Dressage Art

During my last lesson, I commented on the incredible difference Kelso has made in his muscle and build in only six weeks. Paul was quick to respond that there was a reason that this stuff really works, which is why it has been around for thousands of years. This response, and the discussion that followed, is one that caused my gears to start going. It is a clear and just system that makes sense to both horse and rider, but, just because it is proven, doesn’t mean that people will follow it. Sometimes, fads or celebrity riders have us seeking the newest secret or trick that will get us up the levels quicker. Often times, in this chaos, the true purpose of this great discipline is lost; the idea that Dressage is truly the art of horsemanship. This is a point that I have been licking and chewing on for the last few days, and one that I will continue to mull over during my time here.

It brought back a conversation I had during my first few weeks here with the farm’s farrier, John. He crafts incredible hand-made leather goods, including all the personalized halters for the farm’s horses. We started talking about how he once made a knife holder for an employee at the racetrack and was curious to see what other personalized knife holders sold for. This then started a discussion on what people were willing to pay for handmade versus manufactured goods nowadays. In a world where we can go on Amazon and get something for as cheap as possible, it is often difficult to justify spending significantly more money and time waiting for a custom item.

I realized this is how we can feel about our journeys with our horses sometimes. We forget that spending more time can also mean the difference between getting a custom work of art instead of a hurriedly and mass-produced product. The art can be lost in the ribbons or medals and quickly swept up by the rushing current of the industry. It is more fun to run to a big-name clinician and work on something in the next level than sit at home and do three more weeks of trot-halt transitions because your horse still isn’t sitting. Or canter-walk transitions because your horse can’t walk-canter without going through the roof. (Guess what we’ve been working on? Paul said Kelso’s excitement about the canter will help in Flying Changes, but I am not sure we will make it that far without hitting the rafters first.)

I didn’t know what drew me to the Pennsylvania Riding Academy during my first few days here. Over every other working student positions, why did I pick Dillsburg, PA, and not Wellington, FL? (And, despite what you might think based on the name, it is not because it is the most exciting town in USA.) It didn’t take long for me to figure out that I was drawn to this place because of the respect that both Paul and Andrea have for this art form, and for every horse that they take the time it takes to mold into incredible dance partners. It is not performance or ego driven, but it is fueled by a passion to do right by the the history and the horses, which is what drew us to this place.

The WP and I were also excited to haunt Paul with my pink stirrups for eight months! He still loves them. He also asked me if I find enjoyment in trying to keep him up at night after I told him Kelso and I would start practicing bucking on command, an air above the ground taught in the French school.

While we didn’t get to the bucking on command in our lesson this week, we started to play around with a few new things. We warm up with lateral movements that include shoulder-in and haunches in, and recently introduced shoulder-in to renver (haunches-out.) We start on the wall in shoulder-in, and then switch the bend to renver. If you are looking at the horse’s feet, the tracks should not change; only the bend should. Half-pass was introduced a few lessons ago, and we are having fun with doing pretty shallow ones but still half-passes!

From these, we move onto trot-halts in which our goal is to get Kelso to sit as much as possible. This sitting ability has already improved since we have been here, and Paul and I decided we are able to start asking for even more from him. The most exciting part of the lesson is our canter-walk transitions because you never quite know what is going to happen. Will Kelso be calm? Unlikely. Will Kelso throw in a frustrated I-don’t-like-the-right-lead buck? Probably. Will they get better? Debatable. They are slowly coming along, but Paul is always quick to reassure me that they will come. Eventually.

To strengthen our canter even more, we have started to do shoulder-ins and counter canter loops and figure-8s. Kelso is already able to hold himself up so much better, and my butt is actually staying in the saddle now! After riding for 6 weeks without stirrups, I earned them back! (No, really, I didn’t ride with stirrups at all. It was an exercise in self-exploration, core work and some self-loathing.)

As always, thanks for all your support in our journey, and thanks to Kelso for being my sacrificial lamb and staying strong while I learn everything on him!

Off to go ride with my {pink} stirrups and work on dressage art,

Erin and Kelso



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