Monday, November 29, 2010

Not your Typical Dressage Horse

An important character in this narrative, I think it's time to introduce my horse, Indigo.
She doesn't have gleaming demon eyes in real life, I promise. This is the result of going to ride after work which is consequently after dark here in the great north, and relying on the low lighting in the barn and the flash on my aging camera. But you can see w hat she generally looks like.

Indigo is a 5 year old Paint mare. I think. Her previous owner told me 4, but wrote 5 on the bill of sale, so I'm going to say that she'll be 5 as of January 1st and go from there. Obviously, I have no papers on her, and know nothing of her bloodlines, so "paint" is mostly because she looks like one. I honestly don't really care about her breed. Technically, she'd be classified as "grade", but that's neither here nor there. The point is she's young, she's a mare, and she has attitude.

From what her previous owner told me, Indigo was broke when she was a 2-year-old (which I generally don't approve of, I think you should let them mature a little more before sitting on them). She developed a nasty head tossing problem and broke someone's nose. She was then sold to the woman that I bought her from with the intention of being a riding horse (with the assistance of a tie-down) and sat in the pasture for the next couple years.

I was cautious when I first got on her, as I've ridden horses who were bad about the head tossing thing before, but turns out I didn't need to be. Immediately upon picking up the reins, I could tell how sensitive she is. The slightest twitch of my fingers had her immediate attention. No wonder she'd been flipping her head.

I was looking for a horse that was correct, young, with a good work ethic and attitude. Decent movement and a "dressage type" would have been major bonuses, but my budget was a little shy of what you normally pay for a good warmblood. Indigo fits the bill wonderfully. She is slightly bench-kneed, which may cause some issues with splints down the road, but I think it's a fault I'll be able to manage. She isn't as forward thinking as I'd prefer, but she's curious and a perfectionist. She's happy to do the same exercise over and over until she figures it out, which is a great trait for me to have. Mostly though, this mare has attitude.

Now, I've ridden mostly geldings in my life. A few mares here and there, but mostly geldings. I have nothing against either sex, it's just how things have worked out. I love working with geldings because they will absolutely try their hearts out. They remind me of my dogs, who love you unconditionally just because you are you. And occasionally feed them cookies. Mares are more like my cat. You have to earn their trust, earn their respect, but once you have it, they're bonded to you that much stronger. While a gelding might do everything you ask, a mare will push both of your limits. If she can get into the game of it, she'll excel for the sake of excelling, rather than just to please you. This is the attitude I wanted in my next horse, and Indigo has it. She's spunky and opinionated, but as long as you're fair, you get along just fine. Getting her foundation established and firm is going to be a test of patience for me. I get tired of the basics pretty quickly, but I firmly believe that there is nothing more important than building this as a really solid foundation to work her training off of.

 I think she looks pretty cute in her dressage bridle, don't you?

Now, I'm not deluding myself. She's not exactly what you would call the "ideal" dressage horse. Her stride lacks the elasticity that you want to see in a horse her age and that's going to get worse before it gets better. She's not very naturally forward, and would rather travel slightly on her forehand. And she's spotted. You don't see a whole lot of spotted dressage horses these days. But she is supple, she is smart, and moves correctly, if not impressively.

Will she be my future FEI horse? That will remain to be seen, but chances are not. There's no reason she couldn't do third level though. Which is all I need for right now. I can worry about my "upper level" horse later, when I'm somewhere near ready for the upper levels.

Dressage is about the journey, anyway. I can't say that I wouldn't enjoy getting on a Grand Prix schoolmaster tomorrow and learning how a real upper level horse rides. But that's not the point. The point is in the training, the relationship, helping your horse to be the best they can be while being the best rider you can be.

Setting a camera timer on a stall door... results in slightly awkward expressions

**I'm going to apologize in advance for the pictures that may appear on this blog. Daylight is pretty short up here right now, and it's so cold and windy and snowy that I'm not likely to be working outside even if I manged to catch the sun, so pictures of the pony are likely to be dark and grainy for a while.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Snowed In

I can remember watching snow reports with so much excitement when I was younger. In a family of skiers, snow was a pretty big deal. Even if it wasn't snowing at home, we'd call the snow report for the mountain every morning, and if it sounded particularly good my parents would call us in sick so that we could go play on the mountain. This was, of course, assuming we had no major projects or presentations we would be missing and that all of our homework was caught up. Definitely motivation to keep up with your studies!

The first snow of the year at home was always exciting as well. For one, there was a chance you'd get a snow day and not have to go to school, which meant sledding, hot chocolate, snowmen, snowball fights, and possibly skiing (can you tell that skiing was a big deal for us?).

Whatever the circumstances, snow was something to be celebrated until about March, when we were all tired of being cold, the skiing was starting to get crappy, and we were making plans for summer vacation. Then we'd be sad to see snowflakes. Never in November.

North Dakota has changed this view.

I will admit, I still feel a little bit of child-like glee when I take the dogs outside and they go romping through the drifts. And there is way more snow here than we almost ever had back in Oregon. And I can't say I was too terribly upset that I couldn't make it to work today because of the road conditions.

What I am upset about? No riding. If I can't get to work, I obviously can't get to the barn. I'm not really sure how much I'm going to be able to ride around work in the next few weeks either. Daylight is pretty short around here, and although the arena is indoors and lit (a key selling point on choosing this particular barn to board at!) I don't know if I want to be driving back up the highway that long after dark every night.

I really want to try out my new winter gloves!

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Search for Thermal Riding Gloves

I am not a gloves person. At all. I greatly dislike having anything on my hands ever. I feel similarly about socks and shoes, but I've mostly managed to get past that by understanding the necessity for footwear in many instances. Such as the barn, where being barefoot just isn't a good idea for a lot of reasons. Gloves have never held that "necessity" place in my head, so I have continued to avoid them except in two circumstances.

A) Skiing. I grew up skiing with my family, and mittens were a very important part of your gear. I hated having to take them on and off any time I wanted to actually DO anything though. Like take a drink from my water bottle, zip my coat back up (because the stupid double zipper likes to work its way undone!) or even flip my pass around so the lift attendant can see it clearly. In this case, they were a begrudged necessity because of the cold.

B) Riding. I had an Off the Track Thoroughbred (OTTB) that I did some lower level eventing on in high school. He was a fabulously athletic horse that pulled like a freight train and taught me the value of wearing gloves and investing in decent quality gloves. I'd go through a pair of cheap gloves every couple weeks until my trainer introduced me to her favorite crochet back gloves with pig-skin palms.

I loved the way these gloves felt. They were thick enough to protect my hands from my reins, but I could still feel my horse's mouth (of steel) through them. The crochet back was enough to keep a little winter chill off when I lived in Oregon and breathable enough not to suffocate my poor hands during the summer. I've gone through several pairs over the years and they are still by far my favorite gloves ever. I didn't think I'd ever have need to own anything else.

Until I moved to North Dakota.

Winter has finally really hit and we're experiencing our first sub-zero temperatures for the year. Overall, I think I'm adjusting pretty well with my bundling and layering of clothing. I'm still working on remembering to go out and start my car a while before I have to leave, but I think I'm going to learn that lesson quickly enough thanks to iced over windshields. I've still been avoiding gloves because I can just shove my hands in my pockets and they're fine. Simple fix.

I went out to ride after work today and was perfectly fine while getting Indigo groomed and tacked up in the heated barn aisle. The arena, however, is not heated, since there is no water to worry about freezing in there. I pulled on my crochet back gloves and headed out to ride once I had her tacked up and ready. (I still can't wear gloves while grooming and tacking. Even lovely, fine, dexterous ones I can't manage the buckles on my bridle with them on!)

I rode for 10 minutes today. Thankfully, Indigo was being an angel, so I felt justified in cutting our work short. The main reason though, was that my hands were absolutely throbbing with pain from the cold. I couldn't believe it. I could hardly grip the reins while I was riding, and had to open the door back into the barn with my shoulder. Apparently, if I'm going to try to keep up with this "training through the winter" thing, I was going to need some thermal riding gloves. Because as fantastic as she was today, we're not going to get much done if we can only ride 10 minutes a day.

I considered coming home and quizzing some people I know who are from colder climes about the best and most affordable glove choices, but I decided that that would end up taking too long between waiting on replies and then placing the order (because I'm 90% sure that none of the stores around here would carry them). So I ran by a local sporting goods store on my way home and picked up some gloves. Because Indigo is so light and sensitive in the bridle, I'm hoping that these will hold up even though they're not "riding gloves" and are not reinforced where the reins sit. They are thin, warm, and have little grippies on the palm though. Tomorrow will be their test run. Wish me luck!

If you do have any recommendations on gloves or other cold-weather riding gear, leave a not in the comments. I'm always looking for ideas on how to keep my horse and I comfortable!

Sunday, November 21, 2010


Now that I've gotten that first post out of the way, I figure I should explain who I am, my situation, and what I'm hoping to accomplish here. That blank sheet of paper just makes things all the more difficult, it seems.

My name is Corey. I am 23 years old, I live in North Dakota, and I ride dressage.

I haven't always lived in North Dakota. I grew up in Oregon where I started riding with an amazing dressage trainer and was very active in my local Pony Club. I attribute a lot of the independence that allows me to keep training and trying to the education that I got from Pony Club, along with a very large chunk of my general equine education. When I was 18 I went to college in North Carolina, studying Therapeutic Horsemanship at St. Andrews Presbyterian College. While I was in school I got to ride every day, learning everything I could from the school's dressage horses and instructors. I rode on our Intercollegiate Dressage Association (IDA) team and managed to qualify for nationals once. By my senior year I was apprenticing as an instructor for the lower level dressage lessons and was officially the assistant coach for the team. I was also teaching plenty of therapeutic riding in the Ride-Like-A-Knight program and earned my registered level instructor certification. I graduated with big plans and grand dreams which, for one reason or another, haven't panned out quite like my fantasies. Those are stories for another time, though.

After graduation, I caught up with an old friend from high school. He was returning from his first deployment and changing duty stations from Yokota, Japan, to Minot, North Dakota. One thing led to another, and this is apparently an old flame that never really died. After almost a year of long distance while I bounced around trying to find the right job, I made the decision to join him up North. My plan was to find a job for now, buy myself a young horse and start training. I was hoping I could find a few clients just to keep me sharp in that direction, but mostly I decided I needed to focus on my own training for a while.

Come to find out, there isn't any dressage in Minot, North Dakota. The few people I've met while here who even know what dressage is usually respond with "A dressage rider? What are you doing in North Dakota?" Not particularly encouraging.

Nevertheless, I was determined. As soon as I managed to land a job in the cake department at a local grocery store, I started my horse hunt. My budget was limited, and I knew the chances of finding something that was actually bred for sporthorse disciplines was slim to none. After a little searching, I stumbled upon Indigo, a 4 year old paint mare. She was green-broke to ride, well put together, and had decent movement. She was also very sensitive and had an the intelligent attitude that I thought could really make her sparkle in the show ring if I could get her to want to work with me.

So that's where we are. Indigo and I have been together for about a month now, and I've been riding her for about two weeks (had to order a new bridle, the one that I've used on all of my thoroughbreds up until this point didn't quite fit and the tack stores around here give me funny looks when I ask about flash  nosebands). We're still working out a lot of young horse kinks, like the whole bucking thing, but we're getting there.

What I've found disturbing while looking online for support in my journey to train my horse is the incredibly elitist can't-do attitude coming from a lot of dressage riders. So many people seem to think it's not even worth bothering to try to train an off-breed horse by yourself. What? This can't be right. There has to be other people like me who, for one reason or another, don't have access to the fanciest horses and the highest quality training. Whether it's that you can't afford to put your horse in regular training, you don't live near any quality dressage instructors/trainers, or you simply aren't interested in showing but you enjoy riding dressage for the sake of dressage (dressage is derived from the french word for "training", you know), I don't think you're alone. I think that there are a lot of us out there who may not fall into what has become the stereotype for this sport, but who are still soldiering on teaching our own horses about contact and impulsion.

So this is my journey of "DIY Dressage". I'll be recording my adventures with a confident and self-possessed little mare, as well as my quest for further knowledge on training her and bettering myself as a rider. I'll also be looking for ways that I can cut costs without compromising quality, and things that I can make or build myself whenever possible.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


Starting something is always nerve wracking for me. I feel like there's a lot of pressure to set the right precedence with your first impression, so I'll spend days, weeks, or months trying to come up with the perfect introduction to set me up for success in my, and everyone else's, eyes. I'll spend that time doing "research", which is my fancy word for procrastination, to figure out how someone else who is successful and whom I admire has done it. I like doing research because it means I get to read other people's thoughts and see their ideas, but ultimately, that's not the point. These are my thoughts, my ideas, and my message. I feel like there's validity in them and a message that needs to be heard. It doesn't matter how anyone else has done this, this is about my journey and it starts today.

I'm Corey. This is my blog, DIY dressage.