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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.

Our school master doesn’t have his own dedicated tack so I’m on a mission. In the boarder’s tack room I retrieve my instructor’s girth and saddle. At another locker I grab a bridle. Wait. I still need a saddle pad. Hmmm, R–’s locker is right here. She won’t mind. I’ve used her tack before. I grab the saddle pad and without another thought tacked up for my lesson.

“Where’d you get the pad?” My instructor’s checking my tack as I mount.

Uh-oh. Why’d I take the saddle pad? That’s all I can think about. The nice white saddle pad. The one I borrowed from a boarder’s locker. Without asking. Have I lost my mind? A mere lesson student helping herself to a boarder’s belongings? I can only pray that I haven’t launched the next world war.

“It’s R–’s. I didn’t think she’d mind. I’ll wash it and bring it back on Tuesday.”

Darn! I knew I shouldn’t have taken it. Guilt. Guilt. Can we say GUILT?

“Uh-huh. She’s on vacation so she won’t be back until later in the week”

Oh, good! I can wash the pad, put it away and no one will know. Wait. I know. And my instructor. Darn! Guilt. I hate this!

Lesson? What lesson? I’m feeling so guilty I can’t even think about my lesson. It passes in a blur. I think we did serpentines. Hey! Did I graduate from circles?

Back home I atone for my sins by washing and bleaching the saddle pad. It looks great! I even admit my guilt and attached the following note to the saddle pad with a safety pin.


The following Saturday as I entered the barn I hear “Lee!” R–’s spotted me. “You’re too funny!” I am?

“Hi R–! Did you get my love note?”

“Yes. I don’t mind if you borrow my things! It was sooo clean too!”

“My washer and dryer are pretty new.” Another boarder trots past us.

“Hey, Lee! Can you wash mine?”

It seems that I’ve atoned for my sins and possibly found myself a new profession. What a relief!

As any rider will tell you the quest for an independent seat is the ultimate goal. The ability to ride in harmony could take many hours and quite possibly years to achieve (think Spanish Riding School). Both of which I have in limited amounts! I’m a once a week lesson student that just stopped hourly practice rides. That means one hour of mounted riding time a week. And years? I’m 42! I’m running out of years! I need to fast track my independent seat.

Hmmm, what skills do I need to get this job done?

Wanted: Independent Seat

Skills Required: Relaxation (both physical and mental), balance, ability to follow the horse’s motion
Communication Skills: Clear use of aids (legs, reins and seat)
Benefits: Harmony with the horse
Experience: No prior experience needed. All may apply.
Salary: Based on experience. Blood, sweat and tears, sore muscles and finally after many hours and possibly years an independent seat.

I also understand that riders that take lungeing lessons progress very quickly. So, I agreed to be a lunge line guinea pig. We weren’t sure how the school master would react but he was a…well, school master. I on the other hand? Yeah. Well, I guess I need these lessons.

I knotted the reins and placed them on the horse’s neck. That way they were out of my way but within reach if I needed them. Then I attached a grab strap to the front of the saddle. I just might need that during sitting trot to prevent myself from being catapulted across the indoor. Okay, I’ve official surrendered all control to my instructor. She’s responsible for controlling my horse’s speed and the size of our circle. I’ve been told to do nothing with my legs. Absolutely nothing.

We started at a walk without reins. I held my invisible reins and concentrated on following the horse’s movement.

Side to side, hip to hand. Not bad.
Let’s pick up a posting trot. Yeah, let’s! Piece of cake.
Now a sitting trot. BIG. TROT.  I’m okay. Relax.
Wait? Was that a canter stride?
What was that? A buck?!
Stop messing around. TROT!
Hmmm, shift back a little. Better.
Now walk. Okay, walk. Ack! Pitching forward.
Grow tall and sit into it. Okay, slower trot, slower, taller, walk.
Darn. Brakes are sticky.

Now without your stirrups. Deep breath, let’s go!
BIG. TROT. Where’s that strap?
Breathe. Relax. Side to side.
Look no hands!

Things were far from perfect. Especially those downward transitions. I’m learning to rely less on the reins and more on my body. I trust myself and my balance even more.

Independent seat here I come!

Our pre-lesson banter centered around Core Rhythms. You know the infomercial on TV? A total core workout in the guise of Latin dance moves. What fun! All of us wanted it and the cry for a dance/pilates/yoga studio was raised. We even had a spot above the horse stalls picked out. I’m sure they’d enjoy that! Right, uh-huh.

I should’ve known what was coming.

Words that make all Dressage Diva Wannabes cringe. No, not 20 meter circles. At least not this time. It was sitting trot! On a Danish Warmblood dressage school master no less!





Okay. Sitting. Hmmm, not bad. Side-to-side, up and down.

BOING! Shoot! Quick! Stand up in stirrups. Now sit.

Side-to-side, up and down.

Don’t grip with your thigh!  Huh? How’d she see that?

Lean back a little more!  Hey! Saw that too.

No knees!  How’d she know?

Think about doing the Rumba!  Rumba? Uh, okay.

Ba-ba-ba-boom, ba-ba-ba-boom!

Whoa! My hips! I’m moving and sitting the trot!

Ba-ba-ba-boom, ba-ba-ba-boom!

I’m definitely not fluid but there’s hope. I did a good job and I have great balance. All I have to do is channel my inner dancer while chanting “ba-ba-ba-boom!” Oh, and remember to trust my balance. Hmmm, engage my core and sit up. Oh, and ground my feet. Darn feet. See? Piece of cake. That is until I tense or twitch a muscle and boing right off that saddle. Let’s not think about that though. Positive energy only! 🙂

Riding a dressage school master is like flying first class. Once you have a taste you’ll never want to return to coach. Of course I don’t even own a horse so, dressage diva in the making that I am, I’ll take anything I can get.

The warm up rider. Never underestimate the value of a warm up rider. I lucked out that the school master was already out for a lesson just prior to mine. All the other schoolies were being prepped for a show so I got to ride him. This was both good and bad. Good because he’s awesome to ride and warmed up. Bad because it’s been two weeks since I last rode. Can you say rusty? I’m going to ache later.

The gist of things. Away we went to warm up in walk and trot. We then started to trot down the centerline and leg yield out to the rail. I was having trouble containing his left shoulder and I was waiting too long to start the leg yield so our angle was too steep. Funny thing is that my instructor didn’t really mention any of this. I was telling her and the student watching what I was doing wrong.

To change things up we picked up the 20-meter circle at C. Amazing how I didn’t dread them this time. Do you think it has something to do with riding a horse that knows how to bend? I was looking a bit too far around the circle for this particular horse so I wasn’t hitting the touching points. I needed to bring my eyes back to about a quarter of the distance. The schoolie I normally ride needs a half circle.

The finale. As we trotted the circle the school master started to mess with me. All the sudden the tempo changed and although I was still trotting it was much slower and BIG. I sat the HUGE wave up and down with a puzzled expression on my face. Then I broke into giggles, almost fell off, and said “What was that?” My instructor and the other student grinned back and said “Passage!” I’m hooked! I did a little more passage and the horse seemed to enjoy it as much as I did.

Watch out Dancing with the Stars! I can dance with horses. Sorta.

rocco2My barn has a wonderful school master. He’s a seventeen year old, 16.2 hands, Danish Warmblood gelding. Well schooled in Flying Changes, Piaffe, Passage, and Half Pass. He has an outstanding trot, a wonderful canter and was shown at Third Level, NEDA in 2004.

In my last lesson we were working on straightness on the quarterline, centerline and diagonal. I noticed that my 20 meter circles were much better. My weight stayed to the inside while I was bending him around my leg. I also remembered to give with my inside rein. He was able to give me some wonderful extended trots because he was so well balanced. The power behind them was incredible! I felt like I was riding a cloud.

With this horse I’ve worked on Leg Yields, Shoulder In, Shoulder Fore, and Turn on the Fore. My sub-instructor was so happy with the lesson that she wants to video it this week. If all goes well I’ll post it here as well as sending a copy to my instructor in Florida.

Stay tuned!

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