Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Golden Girls!

I've had a new addition to my gang, Barbara Repta. She lives in Park City, and has a trainer up there, but, has rented a home in St. George for the winter. When she came out to Lava Bluffs to introduce herself and take a look around, she almost apologetically told me her age. I quickly told her not to think a thing about it, that I didn't currently have a client under the age of 50. Her response was, "Oh my gosh, don't you find that depressing?". I said absolutely not, in fact I find it inspiring. I hope and pray I am still riding for as long as I can clamber into the saddle, and these ladies never let me forget what is possible. Not only that, I love how eager and appreciative they are. I think I am extremely lucky to have such a dedicated bunch, regardless of their riding goals. The one thing they have in common is a desire to learn to ride, respect for their horses, respect for my time, and a strong appreciation for my efforts to stay on top of my game and find new and better ways to convey information. They always finish their lessons with a thank you. I am lucky to have them.
I've introduced Brenda and Karen in previous posts, and they have been riding with me longest. Karen is actually one of my first clients as a professional. But I haven't introduced Sarah Glidden, Beth Hart, or Barbara Repta yet.
Sarah, like Karen, did not ride or own horses growing up, or even in early adulthood. She owns a 14 year old Arabian gelding named Daz, and at the age of 64 is only just learning to ride. Her horse was bought for her granddaughter years ago, but something in her heart told her to find a way to keep this horse in her life. She’s had to sacrifice a lot to keep him, but it has been worth it and she can pilot this little power house with sheer grit you will not find on a golf course.
Beth has worked with many young horses over the years and loves teaching youngsters the basics. Her background has been primarily western disciplines, and for many years she was heavily involved in the breeding of Appaloosa's, and later Paints. While she no longer starts young horses, she still owns two geldings, Clu and Charger, that she cares for entirely herself. She does all her own farm chores and repairs, and works too!
Barbara owns and rides a 9 year old Norwegian Fjord mare named Petunia, and at 69, can ride circles around most people a third of her age. Let me tell you, from first hand experience, that if you can ride Petunia, you can ride any horse. She's talented and beautiful, and knows it, but she has definitely read the book, and if you don't ride 100% correctly, she isn't doing it!
Last Saturday, I had the girls out for a photo shoot, a short trail ride, and some drill riding in the arena. I must stay, they were beautiful riding in formation. From left to right in the group photo in the arena are: Brenda & Ruby, Sarah & Daz, Beth & Clu, Karen & Tanner, Barbara & Petunia, and myself on Charisma, who can't wear a saddle yet but is loving this new walk only plan.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Charisma and I are the 2009 Open Second Level Reserve Champions with LVC-CDS!

It's official, we earned Reserve Champion for 2009 at Second Level with the Las Vegas Chapter of the California Dressage Society! And the icing on the cake is that when I go to collect my award, I will only have tears of joy.

Check out the website for full results.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Notecards make a great holiday gift!

I have always wanted to make my own set of note cards, and finally got around to it. Check out the four graphite drawings on the sidebar. I will be selling packages of ten for $20, plus shipping. You can have each pose included, or, just one pose, or otherwise choose your own mix. Just shoot me an email and I'll get those put in the mail for you.

Monday, November 9, 2009

September 26th, 2009, a day I'll never forget.

This was the day that all my plans for the next few show seasons to come evaporated in an instant. It was on this day that Charisma, my stalwart mare, showed that even she could be frail. She suffered a full torsion colic, and surgery was required. I've written several "docu-dramas" about the events. Most anyone who knows me has already read two of them. Most anyone who knows me also knows that today, six weeks and one day post surgery, Charisma is doing very well. I am incredibly lucky to still have her, lucky for all the blessings she has brought to my life. I am so very sad at the prospect I might never set foot in a show ring with her again. I have not missed a show season in 11 years with this horse, the horse that never gets sick, never comes up lame, always the picture of health and strength. Not even while pregnant, or nursing a foal, did I have to give up a show season on this horse. But all the ribbons, achievements, and scores are meaningless now. They are just little feathers in my cap of vanity, I realize that. Charisma is much thinner now, her coat no longer sleak, her muscles no longer rippling, no longer the epitome of elegant power. BUT, she is gradually regaining strength, regaining weight, and regaining herself. We have always had a good bond, but now, we are very close. As much as I adore her son, there will never be another horse that holds a candle to this mighty mare they named Charisma. She has touched many lives, impressed many people, even vets and technicians who work with animals every single day were amazed her grace and intelligence. This beautiful photo was taken by Wendy Wyatt, who not only is a very talented photographer, but also the technician responsible for monitoring Charisma's vital signs and anesthesia during her colic surgery. Here is a link to Wendy's website:

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Video Clips from my most recent lesson with Shelley

If your pony tail isn't flying, you aren't cantering!! I told one of my students this once. So I thought it would be fun to share these pictures and video clips from my latest lesson with Shelley. My pony tail was definitely flying! I was lucky enough to have my friend Cathy Deane available to record it. I got a kick out of how expressive Shelley was having to be to get me to ride more boldly. Some of this work went really well, so I've saved these videos as a reminder later when I'm riding on my own again. Here are links to a couple of video clips.

USDF "L" Program comes to the Utah Dressage Society!

I am very excited for the opportunity to participate in the upcoming USDF "L" Program being organized by the Utah Dressage Society. Details about the program itself may be found on USDF's website. Here is a link:
Details regarding participation through the UDS program, which begins October 23 & 24, 2009, can be found here:
This program will take me a little over a year to complete. I am very grateful to the Utah Dressage Society for their tireless efforts to better the sport in our state.
I've already begun reading the materials. This program is not just for people who want to be a judge, although it is the first step. If you are a serious competitor, or, have a keen desire to learn more about the melding of competition, theory, biomechanics, and art, this is a great program. I haven't even sat in my first class yet, and already feel my brain expanding with information. I highly recommend it from an educational standpoint.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Edmonton Gold Rush Show and CDI

Here is a link to the website for the Edmonton Gold Rush Show and CDI. There are rider biographies, full results for both the open Gold level show(the same as a National show in the US, riders received full recognition from Equine Canada and Dressage Canada), as well as the CDI.
I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to watch the first CDI in Alberta. Saturday, my grooming duties thankfully were complete just in time for me to watch the entire entry. I also caught most of it on Friday. In my eyes, the standouts were Travolta, Lymrix, Pfalstaff, Pikardi, and Picasso, Jr. I was also very inspired by Jennifer Parks and Morgen. Oslo and Lyndsey Seidel-Wassaner continue to make headway in the National ranks. I've admired and watched this pair since she first earned the ride on this horse. Thankfully, she was able to buy him.
Travolta, a hot number sired by Jazz, was bought by his rider at one of the warmblood sales in Alberta several years back. He is absolutely beautiful, brilliant, really a dazzling horse to watch. Joni Lynn Peters rides him with a superb mix of bravado and tact. When he focuses, he's nearly unbeatable. He is young yet, so, watch for this pair, a real bright star on the horizon for Canadian dressage, already long-listed to the Team.
Lymrix is owned & ridden by Crystal Kroetch. He's a gorgeous bay horse, powerful and has "the look". Crystal rides him very well, and has already been extremely successful with him both in the US on the California show circuit and in Canada. Expect to see this pair earn a Team Canada listing.
Pfalstaff is a very beautiful creature, dark chestnut in color, with lots of chrome to complete the perfect picture. He's very correct, obedient, and is gifted with a super build and natural gaits. Wendy Cristoff makes no mistakes, and the pair swept their Int. 2 and GP classes.
Pikardi, ridden by Bonny Bonnello, should also be mentioned here. While he did not win his Int. 2 or GP class, bear in mind, he is ridden by a very decorated Canadian rider, is young, and only just began schooling the I-2 and GP this January. They will certainly be a force to be reckoned with once his work is confirmed. He is certainly not lacking in brilliance and talent, and with such a pilot as Bonny, he is well on his way. The pair is already long-listed to Team Canada.
Picasso, Jr, is a beautiful dappled grey horse, with an extremly uphill build, a very forward way of going, has lovely gaits and shows great submission and work ethic. He's a horse anyone would watch and want to ride. I'd own him in a minute! He gave his rider, Diana Ducevik, his absolute attention and heart. He clearly loves her. Diana has hopes of qualifying for the Pan Am Games, and I would love to see such a pair make the team.
Oslo and Lindsey continued their winning ways, and continue to represent Canada as a Young Rider Team. Oslo's training has continued very well and he is looking powerful and brilliant. He works for Lindsey with his every breath, it's a joy to watch them. The two have already earned a long-listing with Team Canada.
While not the winning pair, in fact, the last placed pair in each class, I was very moved and inspired by Jennifer Parks and Morgen. Morgen is, like my own horse, half Holsteiner, half Thoroughbred in blood. Their build and look is very similar. Jennifer is an open rider, but like me, her students consist entirely of Training level riders, and most of them are also Vintage riders. While she does have a longer history than I in dressage, having actually earned a berth on the Canadian YR team at one point, she did serve to inspire me to keep chipping away at this sport. Training horses and riders is not her full time job, in fact she is a school teacher, as is her husband Greg. They are a lovely couple, who work hard, and Greg supports her every step of the way. I relate to this entire team in many ways, also having a husband who thinks we're amazing no matter what scores we bring home. What Morgen and Charisma lack in brilliant movement and ideal conformation, they make up for with a burning desire to please their riders. They are beloved pets first and foremost. The rest is icing. Jennifer did a super job in both the PSG and Int. 1 tests, capitalizing on correct and obedient work. I thanked her for the inspiration. I am now sure we can do it, too. Lest you "pooh-pooh" scores in the high 50s, please realize this pair was being compared to pairs that you will be seeing on Canada's team. Until you do it yourself, you have no idea how hard it is to make a line of 3s & 2s with the whole world watching on a horse that does not have ideal conformation by a rider who seldom gets outside instruction. It ain't easy. Jennifer gets my utmost respect and admiration.
Some "stars" were in attendance as well, including Leslie Reid and Dr. Thomas Ritter, both there in support of riders who train with them. It was great to see Edmonton draw such a luminous dressage crowd. I haven't sat in an audience this full at a dressage show, outside of the FEI World Cup!
Next year, Alberta hopes to host two CDI's, with Amberlea Meadows and Edmonton Area Alberta Dressage Association again hosting one, and with the Calgary Area Alberta Dressage Association also hoping to organize one, to make for a great draw for Team hopeful riders in the entire North American West. Watch the Alberta Dressage Association's website for the latest news!

More Lesson Gleanings!

Yesterday I had another lesson with Shelley, and Irene also double-teamed us, so it was a very intense hour. We did not work on any movements, we can do them, Charisma knows them. I asked them to help me with the "qualities". We need to show greater impulsion, submission, uphill balance, self-carriage, and greater carrying behind. So they spent the hour helping me develop a very cadenced, lovely trot, and then we worked on the canter. Charisma's trot work has come so far that I can truly ride with the weight of the reins now, and we just needed to coax that little something extra out of her, that really says "we belong here". Her canter work has also improved, but is not her best gait. They helped me ride her into a very round, rolling, jumping canter. I must be more brave! I've made some notes, that actually mostly reiterate what they've already been teaching me, but more in depth, and, with a deeper understanding for the requirements of the level. I've decided to enter the Alberta Provincial Championships being held at the Parkland Dressage Festival in September. I don't care how we place or score, my goal is for the tests to flow, and the movements to literally "be there", so that I can concentrate on riding each step and coaxing the best qualities out of my horse. We have been schooling all the Fourth level work now for the last month, so I am looking forward to being able to ride Third level with my head, and not my brawn. Of course in dressage, it is always recommended to show a level or two below what you are schooling at home. But when you only have one horse, and you have learned everything on that one horse, and you don't have access to daily training, you wind up riding beyond your level most of the time. I am happy that this year, I reached a point where I've been able to show Charisma at Second level, and not have to struggle. I've been able to enjoy it. I am now looking forward to having that same luxury at Third level.
Here are my notes from yesterday's lesson:

  • Charisma avoids the difficulty of loading the inside hind in transitions by straightening her body and losing the line of the circle. Practice all transitions with the feeling of travers, and use the outside aids actively, to keep the bend. By keeping the bend in the transitions, this increases the strength of the inside hind, developing power, which results in greater cadence. Also, if she is not allowed to straighten during the transition, she cannot use her neck against me to press up. The horse's neck muscles are very strong when they are straight. Keep her bent. Her neck is beautiful when it's correctly working for me, so seek to make her look as lovely as possible, by riding very precisely. Make that judge WANT to ride my horse.
  • When all is well in the trot work and I want to look for more cadence & expression, I need to engage my outside aids again, connect that inside hind with a bouncing lower leg to that outside rein, and ask for more honest work behind. The difference between Charisma’s trot when she is just going, and when I engage her hind legs, is night & day, from a very plain but correct trot, to a brilliant, bouncy trot that really says “we belong in the medium levels”. This will build power & expression over time. Seek to coax every ounce of movement out of her at every step.
  • In the canter work, don’t ever ride in auto-pilot. Yes there must be self carriage, but in order to coax the best three beat collected canter out of Charisma, I must keep my lower legs very loose, and literally ask for more jump every single stride. Use the seat & weight to keep her straight, and let the bouncing lower legs encourage her to jump uphill at every step. Improve the activity with every stride.
  • Continue to watch turns, lower and open the outside rein even, to keep her bending through turns and not escaping behind by straightening.
  • Keep the hands up over the wither, out in front, light and active, so as not to allow her to lean down, or worse, that I don’t pull her down. If I need to lower my hands, lower my outside hand, but keep my inside hand higher, so she can’t lean in on it.

My next post will be about the CDI in Edmonton! Stay tuned!

Monday, June 29, 2009

Life at Ironhill

Dow, BJ, Charisma, Frisco, & I settled in to our digs in Alberta in short order. We arrived on Monday, June 22nd, late in the evening. By Thursday, I was packing up to attend the Calgary Area Alberta Dressage Association's Annual show with the gang from Ironhill, this time serving as groom to my friend, Irene Hill. Irene and I met during a Tom Dvorak clinic at Horizon Equestrian Centre early in 2006, hit it off and quickly became fast friends. She and her husband were in the process of building a new facility, which is now very close to complete, with only odd projects left. Here is a link to Irene's website: The horses and I are really enjoying the benefits of the Hills' vision of a high end dressage facility. There are acres of rolling pasture, turnout fields, aspen groves and evergreen stands, and miles of prepared trails. Irene is showing three horses this year: Montevideo, an 11 yr old Hanoverian gelding she has trained to Intermediare I herself; Moxie, a 6 yr old Hanoverian mare, half sister to Monty, she also trained herself, to Third level; and Valentino II aka Rudy, a 7 yr old KWPN gelding that Irene bought as a re-training project.
I have been taking lessons with Irene, as well as with the head trainer, Shelley Malbeuf, and I've had the privilege of not only riding Charisma with them, but also Monty and Moxie. It's been a fabulous learning opportunity. I also watch other lessons, and with three riders in the barn riding at advanced levels, it is extremely inspiring and helpful for my own growth as a rider. With only six weeks left to go in our stay, I'm trying to absorb all I can. Charisma's strength and straightness have really come along. Frisco has spent the summer with the herd of yearlings, and Dillon is his best friend. They are all getting fat off the lush stand of grass.
Next weekend I will go with the Ironhill gang to serve as barn groom at the first CDI*** to ever be held in Alberta.
That will be an exciting opportunity to see the top riders and horses in Western Canada and I'm looking forward to it!
Below are some notes I've taken from my lessons so far. I'll have more to add in the next six weeks, but enjoy these for now.
  • Establish a more honest bend(check the right shoulder for better right bend) before transitions, and keep the bend through the transition.
    Keep the bit moving, keep the jaw softening, keep the arms soft.
  • If it isn’t done in shoulder-fore, it isn’t dressage.
  • Slow the tempo, so as to allow the hind legs to catch up, and ultimately, to carry.
  • Do not use harsh rein aids no matter how much the horse is bearing down, it simply doesn’t work. Instead, MOVE the bit, as well as the jaw, via the arms. The “take ten teeth out” methodology is not acceptable in correct riding. Use your mind, not your might.
  • The rein connection must remain dynamic in all transitions, but especially downwards.
  • While the leg must stay on the horse, it must just drape. NEVER pinch, hold or clamp. Give a couple of big slaps with the sides of the calf if the horse is dull to the driving aids, and teach the horse to work from the smallest leg aid and mostly from the seat. Tempi changes won’t happen if you can’t ride off the seat.
  • To collect, stretch tall from belly button up(chest up-shoulders back & down), sit very deep with seatbones, repeatedly-tuck the belly button in towards the backbone, tightening the glutes, and keep the legs soft and long. Stay light with the reins and active with the fingertips. Ask each stride at first, then encourage the horse to hold it on its own. Ask-RELEASE.
  • Tempi changes: “1-2-3-Aid-Change”=Four tempi’s. “1-2-Aid-Change”=Three Tempi’s. Use canter one stride, walk one stride, to get the feel of the rhythm for two tempi’s. Unless the horse responds instantly to the aid, the count will NOT work. Sharpen the horse up to the seat & leg first.
  • Half Passes-do not hold with the aids. Ask-release, ask-release, and get big responses to little aids. This holds true with everything, but half pass gets especially stuck if you hold with any aid-reins, legs, seat, all must ask/release in the rhythm.
  • The lightest aids yield the best results, because then the rider can keep her position correct, therefore being a better help to balance the horse, and the weight aids become very heightened in their effect.
  • Keep the elbows bending and soft, and keep the horse very round no matter what. Only add difficulty so long as you can keep the roundness.
  • Hands light, “carry” them out over the wither, keep the reins short and keep the bit moving. Do not give her one split second to settle onto the bridle.
  • Ride the corners and turns very carefully, keep the outside leg guarding and don’t let the haunches lose the line of travel by falling out. Losing the haunches to the outside in turns and corners gives away critical power.
  • Ride off the rail, in shoulder-fore and/or shoulder-in.
  • When riding flying changes across the diagonal, keep the new outside shoulder pushed away from the new outside leg, so she doesn’t try to suck to the track, compromising the straightness and thus the quality of the change itself.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Goodbye Mystic

And just like that, we have to say goodbye to Mystic. My sincerest sympathy to Kayla. She was fine at 11:30 am today, noticed rolling just after noon, but she was in full colic by that time, and by 4:15, her heart could take no more. She'll be with Goldie under the big juniper in their field. Rest in peace little grey girl.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Brenda & Ruby Are Adult Amateur Reserve High Point at Utah Summer Games!
Brenda and Ruby did very well at the Utah Summer Games under Judge Thann Hanchett, earning a 60+%, and a 64+%, on Training Level Tests 3 & 4, good enough to be the Reserve Amateur High Point. Ruby is proving herself to be a wonderful, reliable, happy show partner at a very young age.

Jennifer Campos and Brendijs, a Latvian Warmblood, also earned very good scores, in the low 60s, on Training Level Tests 2 & 3. This is a fairly new partnership, and Brendijs has a very special life story that instantly won Jenny's heart. He won my heart as well, the minute I sat on him. I'm so glad the two of them are together. Here are links to their videos.

Karen Martz and Tanner turned heads too! They are a gorgeous pair in their show garb. Karen has now officially joined the ranks of the horse show gang and we are thrilled to have her. Karen rode in a locally popular class called Cowboy Dressage...when in Rome!! They rode Training Level Test 1 and Tanner was a very good boy. Karen is thrilled to have progressed so far in the last couple of years, and I could not be more proud of her. I do believe she's also caught the show bug!
Now, not only did Tanner perform like a good boy for Karen, but he was then recruited by me to help catch his barn mate & next door neighbor, who had escaped at the show. I honestly do not think things would have ended so well had Tanner not been willing to march up into the woods to find his friend. Bella came right to him, and he helped her calm down enough to let herself be caught. I can't thank Karen enough for turning his reins over to me and trusting me to bring him back in one piece.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Kayla Volksen and Mystic are JR/YR High Point at the Utah Summer Games!

I met Kayla when I kept Charisma at Al and Anita Painter's from July 2007 through March 2008. I had moved Charisma there so she could have pasture during her pregnancy. Kayla rode Anita's mare, Goldie, a Celle Francais that had competed very successfully in the past in Dressage & Jumpers. During that time period, one of the horses I had in training was Mystic, who belonged at the time to Rachel Stratford. Mystic is a very athletic Thoroughbred mare who had done a lot, and had not had the easiest of paths. I rode her for four months, and on some days, I could ride everything in Second level. On other days, I couldn't get a canter depart. I just patiently tried to show Mystic a new way of reacting, and show her that her efforts would be rewarded. I even showed her in one schooling show, and she did in fact leave the arena, something she'd been known to do in the past. She didn't get punished, I just re-entered the ring, thanks to an understanding judge, and schooled her tactfully, then, rewarded her for getting her head back in the game. I knew she could blossom under the right rider. I promised her I'd find that rider for her. As the universe would have things, Kayla watched me ride her in a clinic with Gail Alterwitz, and it was love at first sight. Kayla has a gift for working with sensitive horses. She is patient and kind, and a very tactful rider. So, arrangements were made, and Mystic became Kayla's horse. That was last summer. Since then, Goldie passed away, breaking Anita's heart. But, Anita never lets life get her down, so she and Kayla set about to change Mystic's mind about life and work. I gave Kayla a few lessons last summer, and then again in preparation for the Utah Summer Games. We agreed that she should only ride one test, and she should practice it a million times, so that Mystic knew exactly what to expect. We came up with game plans to reduce tension at every step, and by the time the show rolled around, Mystic was very confident in her job. Kayla rode beautifully through Training Level Test 1, under Judge Thann Hanchett. Mystic gave it her best, and the pair came away with a remarkable 69.56%, at Kayla's first dressage show. Here is a link to the video of that ride.

Many people who had known Mystic for years could not believe they were watching the same horse. I'd say this little grey mare with a giant heart has found a person with equal heart to bring out the best in her. Kayla will be entering her Sophomore year in college in the fall, and will be moving up towards Salt Lake, taking Mystic with her. Anita and I are just glad we'll get to see them in the summers.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Article Submitted to the Utah Dressage Society Newsletter

In accordance with the terms of my award of a Training Scholarship, I prepared the following article, which will be published in the next UDS Newsletter.

“Ride like a Pro, Stacy. Don’t leave that corner to chance.” These were the words Charlotte Nord-Nielson left me with as I entered the arena on March 7th to show Second Level Test Four under the esteemed General Jonathan Burton. Brilliant. Deceptively simple. Charisma had spooked in that corner repeatedly during our schooling session with Charlotte the day before. The old Stacy would have just hung on and hoped for the best, and the old Charisma would have, without fail, spooked in that corner. Not this day, and never again.

I’ve been trying to get a ride with Charlotte since the first time I attended a show hosted at Cooper Ranch, the barn in Las Vegas, NV, where she is the head trainer. I watched her students compete, and earn very good scores, and every one of them, to the rider, rode like champions, no matter what level. Some rode very talented horses. Some rode horses less Dressage-suited. But it didn’t matter about the horse, because every one of them rode up centerline boldly, leaving nothing to chance. That is the brilliant, deceptively simple, secret to riding well. Leave nothing to chance.

Two weeks prior, I took a lesson with Charlotte, the day before a show. It was my first lesson with her. Was I crazy to ride with someone new the day before a show? No, because, I knew I had to make major changes, if I was to make progress. What did I have to lose? I wasn’t even scoring in the 60s yet. I was in the saddle, walking on a loose rein, when Charlotte walked up. She asked me to go ahead and take up the rein. Right away, I got the usual “no” from Charisma, pressing up with her giant neck and getting a-rhythmic. Charlotte immediately asked me to start paying attention to the rhythm in the walk before I did another thing. Once again, deceptively simple. Why would I let this slide? This should be easy. Some trainers have asked me to be very aggressive with this horse, but, this is a boss mare. Like Kyra Kyrklund says, you have to make three applications, and after 11 years of riding her, I’m rather used to having my applications turned down.
After sorting out the walk rhythm, Charlotte asked me to trot on. Right away, she asked me to pay attention to the rhythm, to keep it steady, and, to slow the tempo down. Charisma tends to hurry the trot. Charlotte said that when she gets too quick, she loses the expression in her trot. I know this, but, I always ride like a passenger, wondering why my horse won’t just offer a slower, more cadenced trot. I showed some of the slower, more expressive trot I’d been working on at home, and Charlotte said it was lovely. I said I’d been working on that, but wasn’t sure if it was right. She said I needed to trust my instincts more. Charlotte made me pay attention to every footfall, make note of where the hind legs were at all times, and be very clear about my expectations. Inevitably, Charisma would press up, or carry the haunches in, all to avoid the real work. Each time, Charlotte patiently asked me to correct the haunches, and keep her round on both reins, even when on a circle or in a lateral movement. I’ve been told all these things, but, Charlotte’s presentation is unique. She will ask the rider to correct something. She will ask nicely. She will repeat the request, nicely, until you do it, and then, she’ll say thank you. And she’ll tell you to thank your horse. Interesting.

We then moved on to the canter work. Right away, Charisma used her neck against me in the canter. I’m so used to having my applications denied, that I’ve developed this system of spending a long time on the canter, being popped out of the saddle because of tension, and hoping it will just get better if I just keep holding on and hoping for the best. Wrong. In response to Charisma’s denial of my application, Charlotte didn’t do the usual “Get in there and make her do it!” routine that has yet to work in 11 years. This approach of Charlotte’s was a pleasant departure, and I was so grateful. Instead of asking me to force her head down, she patiently instructed me to keep thinking of riding her haunches on a slightly larger track than the shoulders, and she kept saying it quietly, until, I did it. Also, she repeated as many times as necessary that I was to keep her round on both reins, especially the right rein on the left canter, our nemesis. She was so gentle and patient with her voice that I finally wondered to myself, why I didn’t do what she was asking the first time?! It would take being more demanding of myself as a rider, and, it would require that I expect, from now on, to have my applications accepted by my boss mare. I suddenly got her round on BOTH reins, with the haunches traveling correctly in line with the shoulders, and voila, the canter was round enough, slow enough, engaged enough, and straight enough. A beautiful, melodic, “THANK YOU, STACY” was my reward from Charlotte.

We worked on our shoulder in, travers & renvers, as well as our walk turns on the haunches, and, our simple changes. Another teaching method of Charlotte’s is to ask her riders to “Ride the belly”. Now, when you are done laughing at how silly this sounds, I’ll explain. All done? Okay, here’s what she means. Charlotte wants the rider to use her legs to hug the horse’s barrel, keeping her leg on at all times, so she can feel what the horse is going to do before it is too late to correct. She wants the rider to focus on what’s happening behind the saddle. Are the hind legs responding to the leg aids? In addition to this, she reminded me frequently to keep my seat plugged into the saddle, so I could use it to guide her, and not get pushed out of the saddle. Keeping my legs working correctly made this task much easier. It isn’t that I didn’t know these things, it was just that I would isolate the seat as being separate from the legs, when, it’s nearly impossible to ride with a deep seat if the legs have to stay in constant contraction to get an aid through. She had me using my legs so much more effectively, that I was able to keep the hind legs working with light aids, and then I could use my upper legs & seat to guide Charisma much more smoothly through the lateral work. And here’s the most interesting side effect of “riding the belly”. In all the years I’ve taken lessons on this horse, I have probably been told no less than one million times to shorten my reins. Why is this? I have quiet hands, I keep my fingers closed, the reins shouldn’t keep slipping through my fingers. It’s because, Charisma can be so very strong in the bridle that it would take Arnold Schwarzenegger himself to keep the reins the correct length, if Charisma’s hind legs are not engaged. Charlotte only had to ask me once, but by the end of the thirty minute lesson, my reins stayed the correct length simply because my horse was engaged enough behind, and slow enough in her tempo to maintain balance, that she was not pulling them through my fingers. She hasn’t asked me to shorten my reins since. And when I ride on my own, I see that, when the hind legs are engaged enough, I frequently find myself riding with nothing but the weight of the reins in my hands. Now when I apply a rein aid, it actually goes through, because I haven’t been hanging on for dear life trying to keep her head down. My right shoulder is thanking Charlotte every day now. So is my horse’s mouth. All this that I’ve discussed was covered in thirty minutes. I am accustomed to riding for an hour trying to get half this amount of work accomplished. The interesting thing is that it was all so simple. It was not EASY, I was glad the lesson was only thirty minutes, but, it was so simple. No pounding sand, no aching back, no numb fingers. Ah, lightness. It took a couple of days for everything to come together, but by the last ride of the weekend, we improved our scores dramatically.

Over the course of the show weekend, and the ensuing two weeks until our next lesson and show weekend, I faithfully applied the laundry list of principals set out in a scant thirty minutes. I used video to ensure I was doing everything right. By the time I saw Charlotte next, she was very pleased with the improvement in the canter, and Charisma was MUCH steadier & softer in the bridle, while remaining in a better uphill balance, more engaged behind. It was during this second lesson that we were able to deal with the Mr. Hyde side of Charisma-that spooky dominant mare who is always looking for danger.

It was a windy day, there were mirrors in this arena, and, faux ivy in the letter boxes, waving around in the wind and reflecting themselves in the mirrors. Nearly every horse was spooking, but the difference was, once they saw it and dealt with it, they moved on. Charisma has always been one to continue to spook even after she’s been allowed to see the scary object several times. She’s an intelligent, kind horse, not terribly hot-natured, so, there must be a rider reason why this continues to be a problem when she is nearly 15 years old and has seen far more of the world than most horses. Charlotte handled this issue with her usual diplomacy. Her sing-song voice quietly, patiently, instructed me through it. I was to ride her “in position” when approaching the known scary corner, and as I rode through the corners, use as much inside leg as it was going to take-LOTS-to keep her bent correctly through that corner no matter how scared she was. I was to keep her round on BOTH reins, even if I had to ride the short side & corner in shoulder fore. I was to keep my legs around her belly, feeling for changes before it was too late, scanning her body for fear, and replacing it with gentle, firm, & precise aids to keep her bending around my inside leg and paying attention to my requests. I continued to employ this method throughout the weekend as Charisma found more scary corners in the warmup ring. By the time I rode up centerline and saluted General Burton, I knew what to do. I knew Charisma was not going to counterbend, or press up with her neck, or jump sideways. How did I know? Because, I rode that belly. I kept her round on both reins. I rode like a pro. I didn’t leave that corner to chance. I rode every step of it. My legs scanned her barrel for tension and asked her to release it before it was too late. Application……ACCEPTED. The second she released the tension, I thanked her with softening muscles. I even spoke quietly under my breath, so the judge couldn’t hear. What did I say to her? “Thank you, Charisma.”


According to the Las Vegas Chapter of the California Dressage Society current rankings, Charisma and I are, at this time, listed as Reserve Champion, for the Open Second Level division.

I have also, thanks to Ruby and Charisma, now earned enough scores to achieve a USDF Training Level Rider Award. This just goes to show-never throw away your old tests!! I've held on to Charisma's Training level tests all these years, finally to have Ruby help me earn my fourth and final score some eight years later.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Ruby and I Earn Open Reserve High Point at the Las Vegas Dressage Spring Fling II!

While Brenda was away in Germany with her daughter, I took Ruby to the show in Las Vegas. This was Ruby's first recognized show. She behaved like an old timer, earning solid scores for her debut: 60.4(despite a miscue in the first canter depart and a spook at some flowers waving in the breeze) on Training Test 3, 62.8, & 61.2, both on Training Test 4. Ruby is staying with me for the month, while Brenda is away, and so that she can prepare for the Utah Summer Games June 12.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Third Level (RE)Debut

Charisma and I made our (re)debut at Third Level at the Cooper Ranch Schooling show on May 2nd, 2009. We'd entered the recognized show at another farm the same weekend, but, that show was cancelled, so, I decided to make it a training weekend and get some deeper instruction with Charlotte Nielson. I am thrilled to death with our comeback. Charisma last showed Third level in November of 2007, while 6plus months pregnant. It was not our best effort. But, that's what you do when you only have one horse(and are apparently more stubborn than average)! Charisma has come a long way, and so have I. We earned a 61.794. Charisma was extremely obedient and focused, and apart from losing the canter(and collection) at one point, she proved to be very much ready for the demands. Here's a link to the video of that ride:
Charlotte helped us with our collected canter, flying changes, and keeping the impulsion in our trot half passes. The three days of schooling with her were incredibly helpful. I have my homework until next time.

Brenda Whitely and Bold Rhythm Rules(Ruby)

Ruby is a 2004 APHA/Thoroughbred cross mare. Her dam, Ebony, is Oldenburg approved, and produced the Western High Point Foal for American Warmblood Registry in 2007, bred to Pagannini. Ebony is a locally very well known jumper, excelling in sport prior to becoming a mother. Ruby's sire, Apache, is known for producing good minds and athletic horses. Ruby has lovely natural cadence and a super canter. She inherited her mother's jumping ability, too! She's just shy of 16 hands now, and still growing. Brenda brought her to me last summer to begin her basic training. She'd already been well backed, trail ridden, and had been taken to several natural horsemanship clinics for ground work. So, Ruby was primed for beginning her dressage career. We had a great time together last summer, and I really missed her when she went home. She is a pleasure to handle and work with, and very fun to ride. But, Brenda lives close by, and we continued to work together regularly, Brenda taking as many lessons as time allowed through the winter. Brenda and I showed Ruby last fall at two Color Country Equestrian Club Dressage schooling shows, getting her much needed show experience. Ruby did great! Normal youthful exuberance aside, she learned her job and quickly got the hang of things, earning very solid scores well into the low 60s at Training level tests 1 & 2. Brenda took Ruby to the Cooper Ranch Schooling Show in Las Vegas on May 2nd, 2009, and showed her in Training Level Tests 3 & 4. I'm proud of these two. Ruby is a worker bee, and Brenda is a super rider. These two have a very bright future ahead of them. They earned a respectable 57plus on their first ride, Training test 3, and a 63.2 on Training Level test 4. Look out world! Here's a link to video of this ride:


Dancer is a 9 year old black gelding owned by Suzanna Hanson, of Draper, UT. We are not entirely sure of his breeding, but, by the looks of his mane & tail, and eyes, and general way of going and conformation, we feel strongly he is half Friesian, half Thoroughbred. Suzanna has owned him for over a year, but has spent most of this time rehabbing him from a diagnosis of Navicular Syndrome, as well as, a broken jaw. Prior to Suzanna's ownership, as far as we know, he was mostly a backyard pet, with little regular riding, much less training. Suzanna decided, upon getting Dancer well, that she'd like to pursue Dressage with him. She chose me to send him to for the winter, to get her out of the snow several weekends a month. So, on January 30th, she dropped him off in St. George at Lava Bluffs, having never met me in person, and we had our first lesson with him on February 1st. From there, I determined that due to the physical challenges Dancer had faced, he was greatly imbalanced in his musculature, one side being far less developed than the other, and he also had a head tilt. He had difficulty taking the canter as well, due to the lack of muscling. I warned Suzanna this may only go so well, but I did not yet realize how truly eager to please this horse was. He did not know much, and had a few harmless tricks up his sleeve that had possibly worked in the past to convince a rider he was not going to do something. But, overall, he is kind, willing, has a very attractive way of going, lovely articulation of both front & hind leg, beautiful head & features, and the coveted jet black coloring. With patient, slow, careful work, I spent the first thirty days just getting Dancer used to a routine, developing his work ethic, and building muscle. For the remaining two months of work, I introduced higher & higher expectations in his transitions between gaits, his committment to the bridle, and the strength of his topline. By the end of the second month, I was able to sit on his back more and more in the trot, as he developed the necessary strength to carry me. By the beginning of the third month, it was apparent I had a real over-achiever on my hands, and Suzanna felt it would be wise to finish the training I'd started with a schooling show, so we made plans to enter him in the Cooper Ranch Schooling Show held May 2, 2009. By the time the schooling show came around, I'd had time to introduce Dancer to changes of lead through trot, leg yield, and lengthening of stride in trot and canter. He will need to continue on this path of strength building with Suzanna, as she takes him home and begins to work with Jan Lawrence of Millbrook Farms regularly. Dancer had a very respectable debut, at his very first show. We earned a 61.579 on Training Level test 1, and a 55.7 on Training Level test 2. A few minor disobediences that harkened to our first 30 days popped up under the pressure of a show situation at only 90 days of training, but, those will go away with continued good work. The important thing is, he has a fabulous temperament for a show horse, and Suzanna will have the pleasure of going to shows with him and not having to worry about a horse that is fearful, spooky, or high strung. She can focus on the movements and learn the discipline, on a really good guy. We all need a really good guy in our lives! Here is a link to video I've posted on Youtube of one of the rides.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

April 2009

Frisco Bay is a week shy of one year. Brenda took pictures for me yesterday. He's 14.2 1/2 hands high.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Thought for the week.

Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved. ~Helen Keller

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Karen & Tanner

Karen has been doing great this year, progressing in her riding by leaps and bounds. Tanner has turned into a real schoolmaster and is so good for her. We've been practicing riding Training Level Test 1 in Karen's lessons, so that she can learn how to prepare for transitions, and how to ride Tanner is such a way that she can show his abilites. We took some video Monday. I am so pleased with Karen's progress. I've been working with Tanner since September, 2007, but it was not until May of 2008 that Karen had really been able to ride very much. She is a new rider, having taken up the passion as an adult. It has been a great journey so far for both of us. We are sure glad we found each other.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Easter Weekend show, Las Vegas Dressage Spring Fling I: Judge Louise Koch.
I rode Second level Tests 3 & 4 on Saturday(59.767 & 59.763), and Second level Test 4(62.380) on Sunday. We earned respectable scores, not as high as I'd hoped, but, that's showing. I did learn a lot, and I did realize that my work the past month on getting the canter straighter had paid off when the comment from the judge on our left medium canter on Sunday was "straight". YAHOO!!! We actually earned 7s on our medium canters Sunday. That's very good for us. One of these shows, I'll put together all the things we did right at each show into one amazing ride. The judge was kind enough to allow questions during her break on Sunday, if we were done showing. She explained to the group of us standing there that we all needed to develop more impulsion, but KEEP the half halt coming through. She suggested to ride the flying changes with the thought of medium canter in the change. She challenged us to ride a medium canter to collected canter, then flying change. The group standing there were all amateurs, riding Third level, except myself. I'm familiar with the movement of medium canter across the diagonal to collected canter/flying change, in much of the upper level tests, but, I have known that will not be an easy feat. So, more work ahead. I also realized that I do not breath nearly as clearly in the show ring as I do at home, and that makes it very hard for Charisma to hear me. Judge Koch pointed that out to us that the horses are used to us breathing when we ride, but when we sit stiff as a board, concerned about our equitation, for a show, the horse is very confused because now they can't hear us and all they feel is this rigid board in the saddle. So, I applied that today in my ride. I normally do think about my breathing, I've always taught the horses to come back from a simple exhale. But today, I made a point of breathing as though I were in yoga class. As usual, we often know what to do, but, fail to do it to the extent needed. We are often too timid, afraid to make a mistake. I promise your horse will forgive you, if you make a mistake in an effort to help yourself or the horse, because they do understand when we are trying, and they will in turn try for us.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Thought for the week.

I think what I represent is achieving what you want in life. It’s a matter of attitude. Some people have a negative attitude, and that’s their disability. ~Marla Runyan, Elite Runner( who happens to also be blind)

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

April 2009

Some snapshots from video I took during a schooling session April 4.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

March 2009

NEWSFLASH: I HAVE BEEN AWARDED A TRAINING SCHOLARSHIP BY UTAH DRESSAGE SOCIETY! I plan to use this scholarship towards further lessons with Charlotte Nord-Nielson. I learned so much in one 30 minute session, and was really challenged to face the sport psychology aspect of riding, without that actually being the topic of our lesson.

Two weeks after the February show, I attended another show in Las Vegas, this one hosted by La Madre Equestrian Center and organized by Desert Dressage Association, a new GMO. I rode only one test each day, both days riding Second Level Test 4, in an attempt to get our second qualifying score for Regional championships. The judge was General Jonathan Burton. We earned very good scores both days, and I am thrilled with our overall improvement in accuracy. Charisma has become much more rideable and submissive, and I have put a lot more effort into expecting her to accept the work. It is funny how horses(read-people) will very often live up(or down) to our expectations. In the past, my prior trainers would have called her unwilling, unable, unsubmissive, and not rideable. I've had a very reknowned international judge and clinician stand on the ground and tell me "She just doesn't try for you." Who am I to argue with such an authority? And Charisma would inevitably live up to these expectations. But, she is not a pair of old jeans, to be thrown out and replaced with a fancier, more spectacular pair that will make my butt look good no matter how big it gets. And so, I made a conscious decision to set aside all negative thoughts, and simply work on what I COULD fix: me. Could I ride better? Absolutely! Could my position improve? Definitely! Could I be more precise in my aids? No question! Could I be more thorough in my daily training? Positively! How many times have I been told: Charisma can't do the work; She can't carry herself uphill; She doesn't try; She doesn't have the right kind of movement. And she lived down to these expectations, without fail. But, once my attitude changed, once I decided scores no longer mattered, whether or not Charisma could ever look like "those" horses no longer mattered, as soon as I decided to just work on ME, I suddenly had a very willing, focused partner. All that mattered was...the journey; the education; the bonding; the pride. And for the third show in a row, that horse layed down the best effort she had in her body, FOR ME. Did we get our second qualifying score? No, not quite. Four tenths of a percentage shy on Saturday(63.6%), and, two tenths of a percentage shy on Sunday(63.8%). While I can't deny I was initially disappointed, the reality is, at no point in our career together have we ever worked this much in harmony or been this undeniably consistent. And not just run of the mill consistent, but, consistently GOOD. I was actually happier with some aspects of the rides than I was about the ride at the prior show that earned us a 64.2. And the most important improvement of all, that tells me we are finally on the right track in the training, is that, at neither of the last two shows did we receive a single comment that the carriage was not uphill enough for the level. I now feel very strongly that, while we are doing very well, we can still do better. "It can always be better" is no question the mantra of dressage...but, while I always understood "it" needed to be "better", I never thought we could be better. That feeling, that we CAN, has created a quantum shift in my approach to training my horse, and all horses. Success is relative. For the likes of Courtney King-Dye, consistently scoring above 60% at Second level would seem very inconsequential. But, we all have to start somewhere, and it isn't as easy as it may seem, when you are not riding a horse with extravagent gaits and extreme talent for the sport. I know one thing, I will never doubt a horse's abilities again, but will instead look more to the intangibles: character; heart; the rider's influence; diet and overall happiness; and a basic desire to please.

Feb 2009


After the January show, I set about to work on the things that did not go as well as they needed to in the Second level tests. I needed to improve the overall uphill balance, and, submission. I also needed greater obedience and accuracy. I used video almost daily to be certain that what I felt in the saddle looked like it needed to look to the judge. Perception and reality are often very far apart! By the time the February show rolled around, I felt we could break into the 60s at Second level. I was even bold enough to pay the qualifier fee on the test 4, both days. I had a lesson on Friday, Feb. 20, with Charlotte Nord-Nielson, and then rode Second level tests 3 & 4 on Saturday under Judge Melissa Creswick. It went pretty well, Charisma was obedient and reliable. I was really happy with how much more reliable she has become in the show ring. We earned a 60.930 on test 3, and, 59.524 on test 4. So, PROGRESS, once again. We continued to show improvement. I had my rides video'd, and studied them that night, reading through my tests, to see how best to impress Judge Creswick the next day, and to also analyze myself what areas I wanted to work on. It occurred to me, as I was watching the video, and reading the test comments, that there were actually a lot of "dead zones" where the judge wasn't scoring. I realized I was missing out on lots of great opportunities to really check that Charisma was paying attention to me. I don't know why I've never realized this before. I was leaving way too much on the table! Sunday, I entered the ring bound and determined to use every step to my advantage. It went really well, and by the time I halted and saluted, my thought was "Huh, that went pretty well, but I actually think we can do even better." It was not a thought of ungratefulness, just, very matter of fact: not bad, but better is still possible for us, and frankly it was exciting to feel that way. I've honestly never felt so hopeful about our future. The ride wound up earning us a 64.286! Good enough to earn our first qualifying score to attend the Regional Championships. This show, I feel, was a pivotal show for me as a rider.


Feb 28, I organized a "Ride a Test" fun day at the barn and invited a few friends out to practice their tests. In attendance were Brenda Whitely, Beth Hart, Suzannah Hanson, Sarah Glidden, Jenny Campos, Arly Cunningham, Gail Veley and two of her students, and Laura and Deni Lojko. I rode Charisma through Third Level test 1; and I also rode Dancer(Suzannah), and Daz(Sarah). Dancer had just been in training with me since Feb. 1, so, it was a little early to expect much of him, other than, to introduce him to the idea of there being people sitting around the arena and more excitement in the air in general. He struggled a little bit to stay attentive, but, he lacked enough tools in his toolbox at such an early stage in our work. I am very hopeful for this horse, he's a real tryer, and very neat mover. He's got some physical issues he's had to overcome in life, and yet, he still is willing to give it a try. That's all I ask. Daz and I rode through First level test 3, and overall I was pretty happy with him. That horse has the heart of a lion, a lot of horse in a small package, and I'm so happy to have him in my life. I've been working with him since November. He came to me for training after recovering from a very bad colic, and about half a year off from work. He was so weak at first that holding the lead behind was very difficult. He's really muscling out now. Brenda did really well on her mare, Ruby, and we are hoping to begin showing her at the Las Vegas shows this spring. Here they are practicing Training Level test 3 a week later: I was really excited to get to know Beth's horse, Clu, better. He's super cute. All in all, everyone seemed to have a good time, and, it was good experience for the horses and riders to get out and work under a little bit of pressure, without there being so much on the line.

Friday, April 3, 2009

January 2009

Charisma and I attended the Las Vegas Winter Fling I, hosted by Cooper Ranch, on January 17th & 18th. We rode First Level Tests 3 & 4, and, Second Level Tests 3 & 4. While we'd competed up to Third level before her foal, at this point, I am more concerned about bringing her back to full strength carefully, and more correctly. I am no longer riding just for myself, I now ride for my clients as well. It is important that we are successful, and that includes not overfacing my horse with too many expectations before she is ready.

The judge was Barbi Breen-Gurley this weekend. We earned slightly better scores all around, over our last show. With the 62. 105% on First Level Test 4, we've now earned all the scores we need at First Level towards my USDF Bronze Rider medal. Though I've earned these scores for First AND Second Level twice over in Canada while a USDF member, because the shows were not USDF recognized, those scores cannot count. We have earned our Dressage Canada Bronze Medal at First Level, and, Silver Medal at Second Level. I just want to take this time, while bringing her back from her foal, to earn the scores we need in the US at First and Second Level, before we move on to Third Level. Hopefully, this patient approach will set us up for success down the road.

Welcome to my Blog

I will update this blogspot regularly, posting the latest happenings of my horses, Charisma and Frisco Bay, as well as my clients' and friends' horses.