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


Road to Bronze Oct. 14-25, 2015

I went out of town in mid-October to spend time with my husband and daughter for her 22nd birthday.  On the way to Ft Collins, we dropped Monarch off with my trainer, Deborah Hindi.  She said she would work the canter.  When I returned the following week, I would spend the night at her house and ride Monarch for 2 days before bringing him home.  We focused mostly on collected canter in the 10M circle.  Deb straightened my asymmetries, we worked on the half halt to improve engagement, so he wouldn’t break to the trot.  A few days later, Deb came to Montrose for an intensive clinic focusing on biomechanics, problem-solving, and continued training for all the Montrose riders.  The format was a riders’ retreat with lots of discussion, lecture, and q&a.

For Monarch and me, the clinic was a huge breakthrough.  Two days later, I am still walking on air:

Monarch and I finally figured out how to step through the rein to create more engagement in the 1/2 halt. On Saturday we worked and worked, but it wouldn’t come through. I told Deb, “sometimes he just needs to think about it.”   On Sunday, we started right where we left off on Saturday. It wasn’t long before he could take the 1/2 halt at collected walk, so we moved into turn on the haunch. Riding with the analogy of “walking on ice,” I used the 1/2 halt to keep him connected & engaged, and I used the corridor to keep him balanced by diagnosing when the rein got uneven and using my leg on the side of the heavy rein to push him back into the light rein to reestablish an even connection & balance. When that went well, I took Monarch into collected trot on the 10M circle. This is where everything fell apart on Saturday. Now with clarity about what I was asking, he began to step through the rein into an engaged, collected trot. We worked on fine tuning my timing, so the corrections became smaller and smaller, as I caught him sooner and sooner. As that improved, we finished with medium to collected trot transitions on the big circle. Again we worked on Monarch accepting the 1/2 halt and stepping through the rein into engagement, and on me being able to refine my timing so the 1/2 halts became invisible.  The trot work was amazing because he truly gave me his back. There was absolutely no bounce in the medium and it was easy to sit- this is the first time ever that I could sit a HUGE trot comfortably without using a ton of muscle to hold myself into the saddle. Now I understand how riders can sit those big movements. The key is establishing engagement and trust. I’ve learned that the work we do with our horses pays dividends beyond my wildest dreams.   …..While we worked on “turn on the haunches,” I had the most amazing experience- When it became correct, the clarity and the feel was beyond astounding.  I felt Monarch sending me intense, powerful feelings of clarity and understanding from his spine into mine.   Through the connection, he was saying- “Here is the feel, here is the feel, here is the feel….” in this very rhythmic, correct way.  I was so overwhelmed, I began to cry because he gave me such an intense feeling of generosity and connection.  I had to quickly pull it together to continue with the lesson.  It’s true what Alois Podhajski said, “ our horses, our teachers.”   I am lucky to train with Deb, as she has become my interpreter to what my horse has to teach me.

Here we are in July riding a lengthened trot.  From my expression, you can see that I really had to focus to sit the big movement.  All the bounce disappeared this weekend, when he engaged and lifted his back to truly carry me.

Here we are in July riding a lengthened trot. From my expression, you can see that I really had to focus to sit the big movement. All the bounce disappeared this weekend, when he engaged and lifted his back to truly carry me.

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. 30, 2015

As second level riders, we know that the key to the canter to walk transition is in collection.  Yet knowing the theory is quite different from feeling and communicating the movement with quality.  When one focuses on performing the movements, the quality suffers from the “git ‘er done” mindset.  This is particularly true when the rider and horse are learning, (moving up the levels), together.  The horse actually “knows” how to perform all the movements in dressage.  However, when they are learning together, the horse is building strength to carry his rider while interpreting her aids.  For Monarch and I, we had two ways to do the canter to walk transition, and both lacked quality.  If the down transition was forward, it lacked precision and balance with dribbly trot steps between the canter and walk. If the down transition was forced, it lacked forward fluidity, resulting in an abrupt “semi-walk-almost halt” from the canter.
photo 2

By focusing on quality and feel, (and waiting for the moment of quality before asking for the transition), the movement can become a by-product of  quality and feel.

During the last clinic, we had to stop my lesson because Monarch became very sore in his hocks.  He is now 15, the intensity of training this past summer, and the increasing demand of shifting our weight to his hind end manifested itself during that lesson.  He had three weeks off while I ordered and began the loading doses for polysulfated glycosaminoglycan.  I brought him back slowly.  First we had a couple of longeing sessions and a long lining session, each time working up to collected canter on the 10 meter circle, with periodic checks to ensure his hocks were not building heat.  Yesterday, I rode Monarch, developing quality trot work, working up to shoulder-in and travers.  With increased collection from the shoulder-in and tranvers, Monarch was able to produce some good collected canter.

Today we built upon that work.  I asked Monarch to sustain his collected canter in a 15 meter circle.  Knowing forward had to be part of the equation in the down transition, I worked toward balancing him with half halts before asking him for walk.  The first attempt resulted in a few trot steps, but they felt balanced and forward as the steps progressed into walk.  On the second attempt, I was able to continue to increase collection in the canter.  I could feel Monarch becoming more and more round, growing “bigger” in front, as collection increased.  I also felt him stepping more deeply under himself and becoming extremely light in the forehand and the bridle.  I knew at that moment that the canter to walk transition would come through.  I asked, and he was brilliant! Those are the the moments when learning occurs: both you and your horse are on the same wave length with two way communication flowing through feel.  Throughout building quality, Monarch and I were feeling and communicating.  Moving through the canter into a balanced forward walk felt sublime.  Feeling my pleasure, Monarch immediately knew he had performed well.  (He began to nicker.)

IMG_0983Rather than drill the movement, I hopped off.  We had trained in a focused manner for forty minutes.  It was enough.  I lavished him with praise and some sugar.  Then I turned him out, so he could bask in his moment of glory and enlightenment.  Tomorrow when we return to the movement, he will remember today’s experience.  We will be able to practice longer to develop strength, synchronicity, and balance.  Through gratitude and tact, we can move up the levels.



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.