Thursday, February 21, 2019

Adding Purpose to Practice: Ride #17

I read a horse blog yesterday that reminded me of where Ashke and I were at a couple of years ago. I was convinced that he hated dressage. Hated being in the arena to work. Preferred the open trail and going for hours because horse. All of that said, I also recognized that I wanted to compete in Working Equitation and at least make progress in the sport, instead of feeling frustrated and unhappy with how I was riding. To that end, I found the perfect trainer and have put in sweat and some tears to make the two of us better. What I have discovered in that process, is that Ashke loves to do dressage.

I think he grew to love dressage as he got strong enough to carry himself correctly, as the muscle developed to allow him to do the work that we wanted to do. The muscle he has put on has changed how his body looks and even though he will never have the stature of a WB, you can see the column of muscle running up the top line of his neck, the bulk in his haunches and the heavy, solid muscle along his shoulder that allows him to lift in the front..As the muscle has been layered onto his body, the movements we can do effortlessly have increased and expanded. Just like Saiph in her power lifting, I have seen that muscle develops as a product of the discipline.

Last night, the arena was cold, Ashke hadn’t been ridden in four days (and only three times since his injections) and he was slow to warm up. He felt a touch off to me, but when I asked Amanda what she was seeing, she said that he looked a little stiff from the cold. So we warmed up with lots of trot serpentines, his body moving from one bend to the other under me.Once I could feel him stepping up under himself, we added some lateral work. Pretty soon his hair had lain down again, and he felt warm and relaxed. Amanda had finished her prior lesson, so we talked briefly and then started on our changes.

We worked on the serpentines through the walk, to make sure he was listening, then she had me doing a change on the straight away, making sure we were asking for the straightness before asking for another change. After we had attempted that with somewhat limited success, Amanda told me to do a ten meter circle after the change, get straight down the arena, then do the same pattern with a change in the opposite direction. I did that, which he struggled with forward in his first circle, but caught onto really quickly. Then I just started riding random half to three quarter circles all over the arena, throwing random changes without much direction. We stopped to take a walk break and for Amanda to tell Ashke how smart he was, when I suggested that maybe we could put out some cones to work the slalom and double slalom.

My thought was: Ashke knows what the pattern is in the WE obstacles and it would give me a focal point and him purpose to ride our changes through the double slalom. I’ve been thinking about adding cones since my last ride, and funnily so had Amanda. She grabbed the cones, put them out in a four by three set up and told me to ride the double slalom.

Ashke’s whole body lit up with excitement and purpose as he watched Amanda put out the cones. He knew what was coming. He was almost quivering. Much engaged.

We did it the first time with transitions through the walk and his downward transitions were amazing. Yes, he was anticipating just a bit, but it felt less like he was anxious and more along the lines of “we’ve got this and we can do it together”. After one run through with walk transitions, I handed my phone to Amanda.

Please remember that this was our first attempt at a double slalom with changes.

He got all of the changes, although you could see him offer the walk transition after the first turn, then went “oh?! We get to do this with changes?” The delight that poured off my horse in that moment could be felt through his whole body. 

As you can see in our third turn, I have to be super effective in my weight shift and getting myself out of his way.

Not only is he trying so hard to give me the changes (one was a little early and resulted in our breaking to a trot) but he is also trying to work the obstacle the way he has been trained.

Can you see how proud he was of himself? He humbles me.

We went back to working on the trot. Leg yields and half pass between the cones.

There is so much power and potential in being able to move his body in any direction with any bend at any point in the arena. We aren’t there yet, but I can see in the far distance the ability to ride with minimally visual cues, where he flows from one movement to another as if by magic and isn’t that what the core of dressage really is? To prep the horse and rider to move in whatever movement they are asked as if tugged by invisible strings?

We worked the single slalom, with a skip on one of the cones (decided prior to riding through), to see how he did with that pattern. 
He was amazing enough that Amanda told me we could try it without skipping the middle cone.

We finished our lesson with the single slalom with simple changes.
He listened and waited. You can see him offer a change at the last turn, but he didn’t do it on his own.

This demonstrated to me, beyond anything else, that dressage really needs to be the beginning, the middle and the end of anything you are trying with your horse. That we can then apply the lessons, the support, the training, Amanda’s belief in us, my commitment, and his try into this discipline that I love. 

This horse! He left me in tears at the end of the night.


  1. His development as an athlete has helped make dressage easier for him, and his intelligence + your patience + your ability to communicate with him has helped both of you figure it out together with Amanda's guidance. (Learning all of these advanced skills together with your horse is HARD...and you guys are progressing by leaps and bounds in a way that sometimes makes my head spin in a GOOD way! It is so SO SO AWESOME!!!) But you also have to give yourself credit for him loving dressage now: Askhe loves *you*. And because *you* kept on trying until you found a trainer that was right for both you and your horse (and your sport! I still seethe over your Cassandra days) *you* have grown to love dressage...and therefore Ashke loves it too. <3

    So, so proud of both of you I could just about burst. But I'm especially proud of you, my friend. I love you!!!

  2. Damn, really good job. You both look great. I know it took so much hard work to get there, but it is sure paying off. Congrats.