Against the World

Before each big moment in our lives, I pat Kelso and whisper, “It’s you and me against the world, buddy. You and me.”

This was muttered right before we went down centerline this past summer. It was my first dip into the professional rider pool, was the culmination of my time spent studying classical Dressage at the Pennsylvania Riding Academy, and had the weight of making Paul Belasik proud. My little Wonder Pony swiveled his ear to receive this message, put his head down and got us our First and Second Level scores for our Bronze Medal. He even earned us a nod and a thumbs up from my toughest critic + greatest mentor at the end of the weekend.

It was said to the trailer behind me on each big move we made in hopes of becoming the best we can be; first it was Wisconsin, then to the mountains of Colorado, and finally to Pennsylvania. {Have horse, will travel.}

It was choked out between sobs when a boy I loved fiercely walked away. Kelso carried me and my heartbreak silently through soul-healing trail rides, nuzzled my hair to remind me he was by my side (always had been + always will be), made me laugh by being a goofball when he knew my day needed to be brightened, and held me fast to the things that were still there. He taught me that little things aren’t so little and to pay attention and take joy in them. {In Kelso’s world, this means relishing in every cookie he gets and never taking anything too seriously.}

The steady presence of a rescued pony turned-whatever-I-ask-him-to-be has blessed my life for the last 8 years. That is over a third of it! He has been there to share the biggest joys, worst sorrows, and is the reason behind my greatest accomplishments. He is, simply, my greatest accomplishment.

If you are reading this, you probably fall into one of two categories: You are an innocent friend or family member who is rolling their eyes at how much love I have for a pony. Otherwise, you, dear reader, are lucky enough to say that you have a horse or pony by your side to take on the world.

Maybe you have stood in the stall of a sick horse; it was ungodly late, you were exhausted, but you would not walk away. Instead, you started making offers to God or a deal with the devil in exchange that your world with four legs would make it through the night.

Or, you have given your final salute at X and you tear up because your OTTB got the right canter lead, your horse didn’t jump out of the ring, your flying changes didn’t have kite-like qualities, or you knew you had earned that final score for a medal.

Otherwise, their stall was where you ran when you needed an escape, and their shoulder was the one you leaned into when you didn’t think it was possible to stand on your own. Their mane was cried into during the tough times, and it was what you held onto when life got a little turbulent.

And while they fight the world with you, they also teach you the most important lessons of it, even if you don’t always want to learn them…okay, especially if you don’t want to learn them.

What lessons have I learned?

There are moments to be a gentle leader, and there are moments to be a strong one; sometimes, you have to be both. There is strength and beauty in forgiveness. Think of every mistake you have made while learning something on the back of a horse; if they can forgive these, you can let your grudges go, too.

There is no other world for them. There is no Instagram to check, or number of Facebook likes to get. Put your phone down and have the same presence in your life as they do in ours. Always take an extra minute to teach, and a lifetime to learn. The minute you think you know something, they will remind you humility is a great skill to cultivate. Be humble but be proud of your accomplishments. These accomplishments should scare, inspire and push you, but never get too greedy you forget to play in the pasture.

Not all things are permanent; love the little things because those are what you will carry on the rainy days. Losing what we love is earth-shattering, but it is loving that builds our souls and helps the world go ’round.

I am frequently and stunningly overwhelmed with the love + people that I have in my corner of the world. There is something special to be said about The Wonder Pony, Kelso, though. It has always been, and always will be, us against the world.

With Love and Gratitude,

Erin and Mr. WP

Bibliophile

George Morris told the The Horse Magazine that “Today is the time of the cheap read, read the old books. In the next generation that knowledge will be extinct.” I can honestly say I had never heard of Gueriniere, Steinbrecht, or Duke of Newcastle before my arrival. My only knowledge on the difference between schools of Dressage was knowing that there was one; I had little information on the history of them, and I definitely did not know who the main players were . While there are modern authors who have contributed much to the horse world, there is a unique perspective gained by reading Pluvinel’s love letter manual on dressage written to his King {aka his source of income}.

This post is a list of all the books I have read during my time here. It is not even close to exhaustive, but it is a good start. I have included pertinent information about the author where necessary, and a quotation that stuck with me from each book. Not all books are in print anymore, but you can still buy many of them.

{Workbooks from the Spanish School by Charles Harris} This book is written in list format, and includes over 600 points of importance Harris learned during his time in Vienna. // “Fundamentals of all nature are based on simple foundations.”

{Le Maneige Royal by Antoine de Pluvinel} Remember when you learned about how everyone had to be in love with their king in order to keep their heads? This book epitomized that. Pluvinel was working to have a Riding Academy commissioned by King Louis XIII, so the brown-nosing was pretty incredible. My favorite was when Pluvinel would gush to King Louis about how he is the greatest in the land and no one stood up to King Louis in any regard, but especially in the art of horses. Ignore the fact Pluvinel was his Ecuyer, or riding master; Louis was better than him. // “And with this knowledge, one sets out, continues and brings to completion the schooling of a horse with patience, resolution, gentleness, and the necessary force, in order to arrive at the goal to which a sound horseman must aspire, qualities to be found in the man whom one can truly esteem as being a judicious horseman.”

{The Spanish Riding School by Hans Handler with photos by Erich Lessing} This is one of my favorite books because the history of the Spanish Riding School is incredible, and this book does a beautiful job of mixing the history and horsemanship of the last 400 years of the school. // “The widespread opinion that the art of riding has no need of theory does not inhibit me, in my conviction that without theory such an art cannot be carried to perfection at all. Without theory all practice is aimless. […] We must never allow theory and practice to drift apart.”

{A General System of Horsemanship by William Cavendish, Duke of Newcastle} This was a doozy of a book to read. With each new exercise he introduced, he would say “And this is the greatest exercise there ever was.” I learned every exercise he came up with was the greatest exercise ever. At the time, Cavendish was renowned for his gentle training methods. He did claim that he could dress a horse, or teach it all the airs above the ground, in three months. He mostly did this by tying the horse to the pillars and using a switch in a variety of ways. Not necessarily what we would call gentle, now…. // “So that it is not the bridle, but the art of the rider, that renders the horse tractable.” And in response to criticism, which perfectly describes the Duke: “Since I have done it more for your sakes than my own, for I myself knew all this before; don’t therefore find fault with what I write for your service.”

{A Dressage Judge’s Handbook by Brigadier General Kurt Albrecht} Albrecht uses this book as a commentary on how competitive dressage should fit with classical dressage, and that we must not let the first deteriorate the latter. // “[The rider must have] powers of empathy It is this last tribute in particular that enables the gifted rider to breathe a stirring artistic quality into a merely technically correct presentation.”

{School of Horsemanship by Francois de la Gueriniere} Fun Fact: Gueri said, as a I call him for short, The Duke of Newcastle was one of two horseman in high esteem. The other was M de la Brou. The Spanish Riding School claims it does not follow Duke of Newcastle, but follows Gueri’s book to the letter. This is a point of contention, because by following Gueri, they follow The Duke simply by extension. Gueriniere was the inventor of the shoulder-in, and emphasized training horses with gentleness. The version that I read also included common maladies and treatments of horses. They pretty much all included cutting a body part off or bleeding the horse. Thank god for modern science. // “Practice without true principles is nothing other than routine.”

{The Way to Perfect Horsemanship by Udo Bürger} The title leaves no room for error; if you read and follow this book, you will be on your way to perfect horsemanship! What a promise. In all seriousness, this book was a quick read (at least compared to The Duke…) but covered many simple, but not easy, concepts.// “The art of riding is Black Magic, is what my riding master [Felix Buerkner] used to say. However, if one wants to discover the secret of the magic, one must start by learning one’s A-B-C’s.”

{Dressage Riding:A guide for the training of horse and rider by Richard L. Watjen}               // “Never deceive yourselves when working. It is not he who is always finding excuses for his own faults but he who unmistakably accepts real work and with a genuine love of horses sticks to it, so that after long and devoted work he gets near to his desired goal. Every genuine rider knows that learning is not the end and it is just this recognition which binds him for his entire life to the art of riding. You should love horses without spoiling them. Take the trouble to find your way into your horse’s mind without trying to make it human. Only those can become experts who are in tune and as one with their horses both physically and mentally.” Enough said.

This internship has instilled in me the importance of studying the theory [no matter how boring it might be] in addition to living it. By being an academic as well as a rider, you have a larger base to draw experience from. Dressage has never been, and never will be, a black and white journey. What art ever is? It has been practiced, experimented with and perfected over hundreds of years. It has not been immune to the changing political, social or cultural environments of the years, and many of the pivotal points arose from the shifting tides of the world that surrounded Dressage. By reading the old masters, I have gained a deeper appreciation for the art form I practice, and have a peek into where the journey can lead.

Off to go read and ride some more,

Erin and The WP

 

Weathering the Storm

{This is a post written a few weeks ago that I never hit the publish button on, so here it is a couple of weeks late!}

Life has a funny way of handing you lemons. Sometimes, it squirts lemon juice right in a drink for you. Other times the juice is aimed for your eyes and you have to cry a little then move on to making lemonade. This week, a severe storm moved through Dillsburg and my truck and a tree made friends to make it through the terror. This friendship resulted in a dented hood and shattered windshield.

After surveying the damage, I immediately went to check on Kelso. He came around the corner and knew I needed a laugh; he was safe but had a single branch on his butt as if to say ” Look! Aren’t I funny? Your truck might be crushed but I’m okay and here to make you smile!” He is my best reminder to make something sweet out of even the sourest moments.

Horses are good at teaching us how to weather all the storms. That storm can be as insignificant as not understanding a new dressage movement for a bit, or as shattering as an injury that results in months of stall rest. Through these moments, they put into sharp focus what matters. Kelso has reminded me as long as you have each other and a few cookies along the way, you’re doing pretty good. {I would like to think I have fully understood that things are replaceable and no more trees need to get involved.}

This week, Kelso and I continued to work on our consistent head shape, and I think I am finally starting to ride where he needs me to in order keep a solid frame. Paul will often tell me to “not let him go” because when he became soft in the contact, I would try to give the contact back, but would go too far.  I had a lightbulb moment when I remembered one of the exercises we did in the tack room during my first lesson. A lunge line was placed around my waist and then pulled by Paul; I was assigned with keeping my back solid and resisting the pull with the core. Even when the lunge line was slack, I still had to have an engaged core, which is important to keeping consistent submission. Don’t pull and don’t collapse. If everyone rode with the reins attached to their hips, we would probably have a lot more solid frames and less pulling. Thinking about this reminded me that I need to have passive but definite hands whose strength is derived from my core. This gives Kelso a fair but definite contact from me so he can do the same. By riding in this way, Kelso can stay where he needs to be with his neck which encourages him to work over his back and to gather his power from his haunches. Slowly but surely…

We are also working on making our travers on a circle in the canter sharper and more rhythmic, which translates to our demivoltes so they can become tighter and more collected. I am also pretty excited that we have functional flying changes. If I do a demivolte which brings me to the counter canter, I can use our newfound skill of a flying change of leg to continue to a demivolte on the other side. They are not to the point where I can put them where I want, and we will hopefully be able to start sharpening the aids more to get to this point soon, but I am excited I learned what I needed to in order to set Kelso up appropriately and fairly. I sure am lucky he is so patient and forgiving.

Off to go drink some lemonade,

Erin and the WP

 

 

 

 

It Takes a Village

The title of this post is rooted in African culture; the proverb expresses that it takes a whole village or community to raise a child. In my experience, this proverb can be stretched a bit to perfectly fit the equestrian community.

It takes a city to train a horse.  And it takes a small country to teach a clueless human to ride. Hint: That horse is mine and that clueless rider is yours truly.

I cannot name every horse that has taught me how to ride + everything else good about life. It would also be impossible to name each person who has helped Kelso and I get to the point where we look like we know what we are doing. {I do thank people who have had huge roles in my journey on my Blessed page.}

Recently, my little web of support gained another big thread. Kelso and I are humbled and thrilled to announce that we have received a sponsorship from The Dressage Pony Store. Thanks to Valerie and her belief in the little Wonder Pony that could, we are able to show off our new moves at a show coming up at the end of July.

I am honored to wear the logo of a woman who believes in Pony Power as much as I do. {I knew it was a match made in heaven when she said that in an email thread.} The Dressage Pony Store specializes in high-quality tack for the smaller equine athlete, but you can find some goodies for any sized equine in your life!

The other day I got my first package from The Dressage Pony Store; I sat at my kitchen table and before I opened it, I made myself stop and think. I thought of myself when I was a little girl who would grin opening a new Breyer {hasn’t changed}, to when I got my very own pony {He is the only reason I am where I am}, to the position I stand in now. And then I cried. Good tears, don’t worry.

I am often overwhelmed with the love the WP and I get, and the support that comes with it. I am at a loss for how I made it where I am, but I am so thankful for all that have been along for the ride.

And, as always, thanks to the Wonder Pony for carrying me farther than I could have dreamed and for teaching me all I know. You make me look good, live better, laugh louder, and love bigger.

Off to go wonder how I am now considered a professional,

Erin and the WP

 

 

 

 

 

 

Breaking Rules

“If you come in the ring like that and do half-steps and someone takes a picture and it ends up on my website, I will sue you for defamation.” I feigned disbelief as I sat outside the arena entrance watching the last set of horses being ridden; I do not typically ride on Sundays, but I took advantage of a break in the chaos to ride Kelso around the property today. Paul would say it’s important to mention I had no saddle. I would say it’s not. Paul then stated it was necessary to be wearing all appropriate equipment to enter “the church.” The importance of wearing a saddle has increased. {We are just doing our best to keep him young.}

Kelso and I have had a couple full weeks at the Pennsylvania Riding Academy. Between my parents visiting, embarking on the adventure of deep cleaning the barn, and keeping Paul on his toes, we have been busy. The WP has also been gracious enough to teach me lots in the last couple of lessons. We have confirmed our changes a bit more, as well as a more consistent neck carriage. A few weeks ago Paul said we needed to start solidifying “an upper level shape” and I almost just got off and went back to the barn because I couldn’t believe it. I somehow stayed on and finished the ride.

In addition to continuing to work on our changes and frame, we have introduced walk pirouettes and more mobile half-steps. The walk pirouettes you see in the video are the first ones we ever did, and Kelso just carried me through them. As always.

The biggest piece of the puzzle that has fallen into place is keeping Kelso more consistently in my hands; this is accomplished by pushing him to my hand through my back and thighs, which creates that solid frame. This has created a very connected and powerful little pony. So much so that I asked Paul, very concerned, one day if I had to accept my fate of having a heavy horse. He talked me off the ledge and said that it is typical to have false lightness in the beginning of training. As a horse powers up more, seeks your hand, and improves their throughness, they can become much heavier. However, this heaviness is alleviated as their self-carriage improves; they become stronger in their haunches and back, which allows them to shift more of their weight back and off their forehand/your hands. One way to do this almost immediately, which I can attest to, is by practicing transitions.

A big component of the video is our canter work. You will see this with our canter-walk transitions and our travers on a circle. Kelso is a clever little guy and will try to phone in the work instead of swinging through his back by just making his canter rock up and down. I have to push him a bit more, which we are able to do now that he doesn’t think everything I push for in the canter means a flying change. It’s really the small things! After we warm up by swinging his canter up, I ask him to do travers on a circle to continue strengthening his haunches and elasticity.

This video was taken a couple of weeks ago, and he has become even more consistent in the changes and shape in the last ten days. I am thrilled with all Kelso has taught me and can’t wait to see what’s next.

Off to go break some rules,

Erin and the WP

 

 

Can’t Prepare for the Despair

{This title comes from Paul. I was exasperated about my late flying changes, and he said this little gold nugget and then stated he found my next blog title. And here we are.}

During the last clinic at Lost Hollow Farm, the conversation of flying changes came up during the lunch hour. There were a few regular students sharing their stories, and it appeared everyone had one. [First red flag] They would laugh about the horse that had to do an air above the ground as preparation, or who would buck before, during, and after the change. I have had multiple people remind me it took Andrea three different times to teach her up-and-coming Grand Prix horse, Maya, the changes. [Second red flag]

At the time of this conversation, Kelso and I were still at the stage of “let’s see what happens” in regards to the changes. We were thrilled if we got one and didn’t have a care in the world. Fast forward five weeks; we still seem to be at that stage. But not intentionally.  We now have cares in the world. Paul warned me that things tend to fall apart when the changes are started [canter-walks, counter canter, our lives.]

He was definitely right when he said you can’t always prepare for the despair that changes can cause. But while going through the Parelli program, I had five different instructors try to help me get changes. I should have been a little more prepared than I was…

I know they will come. I know they are tough. I know Kelso is teaching me lessons. But sometimes the irrationality takes over and I am convinced we are doomed to second level for the rest of our lives. I am also aware there are people who work on changes for years and we have been working on them for five weeks. Bear with the melodrama.

The funny thing about changes is that, like every dressage movement, they try to embrace how horses move and play in all their glory. Meaning wild horses with zero training can and will do them. Horses with very little bend, collection, or strength can be change machines. [First case in point: Kelso and I can get them bareback and bridle-less. Second case in point: Hunter Ponies. aka Change monsters.]

And another thing! The culmination of flying changes, the one tempis, were considered a circus move. They were invented by Baucher, a French circus rider, and it took a bit for them to be accepted as a valid dressage move. Despite their previous circus-like reputation, their basis of learning single changes do not create feelings akin to being at a circus. Unless you only go to the freak show part of the circus where all you feel is confused and overwhelmed.

Kelso and I have learned various exercises to learn flying changes, which I have outlined a bit in my previous blogs. In addition to trying them from a counter-canter circle to a true-canter circle, I also experimented with really collecting him up and encouraging him to change and then putting him on a 10m circle. He is a quick and clever little dude so the reason for the 10m circle was to keep him cantering on the same lead; he could rapid fire switch and it was impossible for me to keep him on any consistent lead. I told him the tempis must wait. This week we also experimented with extending his counter-canter, they collecting it and immediately encouraging him to switch. This pretty much turned into galloping around the arena after a few tries.

What do I mean by encouraging him to switch? At this point in the game, we are too green to changes to have any specific aids for him. He wouldn’t understand them if I gave them in a specific moment, and he would get pretty anxious with me spurring him, quickly changing his bend and my hips, or using the whip. Instead, I keep him as straight as possible and slowly switch my hips while really collecting his canter. I aim to do this near a corner so the curve will also urge him to switch, or by going on a circle like I talked about above. If he does get stuck, I can tap his haunches with the whip to tell him I want him to change them. I can only do this gets stuck but is level-headed enough to listen to my aids without just bursting forward or getting anxious.

Our challenge of the week has been him consistently having late changes from the left lead to the right lead. He beautifully changes to the other direction, but he can get pretty tense switching to the right. His m.o. has been getting pretty heavy in the hand and coming above the vertical when we try to switch to the right lead from the left and then bursting through any aids after I try to collect him. We then revert back to transitions to remind him he can’t lean on my hands and to relax by loosening his back.

They will come. Even if they come slowly but surely. Oh, so slowly. To which Paul would tell me, “Patience young grasshopper.”

Hopping off to fixing my changes,

Erin and the WP

 

Dear Young Riders

This blog post goes to all the young riders who are working their days and nights away to follow their dreams and kindle the fire of this addicting passion called horses. 

Most of the time when people ask me how old I am,  I always have to think too hard. I still believe that I am a 15 year old riding around on her rescue pony. Then I realize I am less than one year away from needing to make grown up decisions. While I am no longer a legal young rider, I feel my everlasting-job of being a working student + riding a plush toy pony has instilled in me an eternal belief I am barely qualified to be a grown up.

Despite feeling like all my personal skills include are sweeping and scooping poop, I consider myself one of the lucky ones to have had the mentors I have. [These mentors are of the two and four legged variety.] And while they have taught me what a correct half-pass is, or how to fix a broken fence, they have given me more life lessons and values than I can count. So, from one rider-who-refuses-to-accept-she-isn’t-a-young-rider-anymore to my true young riders, these are a few of the things I have learned over my years of pursuing my passion.

Find joy in the small things. Like finding a lost shoe in the pasture. Or a horse keeping a shoe on the first place. Or when the farrier only charges you double for putting said shoe back on two hours before the trailer leaves for the biggest show of the season.

Don’t meddle. The sooner you learn that the world is messy, and the horse world is not an exception, the sooner you can move on from the latest gossip or news. There are so many sides to every story, but unless one of them is yours, move on and get scooping/sweeping/riding. Everyone knows everyone in this business, bad news travels faster than good, and a reputation as a gossip will follow you. This business is as people oriented as any, so foster the good and distance yourself from the bad.

Show up early, stay late, always say yes, but…..know your worth. You deserve a break, appropriate sleep at least once a month, and the ability to have a life outside of the barn. No matter how bright your fire burns, you need to take care of the flame to make sure it keeps burning. Find an outlet that doesn’t have anything to do with four hooves.

Do not put your nose up to any discipline. There is something to learn from everyone, and you can learn something everyday, as long as you try. Go riding on the beach, take a bareback ride [even if Paul tells you it puts you in a chair seat], try your hand at working cows, learn how to appreciate the highest art form of every discipline.

Respect your trainer and value the lessons they have learned from their experience, but don’t treat them like a god. This is an unhealthy relationship and could hinder you from learning as much as possible. Form your own opinions; they last longer and mean more.

There will come a time that you will be incredibly jealous of every young rider who may or may not be riding in ten years that have enough money to buy a finished Grand Prix Dressage horse. Don’t resent them.  Take a second to hug your own mutt and be thankful for every lesson they have taught you. But….

Ride a finished horse if you have the opportunity. They will teach you ways to feel what you didn’t know existed. Don’t worry about what people will say. Just because the horse has done Grand Prix once doesn’t mean they are a push button horse. It is an opportunity you cannot pass up.

Again, know your values, and stick to them. If you only want the ribbons, find a new sport and don’t make the horse be a victim of the vanity of ribbon chasing. The joy of getting first place or that score shouldn’t hold a candle to the feeling of peace when you hear your horses munching contentedly on hay at night check.

The more expensive the helmets, boots, or horses doesn’t necessarily make them better. Don’t get sucked into the latest fad and don’t feel like you have to prove anything by the brand or the bloodlines in your barn.

There might be moments when you question why you have spent the last however-many-years chasing a passion that largely only allows you to eat mac and cheese for dinner. Then you remember you would probably get fired if you had a desk job.

And take a minute to stand back and remember why you fell in love with horses in the first place. You weren’t a little girl or boy cutting out magazine clippings or watching The Saddle Club on repeat because you wanted to impress your peers with the ribbons you earned. You begged your parents for your very own horse for years so you could run out to the pasture to sit and read in their company, and to have the ability shower them with love and cookies. You dreamed of the relationship you would have, and not the ribbons you would win.

And to my dear young riders, whether in age or in heart, this passion will show you what you’re made of, but at the end of the day, it is supposed to be fun. Never forget where you came from on your way to where you’re going.

Off to go refuse to grow up and have fun,

Erin and the Wonder Pony

 

 

 

 

 

So…what’s next?

One of my favorite things I have gained from my horsemanship journey are all the friends I have met + all the cool places they come from. Two weeks ago, a woman visited from the Philippines; she showed me a picture of one of her oceanside pastures and I wanted to fly home with her. This past week, a wonderful woman and her mom visited from Scotland. We got to hear all about the titling competitions she does, and I promised to visit to take a trip to Kelso, Scotland. She also compared Kelso to Valegro with his arena presence, and on May 10th, Kelso was called not cute but beautiful by her mom! A week for the books. 😉

As if the compliments of being called beautiful + a mini Valegro weren’t enough to almost make me to fall off Kelso, Paul casually told me I could “experiment” this week; he promptly took this encouragement back as soon as he realized I would probably run wild with any free rein he gave me. After all, my whole journey has been a series of me experimenting with every crazy thing Kelso and I could learn. I had to ride away to hide my giggling.

The experiment we got to try were half-steps under saddle, they just had to wait until my Thursday morning lesson, instead. It was another lesson that plastered a smile to my face for the rest of the day. I could not have imagined Kelso and I would be piecing together half-steps,working pirouettes and flying changes when we arrived in January. If it weren’t for him, I would still be struggling with leg yields. It’s all possible cause of the Wonder Pony.

During this week’s dinner, Paul told me that I was stressing him out because I am making him fit a year long internship education into seven months; I pleaded the fifth but then told him he was the one who taught me how to do half steps and I never asked for the changes. He then told me “Yes, your question you ask every week of ‘so….if we were hypothetically going to move on, what would be next?’ is totally innocent.” I blame Kelso for being so clever and quick to learn. But I can’t say I blame Paul for keeping such a close eye on us…

This week’s lesson started out with half-steps in-hand to warm them up. We have to focus on keeping Kelso straight, and encourage him to move forward. He can get bunched up and then he will lose the rhythm of the movement. When mounted, we moved through our normal lateral work and then introduced half-steps under saddle.

Paul stood next to Kelso on the ground for some encouragement but avoided helping as much as possible so I could learn to do them independently mounted. I really collected his walk and then encouraged more hindquarter action by using my seat, legs and whip. My whip was used minimally because he reacted really well to my seat and leg, but this aid is familiar from in-hand work. I was able to control the rhythm of the steps with my seat, which is an advantage over working them in-hand. We really focused on letting him relax into them as Paul says “he just tries too hard.” The feeling of him rounding his back, engaging his core and rocking back on his haunches was absolutely incredible. If that’s what little baby half-steps feel like, I can’t imagine the power of a full piaffe.

From here, we moved on to our canter. Paul warned me that things tend to fall apart when flying changes are introduced, and this has been true with our canter-walk transitions. As soon as I go to rock his canter up, he does a flying change. We decided I have to be very quick in asking him to walk after he loads his hindquarters to beat him before he flips leads on me. We then progressed to working on our travers on a circle. Paul informed me that they looked balanced and swinging, so I can make them smaller and even call them working pirouettes. You could have knocked me off with a feather.

We then introduced a new pattern for flying changes. Previously, I would change from counter canter on a circle to true canter. This week, we used a figure-8 pattern; we would start on a true canter circle, come across the middle of the arena, straighten, change leads, and then go the other direction in our new true canter. This helped because it would introduce the new bend to Kelso and encourage him to switch to that true canter lead. It also helped minimize how stuck he would get in the middle of the arena when I asked him to really collect his canter. From here, we will start doing changes on a short diagonal.

Off to go ask what’s next and practice my half-steps,

Erin and the Wonder Pony

Trivia answer for whatever week it is: Gueriniere, the inventor of shoulder-in and the man fond of medieval medicinal practices, is to thank for stating that contact should be “light, definite, and elastic.”

There won’t be a blog post next weekend as I will be dancing the night away at a military ball with my favorite two-legged guy. Stay tuned for the next post in two weeks!

 

He’s so Cute!

Nearly without fail, the first thing that people say when they meet Kelso is something along the lines of “He’s adorable! Oh my gosh, look at how cute and little he is!” I then get the inevitable question of what he is; the answer that he is a rescue horse starts another round of cooing and awwing over what many believe is my plush toy of a pony. [His true height is currently a point of contention. Paul is convinced his withers are located approximately at the middle of his neck, and that he is not a true pony. The jury is still out. One piece of good news is that if he is over 14.2 hands, he is clear to compete at the Olympics. Big horses are intimidated by ponies so they aren’t allowed to show at CDIs.]

Many people then question if I do dressage with him. True story: Someone met him and then looked at me in shock when I said he was my only horse. “Does he do dressage? Does he enjoy it? You take lessons on him…..with Paul?” He might be short but he is mighty. There are times when I get these questions where all I want to do is plant my feet, put my hands on my hips and shout “Take us seriously!” I instead just smile and nod. And then I smile and nod when I come back after a ride and they say “Wait, he’s actually a nice little guy!” Preaching to the choir, people.

To every person out there who is navigating the dressage waters that are filled with bigger and hotter warmblood sharks: Just keep swimming with what may be your minnow or whale of a horse. You have as much right to go down centerline with your draft, pony mutt or any combination of the two. Just keep swimming.

This week, Kelso and I brushed up on our half-pass theory and continued to swim towards flying lead changes.

When in our lesson, I asked about the correct angle for the half-pass and the weight load the outside hind carries. There is an inverse relationship with the sideways movement of the horse and how engaged their hindquarters are; the more sideways they travel, the less they are able to weight their haunches. This is because horses are not meant to move sideways. If a horse falls and does the splits, it usually seriously injures itself and is unable to stop their fall because they have no strength while their legs are splayed. This is why it is imperative to harness the forward energy in order to engage the haunches. It is also why you cannot have too much angle in the half-pass because it will then disengage the outside hind leg, the exact opposite of what is desired. The Spanish Riding School rides their half-pass at almost a diagonal so that there is no possibility that the hindquarters can begin to lead, thus losing their thrusting power.

The Wonder Pony has been quick to pick up flying changes, and will sometimes throw a couple out for good measure when I ask him to collect his canter more in his canter-walk transitions. Paul reminds me with a smirk that things usually fall apart when flying changes are introduced but it will work itself out again. This week we continued with crossing the middle of the ring and collecting his canter to get a flying lead change. At the close of the lesson, I asked Paul innocently “what was next?”

He rolled his eyes and replied that “you’re doing half-steps in-hand and flying changes and you want to know what’s next already?” When I promised him I wouldn’t start dreaming about one tempis, he said we would begin to work the Flying Changes on a short diagonal, and asking for them at a more specific time. In addition to this, we will start half-steps under saddle, as well as tightening my travers on a circle to work more towards canter pirouettes. It’s pretty wild to think what Kelso has taught me the last few months we have been here, and even wilder to dream of what will be learned by the close of our internship. It is all thanks to The Little Wonder Pony who could.

Off to go show the world what a pony can do,

Erin and The Wonder Pony

Week Eight Answer: It was pretty comical to read the different ailments and remedies that existed during the time of Gueriniere’s writing, and one of my favorites was what he did to treat cataracts. He would burn wood, and “when the wood is charcoal, remove it and carefully take out the salt, reduce it to the powder and introduce it into the eye with the thumb.” What could go wrong? He was also a big fan of bleeding and purging the horse. Thank heavens for modern science, right?

 

Week Nine Trivia: Who said contact should be “Light, Definite and Elastic?”

 

Sacrificial Lambs

There is a new training horse at the Pennsylvania Riding Academy and while his owner was spending time grooming we chatted about their journey so far. She mentioned that she thinks dressage will be good for her gelding. She hopes that dressage will be good for her gelding because she’s exhausted all other options; all that’s left is western pleasure and her OTTB doesn’t seem like he would enjoy going around a ring at a funeral march lope. She then disclosed she hopes she is doing right by him, or at least not screwing him up.

I quickly looked up from my work and I said “Oh, they are all sacrificial lambs in their own way. Which is a tough pill to swallow but we screw them up no matter how hard we try to be perfect. I don’t even want to think of all the things I have ruined for Kelso in the 8 years I have had him.”

Kelso has been subject to me learning everything on him, and this is why he has been dubbed the Wonder Pony. For every thing I have ruined and then had to fix again, it’s amazing he doesn’t need medication. He seems to look at me sometimes and say “Even though we have been doing it the exact opposite way for the last 389 days, I am game to do it this way today if you ask, mom.” There are things I have broken that I don’t even know need fixing, and there are other things that I know I let slide. Like him being a treat fiend.

I have created a treat monster but this seems to be my penance. “Kelso, remember that one time I wanted your flying changes at Liberty so badly that I broke them and they moved across the pond for a bit? *cringes* Here’s a cookie.” [Rose once commented on how she has never seen a horse who transforms into a look-alike plush toy immediately upon hearing the crinkle of a treat bag. It’s one of his many talents.]

If I start thinking too much of all the things my partner in crime has had to endure on our journey, it’s easy to work myself into a guilt ridden inner monologue. As hard as it is to stop myself, I have to gently remind myself that nobody is perfect + we are trying our best. We sure are lucky they are so forgiving. I do try to comfort myself with the knowledge that Kelso will still trot up to me in the pasture or spend hours by my side grazing. Sans cookies. Okay…maybe a few cookies.

To add to the list of things Kelso has had to figure out while I also learn them myself are flying changes. We have officially begun to try to get flying changes in our lessons with Paul, instead of just “seeing what will happen.”

Kelso and I have had quite the journey with F.Cs. While on our Parelli journey, we worked with no fewer than 4 different instructors to get the elusive flying change of leg. We were able to get them running around bareback and hopping over a pole, but as soon as I would put a bridle on him, we would freeze. We had every prerequisite and tried every exercise. He would get so worked up and I would get so frustrated that I couldn’t “get it” that I finally laid them to rest. I am happy to report they have rose from the dead.

I added a video of most of our trot work during our lesson this week, and the preview to the lesson is our first ever documented flying lead change! At first, which you will see in the video, we tried getting flying changes by really collecting his canter on the long side, so he would get so boxed up that he would be uncomfortable enough to change. We then graduated from this exercise when he would tease me with just switching his hind end {You can hear Paul tell me “Yes! Just Kidding!” multiple times in the video.} We then started to counter canter on the long side, then come across the ring in a Figure-8-like pattern; I would again box him up to encourage him to switch to his true lead and continue so that lead remained on the inside. So, if I started on the right counter canter lead, I would come across the middle and switch to the left and continue going to the left.

I would not explicitly give him any aids to switch leads because in the beginning when they don’t understand lead changes this can just cause them to become anxious. Instead, I lightly switch my hips and follow his movement over, and focus on keeping his shoulders and neck straight so he doesn’t switch only in front.

This was the first day of doing this exercise, and the next day we got four more clean flying changes. It seems that left to right is easier right now, but the jury is still out on that since they are so new that it could easily be the other way around in the next couple of days.

I have to keep pinching myself when I think of how far Kelso has brought me. While he might be my sacrificial lamb, he is also my best friend. For this, and everything else he has given and taught me, I will be forever be in his debt. Which I plan to pay off in cookies.

Off to go buy more treats and practice flying…..changes,

Erin and The Wonder Pony

Week Seven Trivia Answer: The first competition to have Arena Markers were the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles. Their root is not known, but my favorite story that I have heard is that in ancient Greece, the dressage letters were instead different animal heads where you would have to perform certain movements. B for Boar’s Head, A for Ape, etc….

Week Eight Trivia: In Gueriniere’s Book, School of Horsemanship, he talks a lot about different ailments of the horse and his remedies; can you guess what any of his treatments involved? Let’s just say, I am happy we have modern science.