balance/position and my horse’s balance, comfort, and freedom.   Renee’s Albion was my top choice for both my horse’s freedom of gaits and my balance, with my Neidersuss coming in a close second.  Of course our geldings acted like typical males being dragged along for a girlfriends’ shopping trip.  They gave us “the look,” as if to ask, “Aren’t we done yet?”  If they could, they would have said, “we’ll meet you later; we’re going for a beer….”

SUNDAY: 7/5/15  I’ve been experiencing health problems, but knew I needed to get out and train- no matter what.  My family leaves for a reunion on July 8th, so I need to maximize the time I have before I leave.  On Sunday, I learned my two first level tests that I will ride for my bronze scores.  I am using The Digital Horse, to learn my tests.  I watched the animations to learn the geometry and printed the test movement diagrams to learn each actual test.  On Sunday, I brought the diagrams to the arena, and tacked them to the wall, (near V.)  Reading the diagrams, walking the patterns, and mentally rehearsing each half halt, each deep bend, and each engagement step gave us the edge for learning the patterns.  The Digital Horse PDF patterns not only show each movements, but also code the coefficient movements, as well as the transitions and where to perform the half halts.  Unfortunately, I felt too ill on Sunday to actually ride the tests in the actual gaits.

training Sept 2014

training Sept 2014

DATE:  July 6, 2015  Monday
GOAL:  ride both my tests, (First Level Test 1 & 2) for my initial scores.
METHODS:  Without looking at the diagrams, ride the test patterns at the walk stating aloud where each half halt, each engagement aid, each bend, each transition, each coefficient comes in the test.  Use this memorization as the beginning of the warm up.  Finish the warm up with suppling and counter suppling at the walk, then rhythm and engagement at the trot and canter.

Ride the tests.  Find and school the holes.  Last week, Monarch was breaking at the canter after the 15 meter circles and across the diagonal before the transition at X on the left lead.

REFLECTION:  All the training last week and the play this weekend has created a forward and balanced horse.  Monarch never broke.  He is a bit counter flexed in the 15 meter left canter circle, which is remedied through a suppling rein and an engaging inside leg.  Practicing the movements in the warm up at the walk and mentally rehearsing the half halts, bends, and transitions sharpened my mind for being a supportive partner for my horse. 
NEXT STEPS:  School the 15 meter circles with inside bend and flexion.  Strive to improve the geometry.  (As with many adult amateurs, I don’t have a regulation arena.  Tomorrow, I can make measurements with a string radius and mark my sand for 15 meter circles, so I can check the size and bend of the canter circles I am riding.)

The Road to Bronze

author note: I’ve been really busy establishing myself as an equine artist, doing 14 shows in 2014, 2 big exhibitions in 2015, as well as a number of workshops.  As a result of all the exhibitions and workshops, my work can now be found in 4 galleries, as well as online.  To learn more visit:

my talented horse, Monarch

my talented horse, Monarch

Concurrent with the intensive art schedule and goals, I have been riding my horse, Monarch and training seriously with Deborah Hindi of Gunnison, CO for the past 2 years.  Deb has shown me the path to discovering all the hidden talent bred into my horse.  He has made “great strides” in his training, and both of us have had “great leaps” of understanding.  (It’s one thing to quote dressage theory from a book, but to put theory into practice takes understanding, which is greatly facilitated by a sensitive trainer who understands both the rider and the horse.)  Until I began working with Deb, bringing theory to “feel” has been fleeting at best, often times elusive.  With Deborah, I am able to reproduce the good “feels” and put those “feels” into regular & consistent training at home with my horse.   My training with Deborah allows me to integrate what I’ve learned from my extensive dressage study with the feel & timing I learn from our training sessions.  Now training on my own has become effective, and when I train with Deb, we are able to move to the next step.

This spring the USDF published an article encouraging members to pursue their bronze medals.   As I read the article I realized that this is an achievable goal for me.  In the two years we’ve worked with Deborah, Monarch and I have gone from mediocre first level movements to schooling second and third level movements with precision.  Along with my deepened understanding of dressage has come an awakened sense of confidence.  No longer does the mere thought of a horse show reduce me to a dysfunctional set of nerves.  Additionally, the goal of earning a bronze medal is more like achieving a rating and not competing.  I am not a competitive person, so doing something for us, (Monarch, Deb, and I) works for my personality.

Since May, I have been training daily with this goal of earning my bronze “rating” in mind.  Over the course of almost two months, I have gotten physically fit and learned that I can overcome physical limitations of age and injuries.  My atrophied left leg, (a physical disability for the past 40-plus years) is becoming far more obedient- through strengthening, suppling, and balance.  It is about 75% of my right leg at this point in time.  The tear to my illiacus and psoas muscles from this winter is slowly healing, and though I am still sore when I get off my horse at the end of my ride, the searing pain from torn muscles is gone.  I am able to perform cross-training exercises like planks and crunches now.  I have also built up my stamina, from forced physical inactivity this past winter when I was healing from the deep ab tears to presently training 60 minutes each day.

As stated above, I have been really busy with my art career and my training.  Still, I want to take the time to share what I am learning through this “road to the bronze” with other riders who train in the “dressage desert” without a daily instructor.  As dressage is for all horses, regardless of what tack you use or what discipline you pursue, my hope is that readers will share their insights in the comments, as well as share this blog with other riders.

Earning the bronze medal requires a rider to earn 6 qualifying scores from six different judges- 2 qualifying scores at each level: (first – third).  This translates to showing at six USDF/USEF recognized shows, along with submitting all the requisite forms and memberships.   (To learn more about the USDF rider medal program, read the excellent blog post by Horse & a Half:

Today is about two months into our training for my first show (ever!)  The show will take place in Ft Collins, CO at the CSU Equine Center, Autumn Hill Dressage Festival III.  Luckily the following day a second show with a different judge will happen at the same facility, Autumn Hill Dressage Festival IV.  I have 2 opportunities to earn one qualifying score each day.  This month I have set about studying tests and choosing the two tests I will ride at these two shows.  At First Level, test 1&2 have nice rhythm and flow. Test 3 is rather contrived, without flow.  To maximize our showing opportunities- especially since I have never shown and am bound to make some rider errors, I have chosen to ride tests 1&2 at First Level.

The only movement with holes at this level is the 15 meter canter circle on the left lead.  Monarch wants to break after the circle at V & P,  in working canter left lead (test 1 &2 respectively.)  My goal this week has been to improve the 15 meter canter circle.

On Saturday, I devised a series of exercises on the long side.  At each letter, I asked for the 15 meter circle.  To teach him the exercise, we began the exercise in sitting trot.  Before each marker, I prepared Monarch with a 1/2 halt or 2, then used flexion and bend to turn on the circle.  Coming out of the circle, I used a strong inside leg at the girth to engage his inside hind to let him know that he needed to continue with impulsion down the long side.  I repeated my aids for each marker, on the long side: F P B R M – H S E V K.  We rode this exercise in both directions before adding the canter.  I used the diagonal to keep his engine revved, by riding the change of rein through the diagonal in medium trot.

In part 2 of this exercise, I rode the first letter- F in sitting trot.  After the circle, riding toward P, I revved his engine again with my inside leg at the girth and a rhythmic 1/2 halt with my outside rein before cuing the canter at P.  Coming out of the canter at P, I again engaged his motor with my inside leg to remind him not to break to trot.  Approaching B, I rebalanced with a 1/2 halt to transition to trot and circle left at B.  Then canter and 15 meter circle at R, with final circle in trot at M.  This rode quite well, so up the long side I rode canter with 15 meter circles at H S E V K, past A in canter; F to X change rein through trot X to H.  I repeated the exercise on the right rein with 15 meter trot circles at M B F and  15 meter canter circles at R & P.  Up the long side we rode canter circles at each letter: K V E S H.  Again to encourage him not to break after the final canter circle, we rode past C to M.  At M, I asked for working trot.  At R, we did a 20 meter circle on a long rein to stretch the neck and frame.

The next couple of days, I worked on laterals and reviewed his basics- rhythm, suppleness, and contact in working gaits.  Yesterday I revisited the 15 meter canter circles.  Again he broke to trot as he came out of the circle.  It was a bit later in the morning, and already the sun was getting strong, so I understood that he was hot and tired.  I know that horse shows last all day, and weather is never an excuse.  Instead of drilling him to death, I made it my goal to continue working through this particular hole in his training in the days to come.

Today my training journal looked like this:

DATE: 6/30/15

GOAL:  school 10 M collected canter circles through the walk

OUTCOMES:  I came out to the arena feeling rather ill, wondering how well I could train today.  Knowing a lot can be accomplished in work at the walk, I began my normal warm with suppling at the walk, then moving to work in the walk on the circle: shoulder in to counter shoulder-in, then travers to renvers in both directions.  This got him both supple and very engaged.  His motor was revved, so we proceeded work in trot on long lines- leg yield first then shoulder-in along the long side, change of rein through the diagonal with trot lengthening.  Then shoulder-in to travers and shoulder-in to renvers. Monarch was working quite well with focus and effort.  As I paused to reward him with a sugar cube, I let go of the reins and began to unzip the sugar pouch.  At that very moment, the tractor working the adjacent field began to turn around just behind the brush at A where we were standing.  With a clang and thump of machinery, the tractor startled my horse.  I could feel him gather himself under me to bolt.  Instinctively I knew if I left him alone, I could ride out the spook down center line while I gathered the reins.  Monarch felt no rein contact, so instead of continuing to bolt, he put his head down and bucked.  Since I had been so connected to him for the past 30 minutes of training, I just followed the motion without becoming unbalanced.  After the buck, he settled.  I could feel that his engine was really revved at this point, so I decided this would be an opportune time to train the 10 meter circles in collected canter.  After all the excitement with the tractor, my engine was revved too, and my nausea had disappeared.  (Endorphins are great substances.)  After practicing a few small collected canter circles at A where he had spooked, I was able to finally give him the sugar cube I had intended to reward the lateral work.

After his reward, we rode down the long side in collected canter.  We were able to maintain the collected canter and make the 10 meter circles at F B M.  Across the diagonal in a nice extended trot, then collection, 10 meter circles to the right.  A good place to end today’s session with a relaxed circle in the stretchy-chewy trot circle, lots of sugar and praise, and a plan for continuing this training.

REFLECTION:  Lateral work engages my lazy horse and revs his motor.  Doing lateral work in the walk before asking for rhythmic trot is a better option for the warm up than pushing him into a tense trot in the opening phases of our work.  The warm up flows into the schooling with the lateral work at walk to engaged, relaxed trot work.  I can then use lateral work in trot to prepare him for canter work.

“Hot Shoe” (part 3, final painting)

Cheri Isgreen:

Thought you would enjoy reading about the process. Remember, “No hoof, no horse.” See for the whole story of painting this work.

Originally posted on Cheri Isgreen Fine Art:

The finished painting: “Hot Shoe.”

I originally thought the title  would be, “For a Good Time, Call Ed.” This is a reference to common graffiti found on a public bathroom wall.  For equestrians, the title is a double entendre meaning “no hoof, no horse.”  Ed is a master farrier.  I rely on him to not only keep my horse sound, but to maximize my horse’s movement.  He helps me to understand the structure of the foot, how the approach he will use translates to my horse’s comfort and way of travel, and how to solve the occasional problem that arises in the pasture or in training.  A farrier can make all the difference between an enjoyable ride and a disaster.  In fact, I found Ed as a result of a disaster from a previous “hoof expert.”)

"Hot Shoe"  copyright C Isgreen 2015 “Hot Shoe” copyright C Isgreen 2015

It is interesting the comments I received while this painting was a…

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