Buckskin dressage horse trotting across a field with a rider in a dressage saddle

Starting Again, and Finding Dressage From Within

**I originally wrote this post late last December, but I couldn’t bring myself to hit “Publish” at the time. I am not sure why. Maybe I wasn’t ready to admit to the world all the things happening in my life, or maybe I was afraid if I spoke about the joy I had found, it would vanish without a trace. Regardless, now months have passed, months of healing and growing and thinking and most of all, riding. And the joy has not vanished, and I now feel strong enough to share some pieces of my story. So after a long 2 years of blog-silence, here we are. Such a different place than where we started, but maybe we’ve actually made progress in that time, despite what my daily training log might indicate. Perhaps what I’ve actually gained is one of the most elusive things of all… wisdom, and compassion for myself.**

I’ve had a really interesting few months that have lead to some pretty major life changes. And of all the oddest, unforeseen consequences of this huge life upheaval, a very strange thing that happened was that I rediscovered how to ride. And when I say that, it’s bigger than what probably first comes to mind. Riding has been a huge piece of my life and a part of who I am since I was a kid. I’ve had some big goals, but more than that, I’ve been someone who is always working to get better. I want to be stronger, more perfect in my position, more knowledgeable in my theory. I want opportunities to ride with amazing trainers, and I will study anything I can get my hands on, online or in a book, always open to trying new techniques or exercises that seem sound.

But somehow still, I felt stuck. I felt like I couldn’t ride the way I knew I could ride. I could just *feel* that it wasn’t right. Resistance in my own body, resistance in my horse. The magic was missing. You know, that feeling when everything just clicks into place and flows? I just couldn’t get it. I still rode, I still learned, and I still enjoyed it. But it just wasn’t…. IT. And I couldn’t find it. It was like my riding had hit a wall. I had a glimpse of how perfect it could flow, and then when it didn’t, that elusive feeling only made what I was feeling so unsatisfying, so lacking…

Then my life blew up, and I found myself divorced and moving cross country to start again. I wasn’t even sure if I would have horses in my new life for a while there. Pieces fell into place and some friends and strangers (who became new friends!) came along and really helped to make some things happen that I probably wouldn’t have done on my own, and through forces I may never fully understand, somehow I found myself transported from northern IL to Austin, Tx, with my tack and trailer, and with not just one horse, but two. Both Liam, my 24 year old mostly-retired ottb, my first horse and my heart horse who could not be left behind, and Sofie, my 5 year old Arabian/Russian Warmblood mare, made the journey with me.

Sofie and me, cantering at our new barn near Austin, Texas.

Before the move, I cleaned out the tack and other accessories I had accumulated over years (decades…) of having horses, and significantly thinned out my equine library. This cleansing and reducing my possessions to only what mattered was hard, but I think also in a way what has allowed this new life to take hold the way it has.

Likewise, the new barn we came to is simple. It’s not a fancy show barn, it’s a backyard barn. The horses live outside, and there is only one other boarder. It’s quiet. We ride in a grassy area beside the pasture, or in the round pen, or on the trails up the street. The people are very friendly, and the horses are treated very well, and when it comes down to it, that is what matters. My horses were by no means unhappy before, but I am relieved to see that they are very happy with where they ended up.

And with this restart, after months of not riding much, getting rid of most of my tack, giving my horses that long break and then the long move cross country, I climbed back in the saddle to see where it was at. There was no pressure, a little ride was my moment of clarity in a life where everything else was still very up in the air. Just to sit on a horse and be in the moment for the moment was all I needed out of the ride. And something amazing happened. With that shedding of “stuff” and of expectations and of goals and of the need to ride a certain way, achieve things, or impress people, without that need to live up to anything anyone might expect of what I may or may not do with my horses… I found that “sweet spot”. That elusive feeling I’d been searching for for years, suddenly just happened. Without effort, without fitness in the saddle, without special equipment or training. I just sat, and my horse just flowed…

It felt so good while I was riding that it was no surprise when I looked at the image later and saw that my position and posture looked really good and that she was well connected, pushing from behind and out to the end of the rein, poll the highest point and nose just in front of the vertical. There is no other feeling like correct work, and once you’ve experienced this, there is no settling for anything less!

And that heavenly feeling that just makes everything all right in my world came back. That throughness and partnership I’ve been searching for, it was like it was right there all along. It doesn’t actually take insane amounts of strength and stamina from the rider, and it doesn’t takes months of careful conditioning in the horse. That connection just exists in the breath of a moment, in a quiet space, in a stillness, more in the not doing than in the doing. So simple and yet so complex. I just had to sit up, and sit down, bring my awareness into my seat and allow her energy to flow forward. Of course I have lots of tools that help as well, a feel for her alignment and balance, a full toolbox of lateral work at my disposal to help maintain the alignment. But now I have become aware of how relatively little effort it can take. I have discovered this beautiful place we can start to build from, and it is my hope that now going forward, as we continue to develop strength, balance, and communication from this beginning, we can make this feeling even lighter and softer, seemingly requiring even less effort, although that may be a bit of an illusion as we both become stronger. But the process, the journey towards that, will almost certainly feel like it requires less effort as each of these rides is such a quiet joy that the strengthening and training can happen gently in the background.

That’s the feeling so many riders are searching for, the feeling I always wanted to help my riders to discover for themselves. So now that I’ve found it again, I want to share that.

view from on buckskin horse overlooking scenery
Riding Sofie out on the trails by the new barn, a change of scenery in so many ways! It sure is beautiful here…

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