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A skilled dressage rider makes riding seem so quiet, beautiful and effortless. Riding is easy but the sport of dressage is actually physically and mentally demanding. It requires focus. The slightest shift of balance, hand or leg movement can affect the quality of the ride. Tension is the enemy and unfortunately I have that in abundance.

Charlie and I moved around the arena at a trot in the early morning sun. I massaged the inside rein, sat into his back and tightened my calves around him. Charlie responded by coming over his back and rounding his neck. I laughed as he switched to passage. Bouncing beneath me like a huge ball as we continued moving in a slow trot.

“Stop showing off!” My instructor shouts from the opposite end of the arena. Her voice is tinged with laughter too.

“I’m not,” I replied. “I just can’t trot!”

“That’s because you’re too tight!”

Blech, those words of wisdom again. I’m too tight. I have admit that passage feels great! But what I really want is a trot. Just a good old fashioned trot. Please!

Oh, there it is! Oops. Back to passage. Laughter bubbles up from within me.

Bounce, bounce, bounce

Okay, let’s focus and attempt to relax. I need to make it around at least once at a trot.

Woot, woot success!

I love school masters! That is when I’m not busy hating them for exposing every fault in my position and aids.

It’s a nice cool day that started out with some drizzle. My instructor asked me to ride a different school horse today. She likes to make sure that they get worked and I’m open to riding different horses. She selected Calvin, a nice TB, that I haven’t ridden in about six months.

We only did trot work today. After we got past my noisy hands (he has a lot of movement) and I had them quietly resting on the imaginary shelf, Calvin would round up nicely. Even on the 20 meter circle! Believe me this is quite a feat because he doesn’t bend very easily. Why don’t school horses bend?

My instructor was quite pleased and told me that I should be proud of myself. In a few places I actually could feel that he was totally on the aids and light as a feather.

I’m sooo excited! I asked to ride him again next week. My instructor agreed because it’s good for him. I hope I can get someone to take pictures.


We’re nearing A at a trot. Two students are approaching from the opposite direction. They’re leading their mounts. Suddenly, we’re aloft! Simultaneously my mount farts and startles herself.

Dressage Rider “What was that?!” Laughter bubbling out.

Instructor “She thought the beam of light from the door was a pole and jumped it.” Joining in my laughter.

Dressage Rider “Really? Well, she farted and spooked herself.”

It’s always good to end a lesson with laughter.

Eureka! It was brought to my attention that I’m shifting my weight to the outside of the 20 meter circle! This is causing my horse to step under me (think of leg yielding) and out of the circle. Also I’m still not using the inside rein properly. I need to adjust my inside hand so that my fingernails are up and my thumb points toward the center of the circle (hitch-hiking). The minute I do that my horse is coming down and nicely rounded. This positioning can be used when riding corners too.

Tomorrow night Courtney King-Dye, Debbie McDonald and Steffen Peters will be riding. You can watch it on the Oxygen Channel at 6 p.m. or live on NBC Olympics at 7:15 a.m. Wednesday, August 13. The rider schedule is posted on the official Beijing Olympics website.

We’re going to our local sports bar to cheer on the U.S. Equestrian Team.

I’m a perfectionist and my own worse critic. Always have been.  So, learning dressage has been both a blessing and a curse.  I love the movements and when we’re in balance.  I hate it when I can’t pull it all together.  When I nail it though…then I’m cruising along on such an incredible high!

I had a good lesson on Calvin yesterday.  I started warming up at a walk without stirrups.  I rode on the buckle so that I could concentrate on my seat and a long leg.  Then we moved up to a little more contact and riding concentric circles.  It’s a great exercise for us.  I have to ride thinking about my outside leg.  Calvin, loves to fall in/out.  We threw in some counter flexion for good measure and I had some great moments of Calvin coming down into my hands.  Now to remember that and maintain it!

Okay, I confess! I can not for the life of me ride a 20 meter torture circle. Or for that matter a 10 or 15 meter circle. All my circles have corners or are oval shaped but never a perfect circle. While I’ll admit the free flowing shape of a snowman may be more interesting, I can’t stand having my instructor yell anymore! After all, I’ve only been doing this for 1.5 years! Easy peasy. NOT!

Assigning blame
“There are no corners in a circle!”
Your instructor called out the direction too late for you to prepare.
You’ve graduated to a new school horse that doesn’t bend in that direction.

“You missed your touching points!”
Traffic along the rail prevented this.
Did I mention that you’ve graduated to a new school horse that doesn’t bend in that direction?

Study the dressage arena and learn the 20, 15, and 10 meter circles. Thank you Behind the Bit for some great diagrams. Wish me luck…

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