Dressage Just Got Real Part 2

So if you’ve read part one (Check it out HERE if you haven’t) have I blown your mind yet?Well let me show you why lifting the head was essential and how it really helps this second part.

So your horse now understands that when given upward pressure on the bit he has to hold his head up. Remember when I said Carol put her finger in the snaffle ring and gently lifted up and Cash turned his head???  Now you see where we are going.

So once your horses head is up, stand in front (or slightly to the side for safety) and gently lift one side of the bit up and do a little vibration/wiggle by lifting up and down a few centimeters. The horse should turn it’s head. If not Ask, wait a moment, praise or ask again.

Now as they turn their head watch their front legs. Most horses will lean the majority of their weight towards the direction their head is going. They may also have a preferred side that they tend to keep weight on. For instance if the horse is turning its head left they pop their right shoulder out and lean to the right instead of following the head to the left. (IE. Cash popping his shoulder out  and going right to go see the horses BUT I had him turned and bent to go left).

So as you observe them do they transfer their weight left and right to follow their head? or do they move their head but keep most of their weight on one side?

If you have a horse that leans all its weight on one leg, say the right front leg, that’s great for the left leg because it frees of weight and can move any way it needs to.  However, the moment you ask them to move the right leg they literally can not move that leg because there is too much weight on it.

posted leg free legIt’s like leaning against the wall using your right arm to hold your weight.  Your left arm is free to do what ever you want but you can’t move your right arm for fear of loosing your balance and falling.

Now to understand why they do this, a horses head weighs approximately 50 pounds! So when they are moving forward and they’re looking forward it’s easy for them to move that direction but if they swing their head one way or another they compensate with their “strong” side to keep in balance.  Horses have a preferred side just like we do so that it’ s typically the side that takes the majority of the weight when they more their heads left to right.  Some horses will shift their weight to both sides easily but the majority of horses will pick one side over the other.

This brings us to the next exercise:

You’re going to need your reins and a training whip long enough to reach their butts.

Take the reins and put them over the horses head like you normally would to mount. Then grab the outside rein and ensure you have a nice light contact with the bit but are not pulling on it. It’s there to keep the bit steady. You will put the outside rein in your hand closest to the butt,with your training whip also in that hand, and position your hand on the meaty part of the shoulder.

You can see how i'm holding the bit and the reins here.
You can see how I’m holding the bit and the reins here and where I’m holding my hand on the shoulder. Sorry about the sun glare!

The best way to grip the bit  is going to be gripping the top part of the snaffle ring ensuring you only pull up not back and/or down. You can hold it any way thats comfortable but this ensures you are only pulling up.  Don’t be afraid to use the noseband to help make sure you don’t pull down on the bit until you get the feel for it.
holding bit
So once you’re all situated you are going to ask for walk.

Ask, wait for response.  Praise if they did it right. If they didn’t move  ask again while simultaneously using the whip to tap at their side to get them to move forward  and cease all aids as soon as they do and praise.

Then ask for whoa by pulling up slightly with both reins and releasing the upward movement. The release is MANDATORY!  This is your wait for their response moment. If you continue to hold the horse will resist. Give them the opportunity to respond! Then either ask again or praise depending on the response (seeing a theme here?)

When you’re sure you have go and whoa you can move on to the next step. 

Ask the horse to move forward. Now just like when the horse was standing and you asked him to turn his head,  wiggle the inside ring up and down several centimeters. Once you have the bend in his neck praise!  As you move forward walk on a large 20 to 40 meter circle. If needed walk down the rail but it is usually easier to do on a circle. As you do this a lot of horses will fall in with the shoulder. Don’t worry we will fix that next.

Take your hand holding the whip and outside rein and watch the inside leg. As the inside leg ( or the shoulder you’re standing next to) begins to raise off the ground. Push on their shoulder and then release the pressure before it strikes the ground.

Crossing front legThis should cause the horse to step across their outside leg and move their shoulders away from you.  This does take a bit of timing practice and you MUST release. If you do not it causes what is known as opposition reflex. This means the horse will lean into your pressure instead of away. It’s a natural response. Even you will do it if someone pushes steadily against your shoulder.

Make sure to praise praise praise when they gets it right.  Don’t reprimand if they do it wrong or don’t do anything.  Let them stumble on to the right answer. If timed right they understand what your asking very quickly. Don’t over do it. Once they have done it several times repeat the steps on the other side.

You are teaching your horse that they are mobile in the shoulders as well as  how to shift their weight left and right evenly while maintaining bend. That is why having their head up in these beginning steps is really nessicary.  If they have all their weight on the forehand it is a lot harder for them to move their shoulders.

The Final Exercise: 

crossed hind legsNow once they have mastered both the right and left shoulders moving away from the pressure, while still circling at a walk,  take the whip, hold it horizontally a crossed their body  and tap their haunches lightly as the rear inside leg (hind leg closest to you) is lifting off the ground.  This should cause them to step under and a-crossed moving their hind end to the outside. Ask with a tap or two, Wait for a response and ask again or praise. (The pic is a horse at a stand still but it gives you an idea of the moment you are looking for)

Now when asking for this exercise the first time horses will usually try to go faster instead of over. Cash tried to trot forward the first time he was asked.  Just hold them steady. If needed give that slight upwards pressure on both reins and ask for walk. Be patient. This can make some horses a bit nervous to start.  Once they even take a tiny step a crossed to the outside with the back leg praise, praise, praise!  It usually only takes a few tries and praises for them to understand it typically if you’re timing your aids right. I mean if Cash picked it up in about three tries I think a calmer horse would pick it up faster.

The hardest thing is ensuring you’re not pulling on the bit while asking for the aid and having the correct timing when giving the tap to the haunches to move.  This final exercise teaches a young or inexperienced horse that while they have more weight on the haunches then normal they are still able to move their legs laterally and it begins to teach the engagement of the hocks.

That’s it for my first lesson. A very simple and yet profound exercise. I do ask please keep the sessions short! Carol only worked with me and a Cash a grand total of 10 minuets out of the hour lesson. The rest of the hour was spent just talking and explaining. There is absolutely no reason you can’t stop after five minuets if your horse is understanding it. In fact it is much more beneficial to the to stop after a short but great session.

What blew away was the response in Cash at the end of the lesson. He started out nervously chomping the bit. By the end of the lesson he was still chomping but it was relaxed and much slower. He was calmly standing next to me. Which was AMAZING given the fact it was about 40 degrees with about a 15-20 mile an hour gusts of cold wind. At the beginning I couldn’t get him to stand still to save my life!

Repeat this exercise every day for 1 week or if you can’t do it ever day of week do it as many times as you can for two weeks. Don’t ride your horse at all until the end of the week and let me know how your horse responded. You do not need any arenas to do this exercise either! I do it in my pastures and front yard (yup hoof prints everywhere!)

HERE’S a great little video showing exactly what you need to do once your walking! The young lady is doing the work and Carol is talking to the girl as she’s doing it. I have tried taping my personal sessions since my lesson but my camera decided to hate me( I do think it’s my memory card…hopefully) , but I can’t seem to get the right angle to show you or longer then about 15 seconds to record. I need my own camera crew haha.

If you have any question let me know and I will get you the answers! I hope you’ve enjoyed this 😀

Until next time!


Dressage Just Got Real Part 1

Dressage arena set up with letters Tower Letters are molded using 100% UV-stabilized HDPE. White with large black letters molded onto all three sides. Letters are stackable with anti-suction tabs to prevent sticking. 10-017 10-018 Wellington Dressage Arena 2-023 2-024 2-025 2-123 920PW 920PWC Wellington Arena Package Wellington Arena Tower Letter Package WATowerp1 WATowerP2

My mind = blown. I never knew such a short lesson could bring about such revelations! Where has this amazing trainer been hiding all my life?!! Now it’s taken me almost an entire week to digest and understand exactly what she told me throughout my lesson. The information I learned will also be broken up into several posts because it’s so much I don’t want to overload  and confuse you.

The camera we were using for the lesson decided to hate my memory card so I didn’t get it on video and I’m attempting to re-create it with my go pro but like all thing technological it seems to never want to work when I need it to…. or I fried the memory card.

Before we begin I want to point out that I put Cash back in a bit for the lesson. I figured that since I was riding with Carol McArdle who has an extensive background in not only dressage but eventing as well, (Check out her bio HERE)  that maybe she would see something that I’m doing or have ideas on how to make him happier with the bit.  I was right!

To start our lesson I got on and started walking around in warm up. Carol wanted to see my typical warm ups and how we worked together on a normal basis. As we were going around the arena Cash saw two horses just chilling on the other side of the rail and decided he REALLY wanted to meet those horses. He did his classic “I wanna go THIS way” move while I was telling him “No go this way” and we were arguing over which direction we were going.

This was literally about 2 minuets into the lesson. It was at this point Carol stepped in. She said

“You have a communication issue. Your horse doesn’t understand what your asking with the reins.”

Now the next bit is gonna sound weird. It goes against almost everything I have been taught but hold out on me. I promise it’ll get a bit clearer.

She then grabbed the right bit ring with one finger and lifted gently straight up and gave a tiny vibration and Cash instantly turned his head to the right.

“The key to a horse is not pulling down and back like you were doing. It’s pulling straight up on the bit. Your horse has never done this before and see what he did? He automatically turned his head.” and  then proceeded to tell me to get off my horse.

Wait…What?!…I froze….What did she just say? Get off my horse??!  Pull straight up???  HUH?

This is the FIRST time in my entire life that I’ve been at a lesson and I was kicked off my horse. I thought maybe she wanted to get on him and show me something. I kinda prayed she had insurance and jumped off.

As I hopped off she put my stirrups up. So I waited even more confused. Did I screw up that badly that we were ending the lesson already? Then she told me we are starting at the very beginning basics.I was still confused. I thought I was at those basics with Cash but she was not talking about the basics in the saddle.She meant starting at the basics on the ground by doing in hand work!

Now in hand work is something I have always attempted/wanted to do. I have about three books on it and I’ve watched countless videos but I never quite understood what they were doing. So she grabbed the reins and began to show me.

I was blown away and secretly grateful that she did this.

The information she told me has completely changed the way I handle a horse with a bridle. So for the next bit I’m gonna break it down to help explain why you do this first evolution by pulling UP on the bit.

All right a little tid bit on some basics of how bits work in a horses mouth varying on how you pull on the reins. This was how Carol explained it to me. I added some pictures to help clarify.

Pulling straight back with the reins: This pulls down on the tongue and possibly the bars of the mouth causing intense discomfort. Think of it this way. When you’re at the dentist and he puts his finger on the back of your tongue and pushes what happens? It creates gag reflex. The same is true in your horse. The pressure is not comfortable in any way so they try to evade it one way or another or brace against it.

Bit pulled straight back best

Pulling down: Puts INTESE pressure on the bars of the mouth and possibly the pallet as well. The bars of the mouth are extremely sharp and narrow. It’s very easy to cause stress fractures as well as bony spurs on the bars with constant downward pressure and severe bruising to the tissue of the bars of the mouth and the roof of the horses mouth. Just ask a vet or dentist if you don’t believe me.


Pulling straight up: Puts pressure only on the corners of the horses mouth. As the bit moves up it tickles or strokes the tongue causing the horse to lift his tongue and swallow releasing pressure in the poll. It has no effect on the bars or pressure on the tongue and is much easier on the horse. And for horses like Cash doesn’t invoke a fight response to pain. In the picture below you can see the action of the bit as due to the angle of the horses head. The bit is being pulled up along the tongue not down.
Water 312722

The best thing she told me to remember was “Ask. Wait a moment. Give the horse a chance to respond to what you’re asking. If they give the wrong answer or don’t respond at all ask again! Once you get the right answer praise praise praise!”

DO NOT PUNISH a horse for giving a wrong response. This just adds unnecessary stress and confusion for no reason.  PRAISE is mandatory for a horse to know when he has done something correctly.

As Cash was standing there he was nervously chewing on the bit. She calmly took both bit rings and gently moved them up in his mouth until he RAISED his head just a little bit.Cash went to walk forward and turn but Carol calmly walked with him until he stopped. She lifted the bit again then he lifted his head a tad and lots of praise followed. It didn’t take him long to figure out when she pushed up on the bit he had to raise and hold his head up.

Now if you’re like me you’ve been taught to put the horses head down. That’s why side reins, draw reins and even martingales are used. It is commonly taught that we want the horse’s head round and down and taking contact on the bit for a young horse. But there is a very good reason to teach the horse to raise his head in the beginning stages.

I’m going to explain the biomechanics of the motion and how using a horses natural biomechanics to help train is really beneficial. And why wouldn’t we want to use what’s already given to us to make our lives easier? and easier on our horses? After all the goal of dressage is to teach a horse to carry a rider as naturally as possible and to build the strength in the horse to do the movements we are asking of them. Dressage is nothing but continual training of the horses mind and body.

shift weight picSo in nature as a horse hears or sees something unknown they immediately raise their head. When they do this it causes the horse to automatically shift its weight back to its haunches in case that sound happens to be a predator. This frees up the forehand and allows them to make a rapid movement should escape be necessary. Putting their head up also switches their vision for distance so they can see if a predator is near. How does this help dressage?

When asking a horse to raise his head, I’m not saying raise it to the point where if it rains he drowns.  I’m talking mere inches here. Not even as high as the horse in the picture.  He will naturally raise his head much higher to check something out like above. You want him only to raise his head high enough where you see the small shift of weight from front to rear. And it’s subtle so it’s very easy to miss if you’re not paying attention.

Now that the weight is more towards the rear it is much easier to ask a horse to more his shoulders left and right.

I’m going stop this post here. Part 2 will be coming soon but just let this idea sit in your mind for a bit. Part 2 will show you how this first step will make everything much easier and how it helps your horses suppleness without anything crazy.….Intrigued yet???

If you want to read part 2 check it out HERE. In part 2 you will understand why lifting the head really helps the next exercises 😀



A Whirlwind Of A Weekend And It’s Only Saturday!

This weekend has been a crazy whirlwind of activity and I’m only half way though it! Cash has blown my expectations out of the water already. (Knock on wood and throw salt over my shoulder!)

Cash trying bitlessI trailered him out to the covered arena and got to try his new bitless bridle thanks to an amazing surprise from my mom! He LOVES it. He relaxes, listens to subtle aids and just seems so happy in it. I don’t even know how to explain how well he feels in it. He was even reaching down into the light contact I had on the reins! No fighting of the turning aids, no wrenching the reins out of my hands!!! It is bliss and I hope it continues. I will eventually re-introduce the bit to him so we can show but for now I’ll take what I’m getting and run!!

I also pissed off Jack today by just trailering out Cash. We have a dressage lesson tomorrow with Carol Lynn Mc ardle!! (Eke!!! so excited can’t even adult!!!) and I wanted to see how he would handle trailering and being ridden without Jack anywhere near. Needless to say he was a tad bit of a space case to start. On the lunge he wanted to pay attention to everything outside the arena. He would listen to my commands but wasn’t really listening if you get my drift. It’s when I got in the saddle that he absolutely blew me away! We probably only rode for a total of 20 minuets but it was an amazing 20 minuets. He was responsive to all my aids! Leg seat and hand!!! It was a huge moment. We even did side pass at the walk and some turn on the forehand left and right!!!

He has decided that the far end of the arena is scary due to a tarped mound of dirt BUT when I asked him to trot towards it he actually picked up the trot and kept a great rhythm throughout the whole length of the arena. He got a little lookie loo at the very end but he circled a decent 20 meter circle and settled down and happily went a crossed the diagonal to the other side and repeated it. He was happy to do walk-trot transitions and only put a fuss up once when he was getting a tad tired! I think what helped is I ensured to praise loudly in a happy voice each and every time he did something well or gave an attempt to do it. He’s a horse that needs re-assurance  that he’s doing something right. He needs verbal praise and lots of scratches (not slaps!) to boost his confidence! If he keep going this way man I can only envision the possibilities!

I mean I’m still so excited about it that I am probably babbling away. The only thing we had issues on was the canter transitions and holding the canter. I think part of our problem is he’s super tight from not moving much in his pen due to the mud and probably a little sore as well. It will be very interesting to see how he does in our lesson tomorrow!!

Jack NappingNow I did mention Jack was mad at me…well I did make it up to him by allowing both him and Cash some time under the orchard trees to graze and Jack took full advantage of the semi-dry ground to take a lengthy nap (seriously I walked out to make sure he was still alive) He even seemed to be dreaming.  I felt bad that I had woken him up!

finish road fenceMy mom also sent me some Wellington boots since my other boots are no longer water proof. (You can read that story here)  I was able to finish ripping out that stretch of barbed wire (Nasty evil shit!) and I’ll begin the other side tomorrow. It won’t be long before I have the new fence up and the grounds dry enough to let the boys graze until their hearts content! The grass is already 6 inches tall out there! If it would ever stop raining I could graze it!!!

Now I did get the death glare from the boys when I had to put them back in their pens and Jack even jumped the electric fence (oh yes jumped!)as I was putting it back where it normal is. I had to run around with treats and a halter and finally corner him to get the halter on. Then he drug his hooves all the way back to the gate. I’ve never known a horse to walk so slow. Poor cash was pouting as well but he’s easily consoled by giving him a flake of alfalfa. Jack on the other hand is probably currently plotting my death.

So I apologize for this post being kind of a ramble. I’m still so shocked and excited and empowered by everything I managed to accomplish today (and I even left some stuff out!) and I wanted to share it so badly that well I couldn’t help myself! Tomorrow’s gonna be even better. A full rundown of my first lesson in over 2 years and my first ever on Cash will be written (and video hopefully)

Until Next time!

P.S. oh and If you haven’t gotten the news the boys and I are now on INSTAGRAM! Check us out if you get a chance 😀  (oh and please do me a favor and ensure you have “turn on notifications” once your following so you can stay up to date with the boys and I!)


How A Newly Single Equestrian Spends Valentines Day

As some of you know  my husband and I decided to get a divorce a while back. It was finalized last month and so now I am newly single and then Valentines day arrives. Now normally I don’t care much about Valentine’s day but being newly divorced and hearing/seeing everyone talk about their significant others or planning big gooey dates with chocolate and flowers included kinda hit me a little hard.

This year I don’t have that someone to call mine and I won’t lie it kinda hurt a bit. Not to mention Facebook had to start dragging up pictures of our anniversary vacation we took around this time….I mean my ex and I are still friends but REALLY Facebook…do you have to add insult to injury right now?
So what is a newly single equestrian to do on Valentines day?

1.) Drink Wine! Of course being a horse crazy lady it has to be from 14 Hands! Hot to trot red blend it is!

wine and saddle

2.) Order pizza! Only stuffed crust will do thank you!  I will pair this delicious pizza with the wine.

pizza wine

3.) Horse time...of course I happen to have two boys standing in the paddocks awaiting me. Two quite glorious boys actually (ok I might be a tad biased but hey can you blame me?). Though these days they tend to be a tad on the dirty side (Have I mentioned it gets muddy here in Washington?) There’s just something about that warm horsey smell that lets me over look all the mud and poop stains to see those shining excited eyes staring back at me ready to go….Oh and I must admit I have a bit of a lovers quarrel going on. Poor Cash just HATES when I give attention to Jack… *sigh* He’s the jealous type but I think he’ll eventually get over it!

Photo Shape Editor:

4.) Eat Chocolate…I mean come on you HAD to see this one coming! Isn’t that what this holiday is really about?

horse chocolate

5.) Watch horse movies...yup it really is the best. From the old classic to new and cheesy Bring them ON!!

horse movies

So While I don’t have any crazy plans this week, or any binge drinking at the local bars lamenting my single status I do belive I have a glorious day planned. I mean really who wants to hang out with a bunch of people when there are horses around anyways? And I do have a social life….I swear….work counts as a social life right????

Happy Valentines day everyone! I hope it’s glorious and filled with deliciousness. Don’t forget to give those four-legged beasties a treat.


Until Next time!


Fencing…Oh The Struggle Is Real!

Some days the struggle is real! I’m not talking about getting out of bed. I’m talking about the great debate of riding my horses vs. doing the laundry list of chores I need to do around my mini-ranch.  There are days when the weather breaks and it’s finally not raining and almost sunny out. I have to buckle down, give the boys a pat and a treat before reaching for the tools and heading to do some much-needed work around the place.Fencing 3

The worst part about winter is having to choose one over the other due to weather and light restrictions. Seriously, if I had been boarding my horses it wouldn’t have been even close to a debate. I would have been at the barn saddling up and getting ready to go but now having the beasties at home I have to decide what’s best for them. That hour ride or taking the day and getting a pasture fence re-done so they can be safe all summer long… *sigh* Let me grab the tools and my gloves.

I decided to start tackling the barbed wire fence that rings the majority of my pastures. I refuse to keep barbed wire where I have my horses. Bad things always happen when it’s around.

Now don’t get me wrong I LOVE manual labor and that’s not sarcastic. I seriously love doing stuff that makes me feel accomplished at the end of the day but I sincerely HATE barbed wire.  It’s a royal pain in the ass to deal with regardless of what you are doing with it!

fencingNow as I started this task I learned something, thanks to my wise father. Fencing Pliers are the BEST invention for anything fence wise! So a quick jaunt to the farmers supply and I was all set to get rocking.  Once I remembered how to use them I was golden and they made the whole job easier!  I  won’t mention how many times I caught it on my pants, hoodie, hair (don’t ask) before I finally figured out a system.

Oh yes! There is a system to taking barbed wire fence down. Now this fence is old, rusted and ill-maintained and put up on the wrong side of the posts. My dad happily pointed that out when I sent him the picture. so there was no taking one strand down at a time. Oh no, that would have been too easy.  I have to take all the strands down together. Why? Well the nice fence stays (the twisted wire pieces that you see in-between posts) that keep the fence straight and from tangling if it loosens a bit and helps with keeping proper tension…. yeah they are all rusted on.

Now about the time I got my nice system down and was in the groove of pulling staples and undoing t-post clips, I took a deeper step into the ditch…It’s full of water if you didn’t notice from the pictures….and I found out my waterproof boots are no longer water proof all the way up. My left boot began to fill with icy cold water. It wasn’t a gush either. It was a nice slow trickle so I could feel my socks slowly getting soaked.

I began to wonder for probably the umpteenth time why I thought this was a good idea on such a beautiful (for washington) day. OH YEAH…the boys will love it. So I kept going, until I stepped a tad deeper and my right boot began to fill with water. *Really Big Sigh*. I WILL stick it out! Only 17 more fence posts to go!

Have you ever had cold feet? Soaking wet cold feet? Yeah well 2 more fence posts in and my fencing beachhands were deciding to join my feet with the icy debacle going on. I sat down and tried to pretend I was sitting in the nice Caribbean ocean and that I was toasty warm! To my surprise it actually worked. For a grand total of 30 seconds. Before my brain kicked in and told me adamantly that it was tired, cold and “no you will not get one more staple out because you won’t be able to hit you pliers with the hammer to get behind that very stubborn staple that is refusing to come out.”

I tried desperately for about more 5 minuets. When I had a decent hole around everything BUT the staple I decided to call it a day and go put the boys back in their pen.

They had gotten a temporary expansion to their big pen so they could graze while I worked on temp expan penthe fence because they were giving me the “please the grass is so green” eyes. So they got to graze under the little orchard while I struggled, cursed and wondered what I was doing. I’ m sure they got a good laugh at me but I will get that fence done… Eventually!!

Until next time!