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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New Research Cautions Against Sheath Cleaning

Have you ever wondered why we clean sheaths when horses in the wild seem quite healthy without this intrusion?  It turns out that smegma has antimicrobial properties.  As usual, the natural way is the best way, the way horses have evolved .  Read the research here:

A New Year Message from Pom ….

Cheri Isgreen:

Thank you, thank you, thank you Pom for your wise words. Happy New Year. I have applied for a scholarship to study on a more regular basis with my very gifted trainer this summer. I’ll start making more posts in the coming year, especially if I receive the grant. In the meantime, I will share your heartwarming post.

About cavaliereattitude

Englishwoman, transplanted to SW France in ’86, blogging – with a large dose of humour and self-deprecation – about life with my husband and our horses, the never-ending renovation of an ancient and crumbly stone farmhouse and the attempt to carve a beautiful garden and productive pasture out of a woodland wilderness………

Originally posted on Cavalière Attitude:


It’s a little known fact that we horses are great believers in New Year Resolutions.  Or at least Reflections.

Let’s face it.  We can realistically expect to celebrate far fewer New Years than you, our human counterparts.

So instead of going out partying or going to bed early pretending you don’t care, if you humans were to peek into the barn or the field shelter around midnight, you might find your horse and his or her companions mulling over the year past and thinking about what to make of the year ahead.

In smarter establishments than mine, elite athletes may be bragging about the cups they bagged in 2014 and the prizes they have in sight for upcoming seasons.  Some may be yawning – having heard it all before – quietly hoping their sore backs and tendons hold up another year.  Others may be apprehensive about a move away…

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You can be your own worst enemy

Cheri Isgreen:

This would be a good article to review for a New Year’s resolution, but it is so timely for me right now, as I work toward bringing my horse up the levels. Bookmark this awesome post!

Originally posted on Deanna Thompson Dressage:


This statement is true in many ways when you are working towards a challenging, perhaps intimidating goal. I see riders from time to time who are preventing their own progress. I admit that I too have been guilty of getting in my own way over the years.

“I’m too tired…”

“It’s too hot…”

“I will do it tomorrow…”

Without a doubt, riding horses in any discipline is one of the most difficult sports you can choose. It’s hard enough to trust your own mind and body to be at peak performance but when your partner is a 1,000+ pound animal with flight instincts, this sport is brought to a whole new level. Instead of categorizing riding as a sport, I’ve always thought that “art”, “passion” or “way of life” was more appropriate. I don’t think anyone would disagree that in order to truly advance, you must allow your purpose to…

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