Lesson Revelations


I’ve been able to stack quite a few lessons recently, so here are a few good takeaways from recent ones.

  • if I feel like he needs more bend (especially to the left) what he probably needs instead is to have his haunches moved over and be traveling straighter
  • shoulder-fore to a turn on the diagonal, repeated in sequence for 5-6 times, is a great way to sharpen him up and get him lighter off his shoulders
  • to quote S., “both of your hands are too low when they’re on the inside, but your left hand is criminal.” so yeah.
  • in general, focus hard on hands closer together and higher up and more actively following, not buried in my lap waiting for, I dunno what, an imaginary down bank or something?
  • if he offers to break to canter when I’m asking for more in the trot, then ask for the exact same thing I’m asking for in the trot – forward, into the bit, and supple

Posting Mechanics

Kind of a thinky dressage-y post ahead; you’ve been warned!

One of the things I’m working on hardest with Tristan right now is establishing a new baseline for forward. He is not a naturally forward-thinking horse (pretty much the opposite, actually), and when I was starting him I was coming off some bad experiences – so I unfortunately throttled any of his possible natural tendencies early.

Photo Jun 05, 9 10 04 AM

Right now I’m starting off every ride with isolating and re-confirming driving aids. It’s occasionally ugly, but spending 10-15 minutes saying “yes, legs mean go immediately” and repeating that for driving seat and clucking, can make a big difference. We start on the buckle – I pick the reins up only if he’s going completely to the middle of the ring – and once he’s responding and moving out I take in enough rein just to feel his mouth and start over. By the end of that he’s usually warmed up enough to really pick up the reins and start asking him to bend and be supple.

(side note: some of you who have horses who just…do stuff?…for strides and strides at a time? and don’t need to be re-convinced every other stride? like they just go…straight when they’re pointed straight or…they keep walking after you’ve asked them once?…what is that even like?!?!?)

Photo Jun 05, 9 10 47 AM

One of the things S. has been hardest on me about in lessons is my posting.

It goes something like this: in an ideal forward horse, you’re using the energy and thrust of the horse to propel your body forward out of the saddle. You’re kind of recycling that energy around and through. When I’ve really been in a groove with this it feels like my posting is more horizontal than vertical, and like I’m barely coming out of the saddle at all.

On Tristan, I have two big challenges in posting the trot.

First: my posting mechanic is reactive rather than active. I’m following his motion and staying out of his way, rather than recycling his energy. I’m using my own muscles to post and focusing on rhythm to match. That means it’s a relatively slow post, and based more on caution than active riding.

Second: at any given second, it’s very possible for Tristan to trip either in front or behind. He’s just a klutzy horse, especially before he’s been put together; if he gets too on the forehand he’ll just randomly put a front leg in an imaginary hole. If he gets left out behind, it feels like the whole back end vanishes and then in the next second he surges forward to make up for it. When I’m sitting that’s fine – I follow it and I’m pretty used to it. When I’m posting, if that happens when I’m up out of the saddle, I tend to drop him and abandon my posting rhythm because it’s really easy to catch him pretty hard in the mouth when all of a sudden half the horse underneath me is gone. And obviously I want to avoid that.

I’m making him sound like a lot of fun to ride, huh?

Photo Jun 05, 9 10 31 AM

Anyway: in service to both of these things, S. has me trying to actively post faster. The things preventing me from doing that are both of the former things – and also some of my own body mechanics. She thinks I’m posting too up and down – like my back is too straight. And that makes more distance for me to cover when I’m out of the saddle, and thus it’s harder to move faster. So she’s got me tipping forward a bit – to me it feels like way too much but apparently it is only like an inch or two.

I had a small breakthrough last week but I’m not sure if it’s a correct one. I was wearing some super-sticky silicone full seat breeches, and concentrating pretty hard on my body mechanics, and found that it was much easier for me to post more quickly if I almost…use my calves to pull myself back down into the saddle.

I’ve been playing with that feeling more, and thinking about Jen’s recent post about posting mechanics, and about lowering yourself into the saddle versus letting gravity bring you down. That makes a lot of sense to me – but I can’t wrap my head around the quickness of it. I just can’t get out of my own way to move as fast as I’m meant to, without pulling myself back down. And I’m just not sure that using my calves to do that is the best thing to do.

I did bring it up with S., and she’s pondering it and we’ll address it further in my next lesson, but…in the meantime, any ideas?


September Goals Recap


  • Get to First Level – I’ve run through each piece of a First Level test individually. We don’t have much of an extension, but the stretchy circles are terrific. The necessary level of collection comes and goes, as does the degree of forward.
  • Take 12 lessons – 12/12 and done!
  • Volunteer at 6 events – 1/6, no more yet
  • Get & share 1 video per month of rides – I set everything up to get video of a dressage school and the camera batteries were dead BOOOOOOOO.


  • Finish house interior work – I’ve been dragging on this, sadly. Not sure it will get done, but I’m hoping to make a push in October.
  • Finish funding emergency fund – DONE!
  • Pay off vision correction surgery – DONE!
  • Try 24 new recipes – 24/24 and DONE!
  • Write 20k on Morgan book – I need some quiet time (HA) to take this to the next level, as I have 4 talks on this scheduled in October & November. I’ve started reading some of the horse books I asked about in my recent post for comparatives


  • Get to 500 sales on Etsy – 398/500, bracing myself for the holiday season…
  • Separate website and social media for business
  • Take accounting class
  • Develop 3 new patterns – calling this done
  • Have a total of 7-10 items for sale – canceling this one

Vet Visit Recap

One of the last things I posted was that I was starting to evaluate Tristan’s joint support and overall way of going. He’s 24 and in full work, and I wanted to have expert eyes on him. He’s always been a reluctant horse to warm up, and more recently he’s started kicking out pretty good when we first ask him to get going. Was it brain or body?

The vet who came specializes in lameness: evaluating and treating. It’s his entire practice now, and he actually first saw Tristan the last time we lived in Vermont, over a decade a go. He last saw him about two years ago for a chiropractic adjustment that ended up being kind of unnecessary, which is now what three vets/chiropractors in a row have said and I am officially calling it quits on chiro work for him.

The vet came out and I described some of what I was seeing – general stiffness warming up, some unwillingness to really go forward, left canter departs weren’t as prompt. The barn manager was there too and was able to describe some of what she sees under saddle – not inclined to truly track up, some weakness through the hind end.

The vet’s assistant put Tristan on the longe line and he was FIRED UP. Like, barrel kicked in at the vet assistant’s head and then motored around on the longe like a jackass for a minute or two. For the record: I had been upfront and said “he will probably kick out when you ask him to pick up a trot.” He did! They were still surprised.

But they liked what they saw on the longe, and then the vet flexed both hind ends, palpated his back, and generally did a pretty thorough hands-on examination.

Photo Sep 09, 10 44 43 AM

The verdict:

  • some sensitivity in his RH fetlock, and a verrrrrrrry slight lowering of both fetlocks behind
  • some mild positivity in both hocks, left a touch more than right, but he was reluctant to call either of them even a 1/5 – even after a very strong flexion!
  • generally pretty darn healthy; the vet kept shrugging and saying variations on “I mean, he’s 24…”

The solution:

  • no joint injections at all!
  • get back on the Pentosan routine with a new loading dose (this will be week 3/4 of that) and then doses every 3 weeks going forward
  • sport boots all around for work to support his fetlocks in particular but his legs generally

So, pretty darn good news, and no excuses for him! I’ve purchased and have been using (and hate with fiery passion) the sport boots, and we should start to see the impact of the Pentosan soon, and we’re ready to dig in and get some more work done.

I’ll post soon-ish on why I loathe the sport boots so far, but I figure if I paid all that money to a vet to give him his opinion I should follow it for a while.


Breed Logo Saddle Covers

Okay, I SWEAR I will do an actual blog update someday soon (short version – things are fine), but in the meantime: I’m looking for some ideas/help.

I’ve started adding breed logo saddle covers to my Etsy shop.

I’d like to keep adding them! But I hate making saddle covers without a home. The idea of making them just to photograph and then store feels like a waste.

So: is your horse registered with a particular breed registry? Do you want a custom fleece saddle cover with that registry’s brand/logo embroidered on the side? In any combination of colors?

American Trakehner Custom Fleece Saddle Cover for Dressage image 0

Let me know!

So far I’ve got Trakehner, American Trakehner, and Morgan.

But I’d love to find people with Hanoverian, Dutch, Oldenberg, Bavarian horses. If the breed has a logo and/or brand that people put on things, I want to offer it.

So hit me up. Comment here or email me at beljoeor[at]gmail[dot]com. It’s totally free to you – I just want to know what breed logo and what colors you want.

Small caveat: it’s first-come, first-serve, so if five people want Hanoverian ones then the first person to reach out gets it.


Morgan Monday: Horse “Biography” Books

Remember when I thought I would post every Monday about my Morgan history project? Oh well. I’m slowly chipping away, anyway.

Right now, I’ve been thinking a lot about historiography, as in: how to structure and frame the narrative? What approach is the best use of the sources, the best way to tell the story, and the most thoughtful way to revisit important historical questions? How have other people framed their research and storytelling about equine history?

See, one of the hardest parts about writing a book about an animal is that – and forgive me if this seems stupidly obvious – animals don’t speak. They don’t communicate in any traditional sense, at least one that is captured by a typical primary source or historical document. That is doubly hard when you’re working on the story of an animal that lived in a time and a situation in which he was considered more or less disposable.

I’ve been assembling a list of books that are essentially biographies of individual horses, or in some cases horse breeds.

I’d love to hear of any more that you’ve read and would recommend. I need as many examples as possible to think about!

William Nask, Secretariat

Laura Hillenbrand, Seabiscuit

Mim Eichlar Rivas, Beautiful Jim Key

Jane Schwartz, Ruffian

Elizabeth Letts, The Perfect Horse

Elizabeth Letts, The $800 Champion

Robin Hutton, Sgt. Reckless

Any others?

As a side bonus, when I was double-checking a few names & titles on Amazon (I am writing this on the road, not in front of my bookshelf at home), this book came up.



Blog Hopping: 12 Tough Questions

It’s going around, but I grabbed it from One Bud Wiser. Illustrating with recent IG photos, because why not.

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I never take this view for granted.

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Q1: What hobbies do you have outside of riding?
IDK, making money to support the riding? In all seriousness: reading, writing, researching, working on the house, running a small business, and oh yeah I work a LOT. 

Q2: What is your boarding situation? Are you happy with it?
Full care board 10 minutes from my house. Look – no barn in the whole world is perfect, but mine is pretty darn close. The people are great, the facilities are great, the care is second to none, they genuinely like my horse (and mostly seem to like me?), and I’m happy there. There are things I wish were different but nothing that makes me want to leave.

Q3: What’s on your horsey-related wish list?
Sigh. I’m lusting after a truck and trailer. For no good reason at all. But if someone said to me “here’s $30k and you can’t spend it on anything practical OR put it into savings” I would be at a dealership tomorrow.

Q4: What is your most expensive horsey-related item?
My dressage saddle, bought used for $1200. But honestly I spend more than that in regular expenses some months. (sob)

Q5: What is the hardest horsey-related decision you’ve had to make lately?
Last fall, when Tristan had his worst colic ever (and he is prone to them, so I am familiar with the range of possibilities) I had the drive to the vet clinic to decide whether he was a surgical candidate, and I decided no. It was, to that point, the worst night of my life, but has since been eclipsed several times, so.

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Waiting until it cooled down was the right call.

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Q6: What’s something you feel you can’t live without in your routine?
Tea. But I’m not sure that’s what this question is looking for. I guess my current answer to this would be my Apple Watch, which I freaking adore. (I wrote that post dithering, and yes, I bought one! I’ll do a recap at some point.)

Q7: What’s on your horsey-related calendar for the rest of the summer?
Lameness vet out in September, lessons ongoing, not a whole lot in particular.

Q8: What’s one thing you would willingly change about your horse?
I wish he were more forward-minded and/or generally cooperative. The part where he spends the first 15 minutes of every ride telling me how much he hates me is a real self-esteem-killer some days.

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Tristan’s happy place.

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Q9: What is something you most want to improve on with you and your horse?
Generally how forward he is and how fit I am.

Q10: What has been your [current] horses most severe injury?
LOLOL, this is like a smorgasbord of options. Ummmmmmm, most involved and expensive would be his broken coffin bone + surgery. Closest to dying would be one of his two bad colics (one in 2008, one this past fall). Weirdest would have to be his tail cancer.

Q11: What do you feel your biggest downfall is as a rider?
Laziness and lack of commitment. It’s sometimes too easy for me to just not go some nights. And then when I get there sometimes I have to force myself into working hard instead of just hacking out.

Q12: What feeds your motivation?
I just…I need to do it. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately and I don’t have a really good answer. I need it like I need breathing. Part of me would be empty and gone if I didn’t have Tris and/or horses. Being in the saddle is the only time in my entire life when my brain isn’t firing in all directions like a rabid weasel.