Do You Have A Moment To Talk About Our Blessed Lady Dressage?

Photo courtesy of Laura Harris.

“Hallelujah, brother, I am here to comfort the sinner and return the stray lamb to fold!”

As fall blows away, and winter peeks around the bend, the options for riding time dwindles for many of us. My day job, including commute, keeps me from riding when the sun is … anywhere. In fact, I’m not sure I know what the sun looks like, as my closet office has no windows.

The day job makes the horses possible, however. Not just for fun, not just because I love them, which I do wholeheartedly, but because I have goals and dreams. Let me be clear, I have very nagging, fixed, unshakeable goals. Not unlike a very annoying little angel or devil camped out on my shoulder, they don’t like to be ignored or put off and always have my ear and brain. I’m not driven by my goals, I am endlessly pulled by them.

But, being pulled by a goal is far more dedication that being driven by one. It is as mentally exhausting as it sounds. It is a way of life, not a choice. But when I do have to choose? Pulled by a goal means I choose my horse over all else: Her mani/pedi over mine, her nutrition over mine, her wardrobe over mine … you get the idea. (Who am I kidding, I’m a farm girl, I’ve never had a pedicure.) But, pulled by a goal also means doing what you don’t want to so in the future you can do what you want. Too hot? Too cold? Too windy? Well, horses don’t school themselves, now do they?

But here’s the rub. Much like the night, a mare is dark and full of terrors. With the cold, you can bundle up, but a light source is needed to allow the goaltug to continue. Fortunately, I do have one (1) flood light above the barn to use. It glares cock-eyed out into the pasture, casting long shadows on the edges, and peers half-heartedly into the overgrown arena and round pen. But light is light, and even walking can be productive work. Really, I have no excuse. I have lived in colder and wetter. I have all I need to get it done. So, I psyched myself up on the hour drive home. Smile, it’s an adventure!

Now, my lady is very much a quirky sort. I acquired her in a very conscientious rehoming wherein she was not the fit for where she was, and it was not the fit for her. She is bold and opinionated, but quirky is the word that best describes her. She can pass an object 239 times without incident, but that 240th  time, all bets are off. Or perhaps the 513rd time, or 1,867th . She is solid until she’s not. Her work ethic fluctuates like that, like a weakness in her focus. In the past, she has deemed a scary no-go corner in nearly every arena, especially in the night lighting. With some work, she will get over it, but tends to always keep her eye on the opportunity to create drama. Mares love drama … She has what is best described in the dog context as a ‘scoot’, wherein the butt tucks under the body, pushing the front end up, out, and sideways, rather like an imploding mid-launch rocket. Sometimes noises get her attention, sometimes not. All this suffice to say, if you do not keep her entertained, she will find a way to entertain herself. Clever girl.

Photo courtesy of Laura Harris.

Being back at my family’s farm, it was the first time to face the lighting issue again. But then again, as newly dedicated disciples of dressage, we have more important details to worry about. After our routine warm-up of stretching and lateral work at the walk, I figured, WTH. I’ve had a nice long life. Let’s see what happens when I trot. I love a good risk. Deep breath, proper posture and contact, nudge the mare forward and … Success! We were forward, on the aids, with a good connection. She trotted through shadows, into the dark, through the dark, out of the dark, around pasture mates at the fresh hay bale casting long shadows. She listened, she didn’t look; she was too busy. She was dressage-ing. She wasn’t afraid of the night, she owned it.

Dressage has helped our contact and connection. We are able to feel each other, make decisions together, and make corrections. She developed a topline that only comes from proper work. Her new focus allows us to ride into the dark without fear of scoots. Of course our jumping has improved due to the new muscling, but it has also improved as we communicate so clearly in between the sticks. Jumping just happens between the flatwork after all. Dressage has changed my free mare into a freed mare. Her gaits are bigger and more expressive, her balance is better. She likes dressage. Not as much as jumping, but I swear she knows what horsey weightlifting has done for her. For me, it has been similar. It made me go back to the gym to be the best rider I can for my horses. Dressage makes me think about every way I move, or don’t move on my horse. What can I improve? Where should the hooves fall? It has fully brought out my equestricentric Type A personality. In turn, my position, stamina, elasticity, and feel improved.

I’m a believer. A convert. My jumper heart has fully embraced dressage on my conversion to the dark side, eventing. So, forgive me if I proselytize, but I have seen the light! Dressage is beautiful and humbling. Realizing how much I don’t know about it makes me more excited to learn more. I am planning a dressage debut, contemplating medal scores, knowing that dressage is a permanent fixture in my life from here on out. The change in my mare is evidence enough for me. She is round and strong, and fearless … like Wonder Woman. The changes don’t happen overnight, but the changes make for night and day difference. But don’t take my word for it, try it. Not just for a day or a lesson, but give it time with an open mind and educated eye. I guess I should just go ahead and add that DQ behind my name. Now Testify!