At Santa Anita Park

Gorgeous art from one of my favorite watercolor artists, Frank Eber.


Last week I got up at the crack of dawn to visit Clockers’s corner at the Santa Anita Race track in Arcadia.

From 5am to 10am every morning, the trainers take their horses out on the track for an early morning workout routine. I was teaching in the area and my hotel was literally right across from it.
I managed to get up at 5:30am (with great difficulty, I might add!) and met a few fellow artists for a bit of early morning sketching of horses. While I am not exactly a horse race fan, I tried to stay open minded and see what this outing brings. I do love horses, so that was reason enough to go!

It is quite the spectacle to see them come out! Santa Anita is a very picturesque race track, with swaying palm trees and the San Gabriel mountains serving as the perfect backdrop…

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Ask Monarch

I think you will enjoy visiting my new blog site:

“Ask Monarch” is the Grand Valley Dressage Society’s education outreach pages.  It provides answers to your equine questions: horse care, nutrition, riding technique, fitness, or any other related topic. Answers are posted for the well being of the horse, with the rider’s needs in mind.  These well researched answers are posted with references included, so that you can visit the source. To ask a question, click on the question button in the menu bar.  For clarification on a topic, simply use the comment area for that post.

"Okay Cimarron, now what was your question?"

“Okay Cimarron, now what was your question?”

Magnificence: Part II



Yesterday, while riding Monarch, I went into that zone where it was just he & I.  Instead of focusing on my position, which always makes me tighter, instead of looser, I put my consciousness deep into my horse’s balance, movement, and biomechanics.  I kept asking myself, what am I doing to produce this?  Sometimes I was trying to correct something.  As the ride progressed, I found that I was asking that question more and more often, so that I could reproduce something positive that was happening in our ride.  When I finished the ride, I had a feeling of elation.  It only occurred to me this morning that the elation I was feeling was the idea of  “magnificence” from Jago’s final chapter in Solo Schooling.

When I got off my horse and went into the house to change, my focus really changed.  My horses were munching on their beet pulp, and I was thinking , “ok, while they are having their first course, I can jump in the shower.  Then after I get dressed, I’ll throw hay.  Then I’ll get my pot luck dish out of the fridge and add the garnishes.  By then, my hair should be dry enough to style.  Oh and I’ve got to find a couple of birthday cards…”  All of a sudden, the real world that I had put aside while playing in the sandbox came rushing back……..

With everything ready, we got in the car to attend a small birthday dinner.  As we were pulling out of the driveway, the miracle of what had occurred with Monarch hit me like a lightning bolt.  This was a FEELING- I wasn’t thinking about what had occurred and was not processing my ride-

just a strong spontaneous feeling.  At the moment this feeling was washing over me, “SPRETZZATURA!”  bubbled up and burst from my mouth.   The feeling and the exclamation all happened without any conscious thought.   It was only after I heard myself, processing both the joy in my voice and the meaning of this word, that I realized what had happened.  Then this morning, I was able to connect yesterday with the chapter we have just discussed about magnificence.  I don’t think one can create magnificence; instead one discovers magnificence.

Developing Magnificence

The following are study guide notes for Solo Schooling by Wendy Jago.  For non-equestrian subscribers, be creative as you read these coaching notes about how to structure the schooling session.  Find ways to relate these ideas to your non-riding goals.  Substitute the horse for a coworker, family member, teammate, or your passion, sport, advocation, etc.

book study

Part 5: “Developing Magnificence” 

"Connection" copyright Cheri Isgreen

“Connection” copyright Cheri Isgreen

P 194-195

Magnificence is accessible to all; it is possible when you clear away your personal interference to discover your full potential.  Embrace your uniqueness by fully expressing who you are and realizing your capabilities.  By reaching inside yourself to discover your personal resources, you will gain a sense of quiet satisfaction from knowing what is special about yourself.  These habits of mind developed with the horse have real spillover into the rest of life.  Maslow calls this state “self actualization,”  similar to the Renaissance idea of “sprezzatura,” an effortlessness or grace.  This state allows one to  experience the elation of harmony.  Your focus is in the moment.  Maslow calls this “peak experience.”  It matters not the content of the experience, (what happened); what is special is the process.  For peak experiences to occur, you must develop full engagement involving awareness at all levels- senses, emotions, intellect.

The following are examples from Jago’s case studies of her NLP coaching.

P195-199  NIKKI G     Her goals: change habit of collapsing at the waist and looking down. Improve her horse’s way of going which was heavy on the forehand, leaning on the rider’s hand.  Her assets:  commitment, enthusiastic engagement, creative problem solving     Her horse’s assets: good nature, rhythmical gaits, lateral suppleness     Strategy: play- allowing momentary issues and opportunities to guide schooling, focusing on only one or two issues each session.  Relaxed focus fostered improvement for the pair.

Enabled & Empowered:  Nikki feels she has achieved

  • the freedom to experiment and play to solve problems
  • awareness to capitalize on good points and improve or stretch other areas
  • horse is relaxed and happy in his work
  • Getting things right made me tense.  Now I think about patterns and exercises to engage the horse physically and mentally
  • There are no right/wrong or black & white.  Feedback from what I sense gives me a constructive way to change or improve something.

P199-203  NICKY M     Her goals:  change how she feels about performance problems and mistakes, so she can compete without “scratching.”     Strategy:  reframe problems during competition, not a success/failure issue or overwhelming disaster.  Instead, problems give input for where to focus work.  Change focus from worrying about how others see her mistakes to maintaining communication with her horse, which changed Nicky’s behavior, belief system, and identity.  Outcome of strategies: The mare became longer, looser, and more forward with greater softness, and engagement.  The pair experienced generous, expressive harmony.  Nicky became generous with herself after making mistakes, which allowed her to continue to compete without withdrawing, as well as to place and qualify.  Nicky developed a much broader sense of what doing well really meant to her.

Putting competitions into perspective, Nicky’s thoughts:

  • Unless I’m enjoying my horse, there’s no point in riding.
  • People are too busy in their own lives to ponder my mistakes in competition.
  • Most judges are on your side.
  • In the great scheme of things, it matters more whether I enjoyed the test and what I can learn from my performance, rather than if I made mistakes.
  • Applying this change of perspective to everyday life has resulted in positive effects.

Nicky feels she has achieved:

  • a different perspective of what really matters in life
  • a better, more trusting relationship with my horse, family, and friends
  • riding focus has changed from competition to preparatory work
  • I’ve learned to use positive thought processes.
  • I’m a happier person for others to be around, including my horse.

P205-207  SEAN     His goals: improve confidence and riding position to become more effective in communicating with his horses, especially in the lateral work.  A focus on the process: personalizing and evaluating tips for riding the laterals through use of search questions.  Sean learned how to analyze what happened inside his mind and body to make a strategy successful.  This helped him ride more effectively and understand his own metacognition for future improvement.

The process: try strategy, evaluate strategy- how did it work, personalize learning by making decisions based on experience & evaluation.

  • conscious incompetence I didn’t know that
  • conscious competenceI can do this now
  • unconscious competencesprezzatura, effortless effort

Sean feels he has achieved:

  • confidence to school in playfulness, not being afraid to make mistakes
  • taking charge of his horses’ training by understanding the how’s and why’s of schooling through search questions
  • improved posture to effectively communicate with his horses, using small details to make big changes

P209-215  MARISIAN  Her goals: build great rapport with her young ponies to develop freedom and fluency.  She works mostly on her own, with little formal instruction.  Her strategies: employ mutual attention and respect to discover and develop the innate abilities of each pony.  She uses groundwork (long-reining and lungeing), as much as riding to gather information and develop rapport.

Marisian’s reflections on Solo Schooling:

  • Because I can see the pony, I use groundwork to soften him until he “feels right.”  I aim for fluency, suppleness, and freedom, with one movement flowing into the next.
  • The pony must be forward, using his muscles, in front of the leg, accurate, listening.
  • Maximize what the pony’s has; don’t focus on what he doesn’t have.
  • Take into account the pony’s personality and my mood.
  • When riding, I’m in-time and in the moment, using unconscious competence.

Marisian’s recommendations for successful Solo Schooling:

  • continuous assessment- spend more time reflecting than riding
  • continue to discover new ways to communicate
  • model what other successful riders do; evaluate if it works for you, your horse
  • learn from bad rides
  • reflect how your body impacts your horse
  • develop a new language with each individual horse you ride, how they need to move, and how they could be
  • have confidence in yourself and your horse


Developing qualities of uniqueness, harmony, authenticity, and self-belief are more important than the specific goals you are working toward.  These qualities enable you to work through problems and achieve goals.  Coach yourself with generosity, support, and truthfulness.  As you ride your horse well with sympathy, and coach yourself with curiosity about what is observable, interesting, and relevant, you will release the magnificence in you and your horse.

Equine Art

Studying, drawing, and painting horses is an irresistible passion  Horses captivate me. They possess grace in movement and majesty in stillness.  I’m fascinated by the shape of their joints, legs, muscles.  The line of an equine nostril, neck, hind end, protruding tendon; all draw me to capture their sinuous curves.  Hypnotic eyes, flowing mane and tail, highlight and shadow rippling over a horse in motion captivate and entice me to express an impression of equus essence and spirit.

I invite you to visit my new page, Equine Art.  Click the link in the top bar.  Here is a sample……

"Gathering for the Morning Directives"My fascination with horse's legs.

“Gathering for the Morning Directives”
My fascination with horse’s legs.


Focus on Balance

Excerpt from Andrea Datz’s Integrative Horsemanship spring newsletter:

I’ve come to define the quality that horses find attractive in humans not so much as leadership but as balance.  I think horses are attracted to people who have good balance.  I’ve always known it was important to be mentally/emotionally balanced – consistent and stable in my mind.  But I’ve also come to realize they like it when you are physically balanced.  People who have good balance and coordination have a presence about them.  They know how to move and carry themselves in a way that is attractive to horses.  They are naturally confident and agile.  Perhaps it is that quality that the horses ‘respect’ more than a particular technique.Horses are hardwired to move efficiently.  From an evolutionary standpoint, efficient movement = survival.  Horses that don’t have good balance or coordination can’t move efficiently and pose a threat to the safety of the herd.  Those horses tend to be a bit ostracized, certainly not respected and followed as a leader.  Thinking about things from this perspective has helped me let go of methods that include any form of herd hierarchy or dominance when I am working one on one with my horses.  By focusing on my balance and coordination I find myself focusing more on their balance and coordination.   We begin to genuinely move together and they become willing followers in the dance.

Andrea got me thinking about balance today.   I work on balance quite a bit, as I have a weak left knee from years of injuries and surgeries.  I have become very aware of my compensating patterns and practice balance exercises, so that I can stand/sit straight to prevent soreness in my back, and most importantly, so that I don’t upset my horses’ balance when I ride them.  I agree with Andrea that balance is the key to rider influence and effectiveness.  Work on improving balance when not in the saddle.  Then practice your new feel while on your horse and see how it makes a difference.  During every rest break for your horse, check in to monitor your position.  Realign, breathe, and balance. When schooling, if your horse becomes resistant, immediately check your position. Since your position is a mirror of the horse, assess whether you are helping or hindering his movement.  Then re-prepare the horse and build on baby steps, as you focus on your position.  Examples of baby steps:  begin movement at the walk, use less angle, use larger circles:(less bend), use the wall for support.

To improve your balance try these exercises:

Stand on 1 leg with your eyes closed for 30 seconds- it’s very hard.  Then switch legs. Which side is easier?  Is it because you are stronger on one side of your body?   Or, like me, is it your weaker side?  When you have been hurt, you learn to better align your body to prevent future and further injuries.  If your practice this quick exercise on a regular basis, your balance will improve.

Buy or make a balance board.  There are many sites on the internet for directions; mine is a plywood circle with two center circle drilled to the size of pool balls.  Find old pool balls at flea markets or a pool hall.  This fun and challenging exercise can be practiced while watching TV or talking on the phone.

Beth Glosten has many good exercises on her DVD, “Ride in Balance.”  I do her hip loosening exercise standing, instead of lying on a mat, as she demonstrates.  This gives you the benefit of loosening the hip while developing balance.  Stand on one leg, circle the other leg across the standing leg, up and around and back to neutral.  Repeat 3-5 times, then reverse by moving the leg away from the standing leg, circle up and around and back to the standing leg.  After 3-5 reps on one leg, repeat the whole sequence on the other leg.

Practice tai chi.  In yesterday’s class we focused on balance, practicing the first qiqong swing and “Marriage of Heaven and Earth.”  Stand barefooted or in loose, flat shoes; put all your awareness into your foot.  Feel your feet relax and spread.  Grow roots into the earth.  Feel the energy that runs down your body through your feet grow roots into the ground.  This “root” energy gives you an opposite rising energy running up from your feet, up your spine, and out your head into the heavens.  Play with subtle shifts of weight- forward, back, side to side.  Roll your weight around your feet, doing ankle circles. Practice the first swing: press up out of one foot, turn in the qwa, and shift weight into the other foot, turn the qwa back toward first foot, and return weight to the foot.  This swing will develop energy like a slinky back and forth, energize chi awareness while developing balance.  Find a tai chi instructor to learn this swing without torquing your knees.  Sit deep in “your tai chi seat” and make sure you keep your knees stable over your feet.  Here is a video link to help:

Spring activities

I love greens as much as my horses.  Yesterday, on Easter Sunday, I began work on my 2013 garden.  I filled in gaps in my overwintered spinach:

spinachand planted another raised bed with several lettuces, radicchio, escarole, carrots, beets, radishes, and kohlrabi.  I like to have plenty on hand for my equestrian friends, who don’t have time for a garden.  This bed doesn’t look very tidy because the coffee filters from the compost break down more slowly than the veggie waste.

gardenAs a twist on “green” gardens, I am using my reused Christmas cards for row markers.  Principles of the 3R’s:  (reduce waste, reuse greeting cards, and recycle paper at season’s end by composting the paper into the soil.)  I loved this choice for radishes and will enjoy displaying some of my cards a second time around.