Thursday, May 24, 2018

Centered Riding Lesson #2

Another great lesson with loads of improvement and progress - despite me only practicing things maybe twice in the two week period between lessons. D'oh!

Right from the start, the lesson began building on the former one. As a part of warmup, C had me work on the circles we'd done two weeks prior. The concept on inside leg to outside rein and getting Grif's inside leg to reach up and under his body was one my brain and body were a lot more comfortable with this go around. C had (surprisingly to me) nothing but praise for us.

Warm-up circle trotting
Most surprisingly awesome thing about this photo and every other image in this post excepting the final one? They aren't cherry-picked screenshots! They're incredibly zoomed in, but they're all photos Lauren's mom nabbed with my phone. I can't believe this is a horse I trained and that I'm the one riding.

We quickly moved from repeated circles in one direction to working on a figure-8, changing our bend from one direction to the other. They felt good and C praised us accordingly, then had us perform the same exercise in the trot where we continued to find success. I was a bit surprised we'd done so well with so little practice between lessons, but I chalked it up to my frequent mental review of the work we'd done and a much better comfort through my body as I asked Griffin for things. I'm a firm believer that our horses are capable of anything - the trick is asking and guiding them correctly. Griffin has proved my point for me countless times through our years together, constantly excelling in all of our endeavors.


Satisfied with our level of work, C had me use her as the center and asked me to spiral inward on a circle at the trot using the same concepts we'd just done. I'm quite familiar with this exercise, as it's one I've been practicing for years at home. We began on a ~10 meter circle traveling to the right and spiraled in to C as small as we could be while keeping balance and a steady forward rhythm. To me, it felt like Griffin's haunches were drifting out and away from his body, much like a drifting racecar on a dirt track. C laughed at my comparison and comment and told me that no, he was actually bending beautifully and reaching with his inside hind. Photographic evidence supports her claim more than mine (and this is why I'm pursuing lessons with knowledgeable eyes on the ground)!

Yeah, that hind end isn't drifting away like my mind thought it was. Guess I'm just not used to what things are supposed to feel like, haha

I have to admit, riding him through the exercise did feel very nice to the right. While initially my brain wanted to categorize his hind end as drifting, I realized once I worked the exercise to the left that it really, truly wasn't. Because to the left, we've got issues. It's most definitely Griffin's weak side. To combat the difficulties on his weak side, Grif threw his shoulder out, hollowed his back and sped up, or tried to slow down to a walk. And because two (or more) wrongs clearly make a right (that's how it works, right? lol), I combated his issues by developing a rogue right hand and throwing away my outside rein. I could feel myself doing it, but it was like someone else took control of my body for a bit as my elbow straightened and my hand reached toward Griffin's ears.


C repeatedly reminded me to keep my elbow at my side and make my outside rein a "wall" to prevent Griffin throwing or popping his shoulder out. As I resolved one of Griffin's attempts to escape working on his weak side, he then began to curl behind the bit. To counter, C had me all but drop my inside rein, riding completely on inside leg to outside rein. We got some good moments from this, but I definitely need to practice more and help Griffin build strength and muscle memory on this side.

Far from perfect, but hey, it's a start!

From the spiraling exercise, we moved into the leg yielding exercise with the three cones in a line. C instructed us to ride straight toward the cones and yield left and right to go around them as needed, always focusing on staying straight. As we began the exercise at the walk, Grif was moving off my leg, but just walking, not crossing and reaching with his legs. I shortened my reins a little and really pushed him forward into the contact before asking again. Griffin crossed in front but not behind. So C recommended that I really exaggerate how far back my leg was to better encourage him to use his hind end. Boom. We had it.

A few lovely steps at the trot. Wish I had more footage of our other passes to compare.

We received much praise once we put things together. We then moved the exercise into a trot, and focused on making it the slowest trot we could. Shockingly, we did even better at the trot! But only when I focused on keeping the trot nice and slow. If I let it become faster, Griffin would throw his shoulder out and hollow his back (inevitably because I was throwing my aids away). Slow right now is good while we piece this together. Big takeaway was that I could really FEEL his hind end working correctly in this exercise; knowing what that feeling is is huge.

One of the changes

From here, the lesson moved to our work on flying changes. These definitely still need work, but we did make progress. C told me to focus on keeping the canter much slower, had me keep my inside leg more forward than I tend to, reminded me to use my body to indicate our direction (with shoulders and hips), and had me note when his front end was coming up. Paying mind to these things helped me piece together how to ask for a change in bend/flying change. Almost immediately, we had two or three really nice flying changes (I'm judging from C's exuberant praise lol) and a couple others where he would change in front but not behind. C thinks he's going to lock onto doing this automatically with just a little more practice.


Ultimately, right now, Griffin needs one trot stride, or merely me thinking about doing a trot stride and instead half-halting, to have success with changes. This is absolutely not surprising and totally expected. Also, Griffin is definitely weaker on his left lead, more often picking up the wrong lead in that direction. Once again, this certainly isn't surprising considering the issues we had traveling left in our trot circles earlier. More than anything, I'm grateful to understand what we're capable of and what our limitations are for the moment. Even more so, I understand how I need to use my body better and to ask for the change of bend/change of lead which is only going to help us improve.

A simple change

Toward the end of the canter work, Grif was frustrated and I really had to pick my moment to end on carefully. The physical work from the lesson came no where near what he is capable of and he wasn't sweating much at all, so I'm not very convinced he was physically beat so much as just mentally overwhelmed - and that's totally okay! His brain was just DONE with me and the work I'd asked of him. Despite this, he was still a very good boy and I was able to find a lot of humor in his opinionated "this is HARD" moments.

Screenshot_20180524-062552_Video Player
Shhh, don't tell him this isn't a real buck. #opinions

I'm so pleased with what we're accomplishing so far through these lessons. I'm not quite sure when we'll make it up for another, but I'm hopeful there will be one or two next month when C returns from vacation. She messaged me following our lesson last night to share how much fun she's having teaching Lauren and I - so sweet! We're having an equal amount of time being taught, so it works well.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Natural Horsemanship Clinic/Lesson

A little backstory: Our regional riding club has decided to provide bimonthly lessons with a local natural horsemanship clinician to club members at a very reduced price during the summer months this year. The club consists largely of recreational trail riders with a sprinkling of individuals who regularly compete in various disciplines. We put on several fundraising events, donate to local equestrian programs, support local youth, put on one endurance ride, and organize a series of single and multi-day trail ride events across the state and surrounding states.

Mike, the trainer, is a fellow club member who has been training horses professionally for years. He's got an incredibly soft hand and natural manner with horses; he reminds me very much of his big-name role models, Bill and Tom Dorrance and Ray Hunt. He isn't gimmicky, just a quiet, understanding advocate and teacher for the animal he's working with in that moment. 

Around half of the participants for the evening

Turnout for the first lesson was outstanding! I was really impressed - we had around 12 riders and 8 auditors. I think the club will be gaining some new members purely because of the perk of these lessons!

Mike, had us begin the evening on the ground with our horses tacked, but still in their halters. He introduced himself to those he didn't know, discussed some of his background, and then gave a small demo about how he starts any session with his horses - on the ground with some work in hand before any saddle time. He is a firm believer that if one doesn't practice perfection in groundwork, the work under saddle will be lacking.

He demonstrated how he lunges his horses, looking for bend through their ribcage and an inner eye tuned into him, not the outside environment. He noted that he always looks for any irregularities with the horse's movement that could preclude work for the day. All of this was pretty run-of-the-mill.

Mike demonstrating concepts

Mike had us practice this with our own horses, providing tips and guidance for those who had trouble as needed. He then asked us to see how light of pressure we could use on the horses halter to get them to respond, focusing on one step at a time forward and backward. His directions during this included various safe-handling tips (where and how to position your hand on the halter, how to hold the lead, where to position your body, etc.) to help prevent injury to the handler if the horse were to spook for any reason.


From there, he demonstrated a few more in-hand practices to help warm the horse's hind end up, more or less having them perform rollbacks in-hand at the walk. Throughout this exercise and those preceding it, Mike always recommended that we be firm in not letting the horse walk into our space unless explicitly asked to do so. We should have "control" of their feet at all times and if we ask them to stop a few feet from us, the horse should do so and remain there until asked to move elsewhere. While good training, this also helps guarantee safety for the human if the horse were to react and spook to an outside stimuli. (Mike has been working with a lot of mustangs of late, so safety is always first on his mind.)

This Nevada mustang was the goofiest fellow with his drafty legs, big head, and relatively small body that tied everything together

For myself, none of these concepts were anything new as I've practiced and worked on this type of groundwork with my horses for years. However, it was a great tune-up for Q and I; mostly though, it was really nice to get her off-property for an activity that was so low-key compared to what we normally do! It was also neat to see other folks who haven't practiced these concepts as often transform their communication with their horses and listen to the impressed remarks of the auditors as they observed.

After about 45 minutes of groundwork concepts, Mike gave a bridling demo for us to consider (his method facilitates keeping control of the horses head at all times, something he's modified through his work with mustangs), and then asked us to mount up.


This was the part of the evening I was most eager for. I have a huge amount of respect for Mike and what he does with horses even though my own interests with horses lie in a different realm. Mike's got a great understanding of the animals and does such a great job breaking things down into pieces for them to learn. While we do things in different ways, I know that much of what we work on to meet our end goals is the same, we just explain the concepts differently.

She was SO relaxed this whole evening

I smiled as Mike began discussing the importance of knowing where the horse's feet are at all times, in and out of the saddle. He noted that truly talented riders can tell you when each foot leaves and touches the ground again. So many folks in non-English disciplines (most local folks around here) scoff at this as English-dressagey-voodoo-nonsense, and I had to suppress my grin as a predominantly western trainer noted its importance.

Being a good girl

To help teach this concept, he invited us to watch the front left shoulder (our inside shoulder as we traveled counter clockwise). He discussed how we would know when the leg was leaving the ground based on the shoulder's movement and then had each of us tell him when that foot was leaving the ground as we walked past him in turn.

Practicing lightness asking for one step at a time backward then forward

After teaching this point, he had us feel for the movement of the horse's barrel, inward, outward, inward, outward as they walked. He discussed proper EQ for the seat and legs and had us utilize this to speed the horse up and down at the walk by encouraging them to step more through (move with their motion to encourage the barrel to swing more indicating a larger stride) or take smaller, slower, abbreviated steps (sit down "harder" and use your legs to discourage their barrel from swinging so much indicating slower steps).

The lighting got pretty freaking gorgeous toward the later half of the evening

From there, it was deja vu for me from my previous night's lesson on Griffin but with slightly different instruction. Mike discussed how to "apply leg" and had us do so in the same manner C had to encourage the horse to be more through with the hind end going around a small circle. I giggled a lot as I realized what Mike was having us do. Lauren and her mom were in the audience (her dad was riding) and I grinned at her as I passed, "Gee, wonder where we've heard this before?!" To which she smiled big in return and said, "I know, right?"

That dust wasn't fun to inhale, but boy did it improve photos!

The rest of the evening focused on us getting the horses to move off leg properly, engaging that inside hind more. All of Mike's instructions were different from C's had been, but the end concept was always the same. In fact, by the end of the evening, he noted, "Now, I know I've thrown a lot at you, but what you've all accomplished tonight is getting that hind end to come under the horse and work more thoroughly and correctly."

Mike is so good about making eye contact as much as possible as he explains things

I wish I could reiterate Mike's directions back to you because it was so interesting to see how they paralleled what I'm more accustom to hearing, but honestly, I can't. As he taught in his way, my brain was busy actively drawing parallels and translating what he said into a direction that I could better implement. So very much of it was identical to what I'd worked on with C the night before!

Q is a much different ride than Grif was though - which I expected. I also wasn't wearing my tall boots and spurs as I had been the previous evening. I definitely need to wear them for the next time I practice this stuff with Q! She currently takes a LOT more leg than Griffin and to have that tiny little spur to encourage her to listen would really go a long way in this teaching process.

Lauren's dad

The big takeaway for me this night was turning on the haunches. For some reason, this just doesn't click for my brain. I have learned various ways  to implement it and each makes logical sense, but when it comes to putting pen to paper and actually executing the movement, my body and brain do not connect.

Pausing a moment for photos. She was such a good girl all evening

Mike's instructions were to turn the horse to the inside (coming off the wall) a for a quarter turn, then halt them and rock them back on their haunches (the beginning ask for a backward step) to unweight the front end, and then open your inside rein more to invite the inside shoulder/foreleg to step over to initiate the first step of a turn on the haunches.

Mike and the sunflare

Per the usual for me, this made sense, but I could. not. execute. it. Mike finally asked if anyone was having trouble and I immediately raised my hand. He coached me through each move, and while I was incredibly skeptical it would work even with his focused help, I actually did it! Well, Q did it. I praised her immensely, Mike walked me through it twice more, I praised her, and called it a night.

Q's very uncertain ear as another horse walked into her bubble

While the vast majority of what he went over for the first lesson was review for me, it was still a fun experience to attend the lesson. I really like Mike's teaching style and loved making the parallels between his manner of explanation and that which I am more accustomed to; it was so cool to see how he incorporates what I often coin "dressage-based concepts" into his work that is most certainly not dressage as most view it.

Still in the process of shedding, but looking pretty good coming out of winter (our spring grass just came in for true last week!)

I will likely not attend many - if any - of these lessons for the remainder of the summer due to a variety of scheduling reasons (primarily because Thursdays are our locals mountain bike group ride and I hate to miss it, but also due to some other reasons I'll share in coming weeks), but I'm glad I could get to the first one! It was a great experience for Q and I to have together and it was so very cool to see the parallels from my centered riding/dressage-focused instruction the night before. It goes to show that this kind of foundational work is so important no matter your riding goals!

Friday, May 11, 2018

Centered Riding Lesson #1

Wednesday night, Lauren and I headed north for our first Centered Riding lesson.

Upon arrival following a 90 minute trailer ride on windy roads, Griffin was absolutely DRENCHED head to toe in sweat. He looked VERY sorry for himself and it alarmed me at how truly pathetic his body posture and expression were. In fact, I was ready to call off having the lesson right then and there!

Fortunately, once I got him off and walked him around a bit in the cool evening breeze, he settled. From there on, he was a bit frazzled at the environment he was in, but beyond that, nothing out of the norm. I think he's so used to be trailered to places that he exits the trailer to find oodles of horses that the lack of them at the instructor's barn (she's retired now and only a has a couple that are turned out most of the time) was very alarming. Maybe I'd finally brought him to the horse butcher?!

We took the boys to walk around the ring to see their surroundings before mounting, warmed up, and got right to it.

Sharing my hopes/dreams with C

Instructor C asked me what I wanted to work on. "Anything positional for myself," I replied, "I know I'm always a work in progress. But mostly, I'd really like to work on gaining better control of Griffin's shoulders and hind end. We haven't done much lateral work because it's not the easiest thing for me to work on correctly by myself. Eyes on the ground are something I lack in nearly all of my riding and I know establishing a foundation for correct lateral work will come from eyes on the ground. We've come a long way with other aspects of our riding, but this one is really lacking and Griffin is really to a point where he would benefit a lot from it in so many ways."

Similar work is just what Lauren's horse needs, so a lot of our lesson ended up being the same exercises!

To begin, C gave Lauren some instruction to help get MJ to lower his periscope Arab head and reach more for the bit. As Lauren struck out to work on this, C told me to sit "more on my pockets" and "post from the knees". From there, I was instructed to move onto a 20 meter circle at the trot, focusing on posting to the outside to really encourage Griffin's bend.

C called out several "lovely!" and "that's it!" comments as we did this and I knew why. I could feel a difference in Griffin's movement. It was lovely!

I played around with this concept in both directions, truly feeling what a difference it made before Lauren and I were paired up to work on the next exercise together.

C  had us both work on a 10 meter circle at the walk, alternating our direction every 4-6 circles. We focused on proper bend and getting the inside hind to be more through. C noted that as the horse's barrel swings outward, it should cue us to apply inside leg to really encourage the inside hind to reach and cross under their body. While we were doing this, we had to be certain to keep the outside rein as a solid wall to guide the horse's body. In other words, inside leg to outside rein. She even encouraged us to release the inside rein in a dramatic way from time to time to demonstrate the concept further.

A good, focusing poneh

I've heard inside leg to outside rein often. I've even done exercises that center around it. But this exercise truly cemented the feeling of doing it correctly for the first time. Great lightbulb moment for me!

"Can we please just TROT?! This is HARD." - Griffin, probably

Griffin, protesting the continual work at the walk, my outside rein "wall" and nagging inside leg, broke to trot a lot and curled himself onto the bit seeking escape. C had me make a bit of a rowing circle with my hands forward and up his neck to "reset" him. Odd direction, but by golly it worked every time! She noted that if he wanted so badly to try it "his way" at the trot to give it a go. So we did! And we found a fair bit more success than I imagined we would. Good boy, Grif!


From there the exercised evolved into a figure-8 where we were to "dramatically" change our bend in the middle. It was really fun to practice this and combine both directions after we'd performed the exercise isolated each way. I really felt the change in bend for the first time and was pleased to even receive several positive comments from C throughout. 

Giving the exercise a go at the trot

After this exercise, C focused on helping Lauren for a time. I walked and trotted along the outside of the ring a bit testing some of the concepts we'd gone over before settling myself in a corner to watch Lauren for a time. She's come SO far from last year!

<3 this little grey guy

When C turned her attention back to me, she set up three cones equidistant in a line and I worked on leg yielding left and right between them. She wanted me to really focus on keeping him straight as he does all he can to contort himself, throwing his haunches or shoulder out in an attempt to escape the work.

This makes me giggle a lot. Griffin is trying ALL the possible "answers".

We had a few great passes at the walk, but largely most of the practice was mediocre with a few horrible passes, which were more prevalent in our attempts at the trot (see: Griffin wanting to do it "his way" as noted above lol). C'est la vie. Regardless, it was a great exercise I can absolutely practice at home!

This makes me giggle even more. I was thinking "straight straight straight apply leg" and Griffin took it to another extreme

Our penultimate exercise was at the canter because by this point Griffin was really cranky being held to the walk and the trot. He LOVES cantering - always has. His least favorite training days at home are always the ones where we exclusively work on walk-trot and transitions within the trot. I can't tell you how often I have to bring him back to a trot from the canter on those days! He is ever eager to canter and becomes the lightest horse EVER to ANY aid to find an excuse to canter.

C decided to just toss me into the deep end with this one (even though it's something I've wanted to work on for awhile) - flying changes. We practiced this the same as our figure-8s at the walk/trot before, but with 20m circles. The first time we tried it (from left to right) Griffin NAILED it. When we came back around the figure 8 to try again in with the opposite change, Grif just powered forward in counter canter to which C remarked, "He's awfully balanced in counter canter!" And I laughed in reply, "I know, right?! It's a blessing, it's a curse." And she laughed.

A simple change

I shared with her that I really hadn't fussed with it much because he picks up the correct lead in our dressage tests so far because we're always on a circle for those. The "incorrect lead" pops up more often in our jump work and as long as he is balanced and we have a steady forward rhythm to and away from the jumps, I haven't found reason to fuss. C nodded along and heartily agreed with this logic noting that the lateral work will help him to pick up the correct lead as we move into the future. I nodded in eager agreement.

We tried a few more rounds with moderate to no success. She had me pick up my new inside rein and cue for the change as his new inside hind struck forward, but by that point I think I was overthinking and riding poorly so we never nailed it. Once or twice, he changed in front but not behind. Eventually we took the exercise back to a simple change with a few trot steps. That, of course, granted us much more success.

While it seemed daunting and "above" where I felt our capabilities were in the moment, I'm really glad I was thrown into the proverbial deep end trying flying changes. I was pleasantly surprised we had any success at all and look forward to improving in the future.

So much tail sass!

The final exercise we did as a bit of a cool-out was focusing on straightness at the walk after I noted to C as an after-thought that Griffin and I have an issue with crooked halts in our tests. In tandem, Lauren and I walked on opposite sides of the arena (K-E-H and F-B-M), turning toward C and down our respective quarterlines focusing on straightness all the while.

The first go, Grif and I were drunken sailors. The second go, we were much better. The final go, was the straightest of the bunch, though the halt was still slightly crooked with shoulders right and haunches left. I asked C if I was sitting lopsided or crooked, had too much rein in one hand vs the other, or perhaps was collapsing through one of my sides. She assured me that I looked just fine and it very well may be a "Griffin problem". Well, damn. I've been blaming myself for that for months lol! She recommended supporting him more through it in the future and seeing where things went from there.

My "riding is hard" face

By the time we finished, our hour lesson was more like an hour and a half! Not complaining!! It was a great lesson with a lot of great takeaways and plenty of homework to focus on over the next two weeks when we head back for another lesson. Lauren also had a blast and informed me she's already got her homework "schedule" figured out, lamenting that she wished her school homework was this enjoyable, haha!

It feels damn good to finally get out and get lessons. While I wish I could have done more of this at a younger age, I don't think I was truly prepared or ready and eager to learn everything until now. I absolutely devoured all of the knowledge and enjoyed pushing myself at the lesson. I have a feeling these next two weeks will pass quickly, and I hope we can accomplish some things with our homework so we can show up improved for our next lesson.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Prepare for Take-Off!

Boom, just like that, my season of going-places and doing-things with the horses has kicked off - and it's sort of a shock because I was just beginning to throw away any notion of doing things this year after an extended period of stagnation.


Over the weekend, Lauren and I put in 17 rainy miles on the rail trail (an awesome first rain-test of the Arctic Horse skirt!). It was the first time we'd ridden together in a few months and it was great to get out and catch up. I'm so proud of - and impressed by - how far she's come with her riding abilities and knowledge.

Rain drenched, sweaty, and itchy from shedding season - not a happy Q mare!
But she did keep up a lovely 8 mph pace for 2+ hours on the rail trail!

It was a great ride and a total non-event for Q. She only led a mile or so, and she didn't spook horribly for any of it. The new "big problem" we have instead of violent spooking is that she gets nervous, quits listening to me, and speeds up. If I can get her to sit down on her hind end, slow down, and settle, she'll come back to me. It's going to take some time and repetition, but she's already showing a lot of promise toward listening better and settling in these moments, and she's checking in with me all the time when she's a follower and not leader! So much positive progress! Now to just put in more time and miles.


As Lauren's horse continues to have some imbalance issues (really strong on his right side and really weak on his left), I recommended (again) to her parents about getting dressage lessons. It will not only lend suppling exercises to help the horse, but will teach Lauren how to be a better rider who can support MJ through his issues in the future.

Unexpectedly, we quickly put things into motion and got a lesson with the closest instructor to us setup for Wednesday! Like, 2 days from now!

Be still my heart <3

This won't be strictly a dressage lesson though. Our closest instructor is Level 1 Centered Riding instructor - which is flippin' awesome because it's something I wanted to do anyway!

We'll be having one lesson this Wednesday and another in two weeks. From there, we may head to Virginia for lessons at a dressage barn. The way I look at it, the CR lessons will get me tuned up and Lauren clued in so we can get the most from dressage instruction later on. But time will tell! I'm excited no matter what.

And then (because, holy crap there is an "and then"!), on Thursday I'm going to join some members of our local trail riding club taking a lesson with a local natural horsemanship guy. He spends a lot of his time starting youngsters and wild mustangs, so I'm not really sure what I'm going to gain to help toward any competition pursuits, but the price is right (the club is paying for us), so why not?!

Exercising the rampant little dog. Oh, and the horse.

Originally, I'd planned to take Griffin to this outing purely so I could get him out and about more, but as we'll have a lesson the night before, I'm leaning toward taking Q instead. There's always more to do with her and she's always better off-property, so it should be fun! Though eventually, I'd like to take Griffin (these lessons will be happening 2x/month through July) so we can make some more connections with cowfolks in our pursuit to do some cutting later this year.

Lots of blog fodder to look forward to in the near future - and I can't wait to share.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Of Huskies, Horses, Photography, a Clinic, and Happiness

I had a whirlwind of a weekend in the DC area this past weekend!

Austen's magical sunset spot near her new barn

Earlier this spring, Austen messaged me to let me know Janet Foy would be at her barn old barn putting on a clinic. Remembering past blog write-ups of Janet's clinics from other years, I quickly moved my one weekend commitment and put this clinic on my calendar to audit.

From the moment I arrived Thursday evening to the moment I left Sunday afternoon, Austen and I were go-go-go. There was much to do and much to see! Sleep was almost an after thought. My two country huskies agreed that the fast-paced city life was exhausting!


The clinic itself was really freaking cool. I've been to only a few clinics and this one was definitely with the most knowledgeable person to-date. It was really cool to see such a variety of riders and horses who were working across so many different levels.


My favorite pair to watch was one of the young riders and her 6 year old horse who are currently working on second level. Such a beautiful pair!

Janet ended up using this rider as an example for so many things most of us do poorly, picking out key things many riders earlier in the day had done. It was crazy to see how "off" those things were after watching the young rider; sometimes you don't realize how crooked or incorrect your aids are until you see someone doing things so impeccably.

My favorite part was when Janet had the rider scoot way over to the right, collapse her left side, and put her right leg way behind the girth  - a contortion many earlier riders (currently in the audience) had put themselves in while asking for lateral work earlier in the day. As the rider collapsed through her left side for the demo, Janet told her, "No, MORE." To which we all giggled. She then noted to all of us how absurd this was and we could all see how incorrect it really was. Such a great learning moment!

I took away so many valuable tidbits from the clinic. I'm quite new to this world, so my takeaways are vastly different (and likely very elementary) from many others, but that's all part of the learning process! The spectrum of learning is really cool, and it was a true sign of how good a clinician Janet is that all levels of riders benefited from her teaching.

I won't expound greatly on my notes - they're mostly tailor-made to facilitate my work with Griffin and Q, but I've included them below for posterity.
  • Half halt is to keep inside hind on  ground half second longer
  • When posting keep inside leg on when rising 
  • Work at leg yielding then get back on circle and inside hind should begin crossing under body better 
  • Don't practice a walk that isn't on the test
  • Don't let them trot faster into canter - not good to let their front end pull them into it - when they do that pull them right back down to normal trot and say "no" then try again into the canter without rushing
  • Every horse uses head and neck to balance. We have to convince them to trust us to be in charge of their balance.
  • Put more strength in your position before asking for something that causes them to pull against you in protest so you can meet that resistance without losing your position (spoken to a rider who was on a horse that loved to forcefully take the reins away from her)


  • Inside rein is turn signal for turn on haunches shouldn't have much pressure on it for long. Do square turns not circle turns. Ride on a big square.
  • Inside rein keeps the bend, outside rein keeps half halting and getting longer
  • Do the above and let the reins slowly inch longer so they stay in frame while getting longer and swinging more through the back - something to do at the end of a ride. Never walk in that stretchy frame tho.
  • When transitioning to walk, don't allow long rein until 5 to 6 walk strides in contact at medium walk
  • Outside rein half halts to slow down and keep tempo while inside rein keeps bend
  • If whatever you're doing causes a rhythm problem stop. Rhythm is the most important thing. Make sure you have it.   
  • Headlights (boobs). Point the girls in the direction of travel.  
  • Outside rein can touch neck inside rein should not. Stretching into outside rein. Bending away from inside rein.
  • Leg should be active! Tap tap relax tap tap relax. Don't move it back and just leave it on forever. Need to reward them by removing the pressure.
  • Use a pendulum of trot...long then short, long then short, etc. Remember to keep the rhythm the same!!!


  • Haunches in does not have the front legs crossing.
  • Shoulder fore going into turn on haunches. Then as you're turning - rein back like you're going to 'whoa stop' then turn. But you have to let go or you hold them there. Timing timing timing.
  • Whip behind leg says go more forward. Leg on croup says sit more.  
  • Before the rein back the halt has to be settled. Rein back should be fluid and horse should sink down. Diagonal pairs.
  • "It's okay, I'm not here to be loved." - Janet, spoken to a horse who was acting out after his rider laughed and noted that he was really hating Janet in that moment.
  • You don't need collection without bend.
  • Acting out. Stop hard then be nice with reins once they are stopped. Hands low if they are throwing their head. (Spoken to the rider with the horse who liked to take the reins from her; he hated hated HATED when she began correcting his habit!)
  • When you come into the ring with rubber reins the first thing the judge says is - oh he pulls!
  • The more impulsion you have the more submission you need


As I expected it would, the clinic was a great kick in the pants for me to get back to it with my dressage work on Griffin and Q. I'm really excited for the months ahead!

After auditing for awhile on Saturday, we headed to Middleburg, VA, to the Tack Exchange. I was on a quest for some tall boots at a steal. Unfortunately, I didn't find any within budget - but I did score some Kerrits tights for REAL CHEAP and a great short sleeve show shirt. Now I just need to find some freaking TIME to ride and prep for shows and endurance rides since I've got an expanded wardrobe for these things!

Dogs who roll in unidentified dead/decaying things get cross-tied and bathed.

While in Middleburg, we rendezvoused with Olivia! There was no doubt she knew who we were from a distance considering we had three huskies. #sledteamstatus I quickly passed off Taiga to Olivia and we sauntered down the street, three horse girls with three huskies, to find a lunch spot.


As we sat enjoying our happy hour fair, it dawned on me that Austen and I both had our cameras with us. There had been some casual talk of going to meet Frankie afterward and knowing Olivia had been wishing for some more media recently I threw an offer out there, "You know, we both have our cameras...." And boom, we were heading to see Frankie and become the strangest paparazzi of huskies and cameras he'd ever witness.


Fortunately, Frankie is a freaking SAINT. He barely batted an eye at the crazy dogs our our cameras snapping constantly. Seriously. He is THE SWEETEST guy. Olivia is the luckiest girl ever to have him in her life - and her adoration for him is so very evident in the way she constantly looks at him, smiles at him, and talks about him. I wish a horse like that on every little horse-crazy girl at some point in her life.

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I even nabbed some of those "black background" photos for Olivia as she headed to the indoor for her ride.

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But seriously, y'all. These two. What a relationship. So many quiet touches and looks between them. They've got their own little language and it's the sweetest thing. Olivia's fiancee was a very, very wise man to involve Frankie in his proposal! It's good to have the big guy on his side knowing how much Olivia adores him.

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The rest of the weekend was full of history lessons from Austen and a photoshoot with Lyra in and around her home. The very lovely weather coupled with so many blooms and new leaves made for SUCH a pretty weekend.

We are beauty. We are grace. Well, maybe Austen is. But I'm ridiculous.

All of the photography nerdery with Austen coupled with so much horse time, some hiking, much laughter, and lots of husky-hair made my heart so, so happy. The dogs and I thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and can't wait for next time!