where the writers are
and speaking of dressage
Lunging Toby

Okay, so I just started riding again after a 22 year hiatus. Years ago I rode and competed in Western (owned a horse when I was 16 - "Caballo" - heck, I was only 16 and one should never allow a kid to name a horse or any animal for that matter), then Hunter/Jumper (and competed and won every class I was in) and now Classical French Dressage. (www.patewoodfarm.com)  I am loving the sublty of the sport. I love the fact that Dressage is so related to positive dog training. Everything is soft, clear, clean. A dance. (Just like heeling should be.) No fighting, no punishing, no manhandling. Ah! It is all about sensitivity and mutual respect. Before I met Suzanne Marshall (and before I became a positive trainer), horseback riding was just about getting on the horse and riding. No relationship building, no bonding, no sensitivity - just slap on saddle, bridle and go.

I am very much enjoying the lunging and in hand work - especially when riding a new horse. It gives me a chance to get to know the horse and vice versa, as well as warming the horse up, loosening their muscles and getting them ready to ride. I love looking for the sublty of movements that tell me when they are ready to change pace. And because I have been away from horses for so long, I had developed a bit of a fear of them - they are much bigger than dogs! (and Suzanne's horses are TALL! I personally like the big ponies). Doing the groundwork has helped with that and I am more comfortable now on the ground and in the saddle. I love being able to feel their muscles, feel their movement, rhythm and feel their mood. A far cry from a long time ago.

So far I have ridden three of her school horses;

Tesoro Vistoso (T), a pure Spanish Andalusian gelding, Chocolate Moose (Moose), A Hispano-Arabe (half Andalusian/half Arabian) and Toby, a Quarter Horse. They all have something to teach me.

T is very picky - if your body position or hands are off even a half an inch, he stops. Period. End of discussion.

Moose is slightly more forgiving, although if your balance is off, he stops.

Toby is very forward and for me, since I have only had 6 lessons so far, very fast! He has a hard time bending, so I am getting better at reinforcing him for bending by then letting him go straight and then he is more willing to try bending again.

Suzanne rarely has to tell me what I am doing wrong because the horses make it perfectly clear. I started out on Moose, went to T and then Toby. I was actually quite proud of my first ride on T - I was able to get and keep him in a nice forward walk and a prolonged trot--not an easy thing to do (per Suzanne)!

It is very interesting though - when I talk to them - verbally and non-verbally, they respond appropriately. I think stop and they stop, I think trot and they trot. When I rode Toby last week, his head was very high up and I wanted him to bend his neck down and get into the bit, so I asked him to lower his head and relax. He did. Today I was lunging him and he is not a big fan of the side reins. He was fighting them a little (bucking, rearing, farting <g>...). I told him to bend his neck and he would feel more comfortable. So he bent his head down. Oops. Guess I needed to be more specific. So I told him to bend his neck toward me. Voila! I have to say, it was pretty cool.

My riding isn't all that bad either (although today I felt like a sack of potatoes--it was just one of those days where it took me almost the whole hour to get in sync with Toby). My hands are still good and soft, my legs are as bad as they ever were...sigh...(and for Dressage they have to be even farther back!) and my seat just needs a little more practice to get back to where it was.

Not too bad for a break of 22 years!