Illusions in the sport of dressage

The Beauty of Performance: An Inexpedient Illusion

            Humans have been drawn to beauty for as long as our existence can account for. As a species, we strive to find the wild impracticality of impeccable perfection. We are captivated by aesthetically pleasing sights, spellbound by splendid performances, and mesmerized by extreme and seemingly impossible movements. For that is what we, humans, love; possibilities that have been pushed to the extremes, performances that present the image of the impossible, while always striving, looking for, that elusive perfection. It is this undying love of beauty that has been the driving factor for dancers, gymnasts, and every other type of performer to push what they are physically capable of, demanding extreme movements of their bodies in order to create this illusion of beauty. Performers often have to go to severe measures to achieve this, frequently taxing themselves beyond what they are able to bear, slowly destroying their bodies through pain and disfiguration. The almost unrealistic expectations that have now developed because of this fixation have led some people to believe that pain is a normal, and even a necessary part of making performance beautiful. It is thought by some that in order to create the illusion of beauty in a performance that involves athleticism, pain is a necessary part in its development; but not all performances require this pain to show beauty. Not all displays have to be an illusion to be beautiful.

Many different articles and persons discuss the illusion of beauty in the performance of ballet. Ballet is an illusive performance of beauty, one that often results in the dancers performing unnatural and extremely demanding movements in order to captivate and create awe amongst the audience.


“Dancers trick themselves and their audiences in order to produce a time-honoured art form based on unnatural and highly ordered movements and positions.”

~The Beautiful Illusion: Alterations of Perception in Classical Ballet by Aeraeber


It is no secret that ballet dancers undergo great pain in their quest for improvement and perfection. The physical pain of aching muscles, and the more permanent pain of disfigured toes and bruised feet. Pain and injury are often part of the process in creating this illusion of beauty. “In this quest for perfection, there is pain and often injury, but to a dancer, that is simply part of the cost of creating the art” (Aeraeber). In ballet, it is thought that pain is a necessary part of the performance, the performance of a beautiful illusion.

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Retrieved from We Heart It

The belief that ballet, in order to be beautiful, must be an illusion is partly what has created the thought that it must also be painful. With the added factor of pain, this “illusion” becomes much more paramount. It is often thought that this pain is a normal part of ballet, and of performances in general; that in order to create the illusion of beauty, sacrifices must be made. That we must surrender and accept pain as being a part of performing. However, this is not always the case. Not every performance has to be an illusion in order to be beautiful. In fact, there are some performances that are supposed to focus on the true, pure beauty of movement. A focus of harmony, not pain, a performance where illusions are exactly the opposite of what is to be achieved. This performance, this dance between two creatures, between man and beast, is known as the equestrian sport of dressage. A dance that should be, but is not always, quite different than ballet.

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Retrieved from CNN

Dressage is defined by the International Federation of Equestrian Sport as the highest form of training for the horse, and is also the most artistic expression of all the equestrian sports, which sometimes leads people to the false belief that it is acceptable for it to be presented as an illusion. Dressage is an intricate dance between horse and rider, one that comes about through harmony, trust, a great deal of hope, and an ever growing flower of faith. Through select and progressive training, the horse’s natural abilities are enhanced through balance, cadence, and rhythm. While some people prefer to describe dressage as gymnastics for horses, the more common way to classify it is as a dance. The definition of which is simply “stepping or moving through a series of movements” (Merriam Webster). While both of these descriptions are an acceptable way to define the performance of dressage, still other people prefer to call dressage ballet for horses, which is not a wholly accurate description. Even though ballet is defined as an artistic dance requiring precise and highly formalized movements, it is primarily based on illusions, which is exactly the opposite of what correct dressage is supposed to portray.

Not all dressage however, is correct. Dressage riders have often been led astray, following the same train of thought of the ballet dancers; that the performance of this dance must be extreme, it must verge on the impossible, leading the audience to be struck with awe and wonder. These riders strive to find the perfection of what they have imagined to be “dressage”, the perfection that is, in all honesty, impossible to find, for nothing in this world is perfect. As it is said in the book “Tug of War: Classical Versus “Modern” Dressage” by Dr. Gerd Heuschmann, a German Veterinarian specializing in equine sport medicine, “misguided ambition or simple ignorance” of riders has led them to force their “horses into a frame that may cause long-lasting damage to their health” (p. 1). Dr. Heuschmann goes on to discuss the fundamental problems with biomechanically incorrect riding; a type of dressage that really can be classified as ballet, for it revolves entirely around illusions. In his book, Dr. Heuschmann examines the relationship between equine health and welfare, and anatomically “cruel” riding methods, such as riders forcing their horses into a frame and creating hyperflexion of the neck, or more commonly known as rollkur.

Rollkur is a painful and highly debilitating practice used in equestrian sports to gain submission from the horse, and also to create awe amongst the uneducated audience for the extreme position the horse is put in. Rollkur is defined through the International Federation for Equestrian Sport as “flexion of the horse’s neck achieved through aggressive force”, in which the neck has been extremely hyper-flexed and curled in, bringing the horse’s chin to touch his chest. This severe position results in the perceived illusion of beauty by presenting a dramatic, and extreme spectacle. This type of riding, despite its distasteful definition, is used extensively throughout the entire world. In every discipline of equestrian sport, in both riding arenas hidden from view and those available to public viewings, at low level regional shows, and at the highest form of international competition available, the Olympics, evidence of rollkur can be found everywhere.

The rollkur training method falls into the category of “modern” riding, christened so because it has primarily been in effect for only a few decades. Modern riding is primarily based on illusions, designed to deceive the audience from what they are actually seeing. This type of training method, if it can be called such, has gained popularity not just for its ability to create submissiveness in high-spirited horses, enabling them powerless to react which in turn creates the illusion of harmony and willingness, but also for its ability to create breathtaking and high stepping movements of the horse. And the curled in neck? It is just thought to add to this illusion of beauty. This “beauty” of pain and force. This poor excuse of riding goes against every principle of correct, classical dressage, the foundations of which were laid thousands of years ago, for the good of the horse.

Whereas modern riding revolves around demanding movements of the horse, and telling him how to respond, classical riding is exactly the opposite. Modern riding is based on illusions, the illusion of beauty, of harmony, of trust; when in fact it is nothing more than a brilliant spectacle in which the horse’s pain is concealed behind a veil of deceptions. In contrast, illusions are strictly shunned in classical riding. The fundamental principle of classical riding is for the horse and rider to be partners, a mutual relationship based on respect and understanding. A rapport is first developed, and then the rider asks for, rather than demands, movements of the horse. A relationship first and foremost, with the technical aspects of riding coming after. A true representation of harmony and trust between man and horse, a genuine depiction of the beauty of natural movement.

This classical approach to training is not the most favoured training method amongst riders because, when compared to modern riding, it takes a substantially longer time. Correctly building up a horse, both mentally and physically, takes years. As Dr. Heuschmann says “No athlete is able to perform to his utmost, peak at the right moment, and remain healthy without having built up his body (and mind) over a significant period of time” (p. 38). The modern style of riding is all about cramming and jamming while simultaneously trying to present the illusion of beauty. Riders will pull their horses into a frame before they are physically capable of it. They will demand high level movements before the horse has been taught the correct foundations of the preceding movements. This rash training results in the early onset of arthritis in the horse, and their riding career usually has to be ended in their early teens due to lameness and unsoundness issues, whereas healthy and correctly ridden horses can often be ridden into their twenties. Dr. Heuschmann says that “more and more horses develop health problems because they’re used incorrectly or are trained with the use of force.” (p. 23). The nuchal ligament, for example, which stretches from the back of the horse’s skull to the base of the neck, is put under great stress when a horse is pulled into a rollkur frame. A boney calcification grows on the back of the skull due to the pressure that is placed on it by the over-stretched nuchal ligament. The ligament itself also undergoes damage. The fibers in the ligament are torn by the excessive stress, and bony nodules form inside the ligament, causing pain for the horse.


The hunt for success and recognition often doesn’t allow time or space for thoughtful, quiet work with the horse and a naturally oriented training program. Thus, what has developed is a bad “craft” of horse training, in which the “repairman” (especially the veterinarians) of poorly “crafted” sport horses have become firmly established as a “necessary” part of the training team. (Heuschmann, pp. 19-21)


The widespread use of rollkur, and consequently an abundance of photographs in which horses are being ridden in a rollkur frame, have the ability to drastically change and influence a person’s perception of what is acceptable and correct riding. As Dr. Heuschmann says “Pictures and videos of winning horses or winning riders at international levels in all countries reach thousands of people far beyond the actual show arena. The majority of riders … look to these riders who win championships as role models, and emulate them” (p. 27). As a result of the extensive use of rollkur, and the many photographs depicting horses being ridden in this way, people have become insensitive to it. As the American writer, film-maker, and teacher Susan Sontag eloquently says in her article, “Looking at War”, “in a world saturated, and even hypersaturated, with images, those which should matter to us have a diminishing effect: we become callous” (p. 120). More and more people are unable to recognize rollkur as incorrect, because it is so prevalent. As Sontag notes “flooded with images of the sort that once used to shock and arouse indignation, we are losing our capacity to react. Compassion, stretch to its limits, is going numb” (p. 121). Because of this inundation of images in which horses are being ridden in a “modern” style, people may be lead to believe that rollkur is normal, correct, and even beautiful. Some even fail to notice that what they are witnessing is an illusion, and instead see it as pure, true beauty.

How would we, as a united people, stop this disservice being done to horses? The answer is perhaps not as impossible as one might think, and it all begins with you. As Aeraeber says in her article, “The Beautiful Illusion”, “in some ways the audience drives the need to create the illusion” (para 4). The public has never been informed of this training method in any large scale effort. The spectators who go to watch the equestrian dressage competitions are uninformed of what exactly it is they are seeing. Instead of being disgusted by what they see, they cheer to witness the dancing horses, the wonderful illusion of beauty, the performance that looks all too impossible, all too perfect. The modern riders receive great applause from the crowds because of their horse’s impressive and extreme movements, while the more modest classical riders go unnoticed. Rollkur is rewarded, and the ambitious up-and-coming competition riders try to emulate it so that they too can be cheered from the world stage. Even though Sontag says “Making suffering loom larger, by globalizing it, may spur people to feel they ought to “care” more. It also invites them to feel that the sufferings and misfortunes are too vast, too irrevocable, too epic to be much changed” (p. 118), this is one scenario where globalizing what is happening is the only way to change what has become of dressage.

People must be shown what rollkur is, or else this inhumane and insensitive treatment of horses will just continue to grow. Without the realization that the illusion of beauty they see in modern riding is just a mask, behind which is hiding the horse’s pain and discomfort, rollkur will continue to succeed. Instead of cheering when they see a horse being ridden this way, instead of rewarding the rider for his “training”, they must realize that there is in fact no real or pure beauty in what they are witnessing. The steps to change what has happened to dressage start with the spectators, for as long as people continue to cheer for the modern style of riding, the riders will try to meet this demand, and the expectation of over-extreme movements. To quote Martin Luther King Jr. “Those who do nothing while witnessing injustice and wrong-doing do worse than those who commit acts of injustice”. The public can no longer stay silent, or in this case, applaud, the modern style of riding.

In its present form, rollkur can only be classified as a great disservice done towards a horse, not acknowledging them as a living, breathing, feeling creature, but as an inanimate and insensitive body. As it stands, rollkur is an abusive and violent training method which must be changed. This type of training is not a necessary part of riding or showing horses. Riders and trainers deceiving the audience of what they are actually seeing, and indeed even deceiving themselves, is an avoidable component of riding horses. Horses can be ridden and shown, very successfully, while being trained in the classical style. Horses can be treated with kindness and respect, without the trainers having to forego competing, or riding. Spectators, general non-horse people, the majority of whom have no idea that a training method like rollkur even exists, let alone are aware of its consequences, must have brought to their attention the reality of rollkur. That the illusion of beauty presented in it is in fact a falsity; imagined to be so as simply a means to an end, with no thought given to the horse, the noble steed who does as we ask, without question, and without a murmur. Even though ballet is a dance surrounded by illusions, not all displays need to be deceptions. Classical dressage is one performance where illusions are not beautiful, and it is one performance where they should never be rewarded, or applauded.

 

 

Works Cited

Aeraeber. “The Beautiful Illusion: Alterations of Perception in Classical Ballet.” Serendip Studio. Serendip, 13 May 2010.

“Dictionary.” Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster Incorporated, n.d.

“FEI.” FEI.org. Fédération Équestre Internationale, n.d.

Heuschmann, Gerd. Tug of War – Classical versus ‘modern’ Dressage. 2nd ed. North Pomfret: Trafalgar Square, 2009.

Sarah. “Martin Luther King, Jr. On Complacency.” Paradoxologies. WordPress, 28 Aug. 2010.

Sontag, Susan. Looking at War. New York: Conde Nast, 2002.

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Show Recap – Rising Stars

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The last show of our summer season has come and gone. I can’t quite believe that school starts again in just a couple of days, but when I reflect back on this summer, it has been full of lessons and learning. While I’m sorry to see it come to an end, I’m looking forward to starting this new semester at college, and continuing to train with Hope.

But, back to the show, it went really well. Rising Stars is an all youth (under 21) dressage show. It’s always fun, and well run, with the emphasis from the officials and organizers being on encouragement and fun. It technically is a three day show, but they only offer actual dressage tests on Friday and Saturday, with Sunday being reserved for hack classes. Since hack classes aren’t really Hope’s thing (she has a tendency to get a little uppity when there are other horses in the ring all going the same direction and doing the same thing. If every horse is doing something different, she doesn’t care, but as soon as everyone starts doing the same thing, then her little brain just can’t handle it) we only went for the first two days. The only downside that I could say about this show is it’s location, which is an hour away, and typically plagued with heavy traffic, making the drive even longer. However, I shouldn’t complain, as some of the competitors travel from the USA, Alberta, or the more northern parts of BC, which would be quite a trek indeed!

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The early morning drive did make for witnessing of some nice sunrises.

Warm-up day was good, and I was thankful that the competition and warm-up arenas were indoors, as it was at least slightly cooler. Hope was calm and relaxed, especially considering that the arenas were packed! I evidently picked the busiest time of the day to ride, as it seemed like everyone else at the show was riding too! Everyone from the 5 year old walk/ trot riders who were still figuring out how to steer their horses, to the FEI riders performing tempis across the diagonals, and everyone in between. Itsy-bitsy rider on an itsy-bitsy pony? Check. Even teenier rider on a surprisingly big horse? Check. Out of control crazy horse with the rider frantically trying to gain control? Check. The FEI horse? The calm packer? And the prancing friesian? Check, check, and check. If you could think of a horse/ rider combination, they were there.

Hope was very good with all of the other horses in the arena, but did contemplate biting a horse once. A little pony and its even teensier rider almost brushed up against us and Hope swung her head around and gave a bit of a snarl to which I replied with “Don’t you dare”, and she never offered to take a chunk out of any passing pony again.

On Friday morning I decided to give Hope a quick lunge before our test. Occasionally, I will lunge Hope at shows, just so that she can get any impending crazies out. However, I haven’t needed to do this for the past few shows we’ve been at, as she has been so sensible. For some reason, I just got a feeling that I should lunge her that particular morning, even though she wasn’t doing anything that warranted her being needed to be lunged. Boy, am I glad I listened to my gut and lunged her. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her get quite that crazy on the lunge line before, she was rearing, bucking, and just generally flailing about, evidently she had some beans she needed to get out. When people first see Hope, they often remark how calm and sedate she is, not realizing that she has plenty of get up and go when she feels like it. I even had one person at a boarding barn we were at ask (before I had ridden or tacked Hope up) if Hope was a dressage horse. When I replied yes, the lady said, “I thought so, she’s too calm to be a jumper”. Before I could correct her and explain that Hope actually used to be a very successful jumper, and to not take her chill demeanor in the barn too seriously, she walked away, under the illusion that Hope was a completely calm and unphasable creature.

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Just look at this innocent face! Of course she isn’t capable of being crazy! Phht. Yeah right.

Well, Hope evidently felt the need to show everyone who were out walking their horses near the outdoor arena/ lunging area that she was indeed not a completely calm and sensible creature. There was one girl who came up with her horse to lunge as well, took one look at Hope trying out her best imitation of being a kite, and promptly walked off a ways until she had settled down. Hope did, eventually, settle down, and she was looking quite pleased with herself for performing various airs above the ground. Horses.

Fast forward to our warm-up for our test, which went very well. Hope was once again calm and relaxed, and was listening to everything I asked her to do. She was soft and supple, and I was feeling pretty good coming into our test. Our ride was good, and Hope put in a solid effort. The test was mostly clean, with the flying change off of the right rein being late behind. It was a good, steady test, but not spectacular. For the first day, I was very pleased with Hope, and was feeling optimistic about the second day.

For Saturday we had two tests, 3-3 and 3-2. Our first test was very similar to our test the previous day, very steady and relaxed, but not overly spectacular. Both of our flying changes were clean, and I did ride her with a little more energy, which caused some improvement, but it was nothing to write home about (and yet, here I am posting it online for the world to read). For our second test I resolved to be more bold in my riding, and to ask Hope for a little bit more. For the first half of our test, this really seemed to be working. Hope felt nice and forward, and our test felt like it had a little more pizazz. However, I guess thinking to ride boldly made me pay slightly less attention to other things, like where we should be going. Yup, I had a brain fart in our canter section and just completely forgot where to go after our first medium canter. I suppose it wasn’t the end of the world, and it did make me try even harder for the remainder of our test, but I was mildly humiliated. Asides from me forgetting where we were supposed to go in our canter section, the test was better as we had lots of little improvements.

There was one slightly horrifying aspect of this day, however, which involved the steward during the tack check. Hope has always been slightly suspicious of strangers, and she’ll only let some people do certain things with her, such as touching her head. I can do whatever the heck I want with her head, and she’ll stand there seemly without a care in the world, but for some other people, she’ll stick her nose in the air and refuse to lower her head. For the past year and a half, we have had the same two stewards. Hope has finally gotten used to them, and will only make minimal fuss when they check our tack. However, after our last test, we had a new steward come to check our tack. As I expected, Hope didn’t really want this different person poking around at her bridle, and was bopping her head around to try and prevent the steward from sticking her finger into Hope’s mouth to check the bit. Eventually, the steward did manage to successfully check the bit, and as she was walking away she walked right in front of Hope, just as Hope decided to give one more vigorous bob with her head and clocked the poor steward smack across the side of her face. I was absolutely mortified, but the steward was thankfully alright. I suppose that from now on if we ever get a new tack checker I’ll just have to dismount and hold Hope’s head for the steward.

Although definitely not our most spectacular show, it was certainly memorable (yeah, especially that last bit, where Hope tried to decapitate the steward. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that…). In a perfect world, I would have preferred to have done better score and placing wise, especially for the final show of our summer season. However, I am so pleased with how much more consistent Hope is getting, and I finally feel confident in stepping things up a notch. Perhaps the best thing about competitions that don’t work out how we planned them to, is that it fosters motivation. Motivation to try again, to change, and to train even harder. I suppose one thing you could say about me is that I am resilient. I never let a poor competition or ride get me down, but rather I use it to fuel my motivation. I always remind myself that failure is not the same as defeat, and without it, we would never know the true joy of success.

Puppy Update

I can’t believe that Ayla has already been here for a little over two months. She has grown so much and hardly resembles a puppy any more, but rather a small dog.

2017-08-14 00.53.49Having a dog has been so different for me. I’ve really only had experience with prey animals, predominantly horses. Working with an animal with a predator mentality has been a huge learning curve for me. For example, who would have known that dogs don’t spook at random objects just laying around! In one of the first few weeks that I had Ayla, there was a blanket laying in front of one of the stalls, and I thought to myself “Oh, I should pick that up in case Ayla spooks at it”. I stopped in my tracks as it dawned on me that Ayla wouldn’t spook at the blanket like one of my horses might. The only thing Ayla did when she saw the blanket was charge towards it and proceed to chew on it and try to drag it around, quite a different reaction from a horse.

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A proper farm puppy! Taking a short rest on a bale of hay – picture taken on July 14th

I’ve also found it interesting how much Ayla enjoys attention. For the first time, a few weeks ago I bent down and gave her a hug, to which she brought her face up and started to cover me in licks. She thought it was the greatest thing ever. I had thus far prevented myself from giving her a hug, under the illusion that she, like a horse, wouldn’t wholly appreciate it. While all of my horses tolerate me hugging their neck, non of them really like it. Hope is perhaps the only one who sort of does, but only when I am riding her and lean down to hug her neck after she has done something particularly well. Evidently, dogs are very different from horses in regard to the amount of affection they appreciate.

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Picture taken on July 15th

Also different from the horses, Ayla actually likes to play with jolly balls!

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At least someone finally plays with it… Picture taken on July 18th

She has been getting on really well with the horses, and now that she is a little older she is starting to take some more interest in them. Rather than just ignoring them, she is now starting to actually watch and observe them. She can quite often be found laying down right beside the mini’s fence, just watching them.

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Livestock guardian in the making!

She also likes just hanging out with the horses.

She has such a personality, and is quite a love.

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Taking a quick nap with her toy
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…and she’s awake!

She’s starting to get into her “teenage” phase a bit, and is getting more of a “do I have to?” feeling towards basic obedience. I’ll call her and she’ll look at me and go “meh. I can see you, I’m good where I am, thanks”.

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“Come? Nah, I’ll just lay here and look cute.”

I find myself completely in love with her, and all of her antics. From being overjoyed to see me whether I’ve been gone for 5 seconds or 5 hours, to barking at an apple placed on a fence post, or being overly fascinated with an ant marching on it’s way. She’s wholly captured my heart, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Show Recap – Canadian Cup

Another show has come and gone, and with it memories were formed, lessons were learned, and laughs were made.

The Canadian Cup (which isn’t actually as grand or important a show as the name implies) is always a show that I look forward to every year. It is held at one of our local show grounds, surrounded by towering forests with a picturesque backdrop of the the west coast mountains. This is always a fun and well run show, so I was eagerly awaiting taking part in it again this year.

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Hope had just gotten a Legend injection, so she was feeling particularly good. Warm-up day, Thursday, was fantastic. I had one of the best rides I’d ever had with Hope. My coach was very pleased with her and with how well she went. It never fails to surprise me how much Hope improves after having an injection of hyaluronic acid (which is now informally known as “Hope’s Go-Go Juice”). I was super happy with how our ride went, especially considering that it was so hot out (it was in the low 30°s (this is Celsius, not Fahrenheit)) with high humidity. This was quite the stark contrast to our last show, which was pouring rain. Even though neither Hope or I are very heat tolerant, I much preferred the warm summer weather to the freezing conditions of our last outing.

For the first actual day of the show, Friday, we were just going to do one test, third level test 3. I opted to use my double bridle with Hope, just because she is much more willing to carry herself in it. However, the only problem with the double bridle is that Hope does have a tendency to open her mouth a little more. Hope has always been fussy in the contact, and although this has vastly improved over the years that I’ve had her, it has never 100% gone away. Our actual test went well, we had no major problems, and Hope didn’t have any hissy fits. Our biggest mistake was that our flying change off of the right rein was late behind, but that was only because I needed to be quicker with my outside leg. The judge had some nice comments, such as “nice rider” and “capable horse”, but he did make quite a few remarks on Hope’s mouth being open. So for the next two days of the show, I decided to ride Hope in her snaffle instead, as her mouth typically is quieter in it.

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Photo Credit: Divine Equine

On the second day, Saturday, our first test (third level test 2) was pretty similar to the previous day; no major problems, but not spectacularly good either. Hope was much better with her mouth, though. Today was also the day that we would ride our freestyle. I was quite excited for it, and was looking forward to it with anticipation.

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Hope snoozing between tests

Our warm-up for our freestyle was less than ideal, Hope felt tired and she wasn’t going to give me anything more than necessary. However, I was determined to try my best in the freestyle. Every freestyle that I had done up to that point I hadn’t been completely happy with, I always felt that I kind of just stopped being an effective rider as soon as I heard my music. This time I was resolved to ride well, no matter what Hope was doing. The week leading up to this show I had been playing my freestyle music over the arena’s speakers so that both Hope and I could get used to riding while our music was playing; and although the music certainly got a little tedious after a while, it certainly seemed to do the trick. I am pleased to say that this was the first freestyle that I actually rode effectively through. I didn’t shut down, and I didn’t zone out, I simply rode. Best of all, as soon as our music started to play, Hope awoke out of her tired slumber, and danced to victory for first place. I couldn’t have been more pleased with her, and dare I say it, even myself.

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Photo Credit: Divine Equine

I spent the rest of that evening in a happy daze, not really believing how well our ride went. It was then that I was reminded why I do this crazy sport. The reward of finally succeeding, after years of training, months of planning, and weeks of anticipation. The small successes that make each day worth it, are so much more meaningful to me when I’ve had to work, really work, for them.

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Photo credit: Divine Equine

The final day seemed to come all too soon. Although, it was miserably hot and humid. I was sweating just tacking Hope up, and after we had done a lap of the warm-up ring, Hope’s neck was sticky with sweat. Since it was so hot, and Hope was feeling pretty supple, we didn’t do much of a warm-up. Just enough to get her moving, I didn’t want to make her work anymore than necessary in the heat. Our test, third level test 3, was good. It was a solid, clean test, just not dazzlingly brilliant. No problems, no issues, but no major breakthroughs either. I was happy with it though, Hope was good and did everything I asked, despite the somewhat oppressive humidity and being tired.

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Hope says “Smile for the camera!”

This was such a fantastic show to be the start of our summer season. I was so happy with Hope, and learned perhaps one of the most important lessons that a rider can learn, that preparation is everything. I prepared for our freestyle in the best way that I knew how, I certainly put more thought into the preparation for this show than I had done in the past, and it worked. I look forward to our one last show this summer before college starts again, and all the preparation that comes with it.

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There’s No Crying in Horse Shows

A very good post by The Humorous Homesteader highlighting the difficult aspects of being a horse trainer, and how to be a better student!

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It is unusual for me to write two blogs in one day, but I felt compelled to do so because each subject needed to be explored and addressed independent of each other. My last post was pretty much me-centric but with this post I want to talk about that person behind the scenes who does her best to hold the shit show that is my show career together while working her tail off so that I don’t embarrass myself in the quest for a fifty cent ribbon. Even though this is about my trainer, I am sure that this applies to all show trainers out there.

As you may or may not know, I am a real estate agent. My job is to sell houses. My job is not baby sitter, emotional counselor, fortune teller, or sorcerer capable of making people love your home, yet these are often the expectations…

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New Addition ~ Puppy!

I am pleased to announce that a new addition has joined my little family; meet Ayla, a Maremma/ Akbash cross.

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She is a livestock guardian breed who’s job is to watch over the mini horses, and to eventually make sure that they don’t get eaten by bears or any passing cougars.

I have been thinking about getting a livestock guardian dog for a while now, as bears are a constant problem in our area, and it isn’t unusual to hear reports of cougars picking off smaller livestock. When a miniature horse from a farm about 15 minutes away from us was attacked by a cougar (thankfully the owner was outside at the time and was able to scare it off. The mini has now mostly recovered from his injuries), I started thinking more seriously into the prospect of getting a livestock guardian. I started doing oodles of research, and tried to find every scrap of information I could about them and with how to train them. Having previously never owner a dog of my own, the thought of having a puppy was a little daunting, but I felt like I was up to the challenge. Even though I have never had my own dog, I am not unfamiliar with dogs. My family and brothers have always had dogs, in fact, there has never been a time in my life where my family did not have a dog. However, this would be the very first time that I would be the sole owner, and main caretaker/ trainer of a dog. I was intrigued by the prospect, and did all the research I could to prepare myself.

A litter finally became available, and we set up a time to go and see them. We had to go to the Sunshine Coast, which is about a 2 hour drive, and a 40 minute ferry ride. I would consider myself an introvert, and I’m fairly unadventurous, so this would only the second time in my life that I had ever been on a ferry, despite living fairly close to the coast line, and having easy access to the nearby islands. This was going to be an adventure for me the moment we drove out our driveway, and headed to the city of North Vancouver to the Horseshoe Bay, having not been to that city in years.

It was a perfect day for the ferry ride, lovely and warm, without a cloud in the sky!

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When we got to the farm, nine overly excited puppies bounced up to us and showered us in licks. I had already decided that I wanted a female, so the males were put in their kennel so that I could get a better look at the females. There was five to choose from, I quickly decided against one of them for being too shy, and then another one for being too interested in attention and needy. Another pup was a little too aloof for what I wanted, so that just left two to choose between. One was a very sleek coated pup, who seemed friendly but still reserved. The fifth pup who had been snoozing under a trailer got up and marched deliberately towards me, flopped down beside me, and leaned her head against me as she tilted her head up and looked up at me. With that, I knew which pup was mine.

She was perfect on the ride home, just super calm and relaxed. Even though we got to the ferry terminal early, there was still so much traffic left over from the long weekend that the ferry filled up, and we were forced to wait for the next one which wasn’t due for two more hours. We ended up wandering about until we found a nice shaded grass area to wait in.

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She didn’t seem to mind at all, and was quite happily sniffing about, before she decided to flop down by my feet and go to sleep. When the next ferry finally arrived, we were one of the first to board. Unfortunately, however, we were parked on one of the downward ramps, which happened to be situated right next to the huge, rattling fans.

When we actually started moving we got out of the truck and moved to one of the windows that they have on the lower parking deck. Puppy seemed to enjoy looking out the window, and kept sniffing into the salty sea air as the spray from the water splashed onto the railing.

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She was perfect on the final stretch of our journey on the drive home. She sat on my lap for part of the drive and peered out of the window, and was quite fascinated with watching other vehicles drive by. Eventually she went into her crate and snoozed on and off.

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When we got home, I introduced her to everybody and the horses, and then put her in an x-pen beside the mini horses. Because she is a livestock guardian, she will be an outside dog, and with the puppies you are supposed to keep them in a separate, contained area in with or beside the livestock that they will be guarding so that they can start to bond with them. Eventually, when she gets a little bigger and more mature, she will be in the paddock with the horses, and will then also have free rein of the property. She seemed quite content to hang out near the horses, and was intrigued with watching them, although got a little concerned whenever them came right up to her fence. She soon got used to them however, and is now fine with them milling about beside her. While she settled into her new home, I started doing some more thinking for a name for her. I already had a list of potential names, but I didn’t want to decide on one until I picked out a pup. I went through the list and decided that Ayla was the one that suited her best. So now, puppy had a new home, and a new name.

The next day I started to get to know her more, and also gave her a bath, which she was surprisingly good for.

Afterwards she charged around the lawn, and I took the opportunity to take some pictures of her.

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Such a cute nose!

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Crazy puppy

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Moss is very fun to chew on, apparently

I have wanted my own dog for years now, and that wish finally came true. I’m immensely excited to start this new journey as a dog owner. Ayla is such a joy to have around, and quite the little love!

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Canada Day ~ a celebratory trail ride

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In celebration of Canada Day (and also just because I wanted to), Hope and I went on a trail ride. I couldn’t think of a better way to spend Canada Day than to ride through some of trails that this beautiful country has to offer.

I went to the local equestrian park that I am very fortunate to be boarding right next to, literally. The park is directly across the street from the barn I am at, and one of the side entrances is just a minute road ride away, and since it is a very quiet street, with courteous and horse knowledgeable drivers, it isn’t a problem. As I’ve only been at this barn for a short period of time, I’ve only been to the park once before, and only for a quick 20 minute cool down. This time, I went for just over an hour to have an actual ride, and to be able to appreciate the park more and to see a greater extent of it.

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The best view in the world

For the most part, Hope was really good. She seemed to enjoy the change of scenery, and employed her time with looking at everything that she could. Apparently flowers are scary, as are downhill gradients. After we had been gone for about half an hour, she started to get a little anxious. Hope is a bit of a homebody (okay, a lot). It’s not that she’s herd bound, she just likes all of the comforts of home. She is very much so an urban loving horse, and very much so enjoys and appreciates all of the aspects of “modern” living. I am sure that she thinks forests and trail rides are simply too “uncivilized” for her. She is a princess, and much prefers the paved alleyways in and between barns to the more rustic trails (even though these trails are gorgeous, and wonderfully maintained).

Hope didn’t do anything stupid on our ride, but she wasn’t getting any more fond of it as time went on. Eventually I started working on our lateral work down the trails, just to give her something else to think about. She immediately gave a big sigh and began to settle down again. I think she was relieved to have something to do that was familiar to her, because, you know… those downhill slopes are very scary and foreign, and must be snorted at.

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In true dressage fashion, we did half pass zigzags, shoulder-in, travers, and renvers as we continued on our ride.

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I immensely enjoyed myself, and look forward to going again. I have no doubt that Hope will begin to get used to trail riding, although, I’m sure that she’ll always prefer her pristine arena, and manicured showgrounds to the trails.

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