Road to Bronze 2017 July 11-July 30, 2017

Getting hurt has been a blessing in disguise.  Without the pressure of being ready for a show in two months, I have been able to focus on myself: my position, my seat, my aids; being effective and efficient as a dressage rider.  After a few sessions at home when I was finally able to wear a boot to ride, I had a lesson with my trainer.  She gave me tips on how to focus my rides on myself as a rider, so I was able to improve rapidly as if I were working with a trainer on the longe line.  (See 7/13/17 below.  This is a great strategy; I am so please with the progress I’ve made.)

I ride with paddock boots without the half chaps, so I get immediate feedback when my legs are not still as the stirrup will pinch my calves.  This is caused by gripping with my legs, which makes my legs “shorten” or “creep up” on the saddle.  I’m pleased that this work has lengthened my leg a full stirrup hole.  In the beginning after practicing walk/rising trot transitions, I practiced sitting trot without stirrups.  This allowed my leg to relax and lengthen.  I am now able to keep weight in my stirrups at sitting trot at the new longer length, even mediums across the diagonal.

I’m also “listening” for where in the stirrup my weight falls- square over the ball of the foot or too far forward from my heel being “up.”  Another point of feedback is my seat- am I sitting over my three points of contact or is my weight too much on my pubic bones?  When I practice transitions, I put my intention in growing tall and feeling for a balanced seat.  When I practice sitting trot, I focus on lifting my pubic bones and engaging my core.  This gives me a workout similar to crunches.  I get the same feeling in the saddle as when I do crunches on my exercise mat, so I know I am working those muscles.  As I sit the trot, I think that each stride I want to land on my “back pockets” (de Kunfy) and that I am so loose and following, the horse is moving each joint in my body.  This is a marvelous feeling, becoming one with my horse- very addicting!  We practice collected to medium transitions in the sitting trot.  The collected trot must feel very bouncy and active- not a slow jog-trot.  The medium trot must surge when I put my leg on.

Finally, I am using conscious intention to keep my hands still and together in front of the saddle.  At first I used a neck strap to force my hands from moving.  Again, like the seat work, I improved quickly and don’t need props to get the feedback for improved position.  I looked at some pictures from last month and did notice that my hands are fairly wide.  I hope to have some new photos to post soon.  I am feeling mostly healed in my foot and eager to begin training our second level work again.


7/30: rider- position and effectiveness of aids/horse- engagement

7/29: Fluency- aids/rider; gaits/horse
comments about today’s training: 1st day back in regular training after injury. All the seatwork was very beneficial for effectiveness in riding movements.
Training strategy- transitions in all gaits
Began balky; resistant; with w-t transitions, worked through poor rhythm. He became very fluid and forward- especially in canter work. I tested his w-c transitions on long side to ensure he was listening to my seat in the up transition. To help position & get the right lead, I asked from shoulder in/walk. This helped give him the collection and lift for the canter transition.

7/18-7/19; 7/23-7/24: seatwork

7/20/27: Monarch gave lesson to Tilly today; his goal is to build fitness and communication while longeing
comments about today’s training: we worked on her seat- same ideas as I practice. Then I gave her reins, so she can start to learn how to coordinate aids for steering. Inside leg and outside rein was a big eye opener, so Monarch didn’t fall on his shoulder in the turn.

7-15-17:  Renee and I took Monarch & Sonny out to Mary Pat’s.  I love how cool the covered round pen is (even in the 90 degree heat), and the footing is perfect!  It was “old home week” with many riders out who used to board there.  We all enjoyed seeing each other again.  I practiced my seat goals.  This has become quite easy.  Monarch is very forward to the leg and willing.  My leg has lengthened a full stirrup hole longer.  With the longer stirrup length, it is very easy to monitor when I begin to grip with my leg:)  I am able to quickly diagnose when my leg starts to clamp and when my pelvis rotates on to my pubic bones. When my pelvis rotates, I am quickly able to bring my seat back over my seat bones. I am also getting good feedback, so I can feel the horse’s movement moving my joints.  My elbows are soft and loose and my hips are open.  Getting hurt was a blessing in disguise, as I am able to focus on improving my seat and rider effectiveness.

7-14-17: seat training from yesterday’s lesson

7/13/17: first lesson with Susan since being hurt.  Because my broken toe affects how I ride, we decided to work only on my seat- position and effectiveness of a balanced, deep seat.  I am working with and without stirrups.  I will maintain a deep seat using core muscles to maintain a balanced, vertical position through up and down transitions.  I will use my seat to effect down transitions, and a long leg (and/or light touch with whip or spur) to effect up transitions.  My hands will remain still throughout the transition.  To train my hands to remain still, I will hold a neck strap with one finger of my outside hand, which prevents the outside hand from moving.  To train the inside hand, I will consciously touch knuckles with my thumbs up and wrists straight, but relaxed.  I will give with my elbows to follow the horse’s movement in walk & trot, but keep hands very still through the transitions.  We worked in walk, collected trot, medium trot, and all transitions halt through medium trot.  Very quickly I was able to still my hands, open my hips, and follow with all my joints while maintaining a deep seat.  Monarch was an angel- very cooperative and willing with this work.  I think he enjoyed the bond we created- very good communication.

7/12/17: First ride since being hurt- Rider: position & effectiveness of aids; Horse: position effectiveness of balance

7/11/17: groundwork & longe- suppleness, stamina, and strength training
comments about today’s training: With his shoes off, his stride is shorter- worked on lengthening- especially in walk and trot. Ended with walk-canter transitions. This is hard for him; I think he lost conditioning from being off since I’ve been hurt.


Road to Bronze 2017 Apr 18

Current Book Study Report: Uta Graf’s Effortless Dressage Program: (Order your book today- it is a gem.  This book aligns well with the work I do with my trainer, Bronze, Silver, and Gold USDF medalist Dr. Susan Schneider.  It also aligns well with Beth Baumert’s book, “When Two Spines Align.”  I will be attending her tow-day riding clinic with GVDS in June.)

The book is not written in chapters but divided into sections and subsections. Our book study group has completed the Preface and is working on SECTION I: EFFORTLESS- BUT HOW? Part II

Preface gives an overview of the book and why riding should never be work.

Part 1 of section I “The Independent Horse” gives many examples of the need for balance, straightness, activity(forward), & connection. Uta outlines many exercises and strategies to develop these qualities, plus strategies for teaching your horse to be independent.


  • ride on the 2nd track
  • practice “stretchy-chewy” in trot and canter
  • stop the exercise as soon as the quality is lost; reestablish supple & forward from the circle
  • practice leg yield & shoulder in in stair-step pattern- every 5 meters switch from lateral to straight ahead the full length of the arena


  • test often to make sure the horse is doing the work/take away the driving aids; drive with very light pulses
  • ride in “stretch” position in all gaits with weight on hind end, long neck & open through throat latch


  • continually monitor rider position
  • monitor horse position on curved lines- neither shoulder or hind end should fall off the line
  • ride frequent transitions between and within gaits
  • ride should fore every corner
  • ride shoulder fore and shoulder in on the center line, straighten for a few strides, and change rein.  Hind end must stay on the center line.


  • walk warm up- focus on activity of horse/no rushing and following by rider/leave the horse alone
  • pulse aid lightly; immediately relax leg when horse responds.  If horse does not respond, increase aid, then test with a light aid.  Light aid should produce a surge forward.
  • expect transitions to be prompt- train through practicing transitions often skipping a gait and within a gait
  • train outside the arena; use hills
  • always incorporate variety


  • practice überstreichen in trot and canter
  • develop feel- know how it feels when poll is in the highest position; how pushing/carrying power feels.  Ride many transitions and tempo changes- focus on feel.
  • correct inversion, (when head is down/neck is curled) by riding forward to the hand

In Part 2- “Allow the Horse to Work Under You” she discusses the Circle of Effortless Riding. This is worth the price of the book. Page 36- check it out. She also discusses timing for rider effectiveness, how we can learn from para-equestrian riders who can’t squeeze or spur with strong aids, (less is more), and her 9 Steps to Drinking Coffee (while performing a pirouette.) This last part breaks any movement down to 9 steps to make it effortless using training exercises, the actual aids to perform the movement, & strategies to refine the movement after it is learned.


Road to Bronze 2016

My training journal for this year’s efforts toward my USDF Bronze Rider Medal can be found on the USLF Journal Collaborative under members.  Here is the link to my page:

The USLF Lovin’ Ours Lipz Journal Collaborative is open to all United States Lipizzan Members and their registered horses.  The blog is available for all to read.  It is of special interest to those who are interested in Lipizzan horses, ride dressage, & train young horses.

X halt salute

X halt salute


RMDS Year-End Awards

Rocky Mountain Dressage Society is my regional chapter.   This notice came as a complete surprise.  Thanks go out to my horse, Monarch for working so hard and being so generous to let me ride him through my mistakes.  I also wish to thank my family, especially to Kurt and Marissa, for all their support.  Thank you to the rest of my family, who live too far to come see me compete, but follow my training and showing electronically.  Thanks to my friends who support this new endeavor in my life, giving me encouragement and cheers.  And finally, thank you to my trainer, Deborah Hindi, who has brought Monarch & I so far, through her belief in us, her knowledgable and generous training,  her warm hospitality when I stay at her home to train,  her invaluable coaching at my first show, and for being my very good friend!


RMDS Year End Awards

RMDS Year End Awards

Road to Bronze training journal- 10/6/15

DATE: 10/6/15

GOAL: re-establish a “hot off the leg” response to improve quality of gaits and transitions, focus on RHYTHM- base of pyramid before schooling any 2nd level work

METHOD:  use Jane Savoie’s “Forward” strategies-

  1. Give a light leg aid
  2. No response, half-hearted response, or delayed response
  3. Correct him by sending him forward
  5. 100% response (99.9% isn’t good enough!)
  6. Praise

For more information, visit

OUTCOMES:  Walk is much improved with the alternate leg and swinging seat to encourag a walk that overtracks  in the warm-up and later in schooling.  Moving into the trot, Monarch was very behind the leg.  He gave me the half-hearted response; the correction (step #3) with the leg was a “ho-hum” response.  The correction with the whip resulted in even more behind-the-leg response with a humpy back and threatening to buck.  I continued to tap with my whip, which did result in a buck.  Wrong answer; I continued to calmly tap with my whip- more humping and irregular trot steps, then finally a committed trot.  (Please note- he was not spanked.  I tapped until I got a correct response.)  Knowing that step #4- Retest- is the key to retraining, I retested by bringing him back to walk, then asked for trot.  Again the “ho-hum” response, correct with more leg- lazy response, added the whip taps, more humps and bucks, then finally a correct trot.  This continued for a circle or two, until finally he decided to trot off from the whip in the retest.  Continuing with steps #1-4, we finally got to steps #5 & #6- 100% committed trot from a light leg aid and then praise.  As he got better in the walk-trot transitions, I was able to ask for transitions within the trot, with nice collected to medium trot steps.

REFLECTION:  As Monarch grew light to the leg aid, his connection improved and he became engaged.  With engagement, he moved right up the pyramid t0 impulsion.  To test straightness, we began to school laterals.  Beginning with leg yield, it was easy to gauge and correct his straightness.  As the leg yield improved, we moved into shoulder-in and tranvers.  With impulsion, straightness, and collection developed from the laterals, I was able to begin canter work.  From tranvers, his collected canter work was rhythmic and relaxed.  In the serpentine, his right lead counter canter was brilliant.  He began to tire, as we had been working for 50 minutes, but  I wanted to test his left lead counter canter before we ended.  In the left lead serpentine, he broke during the counter canter phase.  To his credit, I corrected by asking for counter canter along the rail, and he picked it up quite easily.  As we came around the curve into true canter, I could feel his energy increase, as the movement became easier.  Since he was tired, I decided his good effort was a good place to end.  We rode up the lane to cool out.  Goal tomorrow will be to continue working the light leg aids and increase strength for the left lead counter canter.

Road to Bronze Oct. 4

The weather is deliciously cool which makes being outside and training a delight.

DATE: 10/2/15

GOAL:  build on canter-walk transitions, improve canter collection

OUTCOMES:  After his big reward with canter-walk transitions, he was quite sticky in the canter.  He wanted to drop down to walk and receive his reward.  Needing to reestablish the idea of “forward,” I changed my riding plan.  The warm-up was lots of straight lines, (long sides and diagonals) at trot to develop a nice forward, well connected horse.  To test the connection and confirm the outside rein, we worked laterals: leg yield, shoulder-in, and tranvers.  With Monarch nicely forward and connected, we cantered on long lines, using the diagonals to change leads through the trot.  I used sugar cubes and praise to communicate his correct, forward, and prompt canter responses.

REFLECTION:  It’s amazing how much they remember from a big reward.  In one way the big reward from the other day backfired, but on the other hand, the transition will be there when he is ready to be collected.  My positives for the day’s training were the nice changes through the trot on the diagonal.

cavaletti- based on the Klimke book

cavaletti- based on the Klimke book

DATE: 10/3/15

GOAL:  continue to build the idea of forward with cavaletti work

OUTCOMES:  The grid was built at 4’4″ with 4 poles.  Each time we went through, Monarch became sharper and more through, creating a nicely connected, forward horse.  The jump was a change of pace from dressage training, resulting in a nice light canter.

REFLECTION:  Studying pp 46-58, I noticed that in many of the photos, the rider maintains contact, and in some of the exercises, the rider even sits the trot with contact over cavaletti.  As I began gridwork, I released the reins, as for a jump.  The work was a bit sloppy.  Then I remembered the photos of the horse with contact, and I realized that I was “dropping” my horse.   As I kept an elastic, steady contact, I noticed my horse becoming more connected and through.  I learned that contact, even through the grid improved the stride.  The only release I gave was at the jump.

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.