Battle of the Browband

I’d have to say I’m really pretty standard when it comes to my tack.  Old fashioned.

(But I am attempting to think outside the box.  After squeezing my horses ears for decades with the standard too-tight brow bands I decided to do something about it)


Back to old fashioned.  On a recent horse hunting trip a seller (whose saddle I eyed warily as something that would be complimentary to a camel),


~(Re camel saddle: I’m not trying to pick on any saddle in particular, but there has been a trend of late to “support” the fore and aft of the dressage rider in a not so “classic” manner–at least for a horse.)


Anyway, she made a not very nice comment about the saddle I dragged out of the pickup.


Stubben Tristan saddle showing correct triangular “pelvis marks” in the leather

scoffing at my Stubben (Tristan Extra):

“What are you riding that relic for?”

Hmmm. . . .  a comment direct and to the point.

Difficult to answer.


You can see one above, with Melynnda up on her PSG mustang, Mariah.


They are pretty basic. And some pretty accomplished people have used them: Wili Schultheis for instance who designed them, and



(Rudolf–c.1989 New Mexico clinic back in the dark ages when I first rode with him.)

Bad thoughts towards the horse seller crossed my mind.

Why the “relic?”

Comments like, “Because I can sit.” (or possibly worse) flitted through my brain–which was fortunately too disciplined (or puzzled) to instruct the lips so unwisely.

I let it go.

I’ve had lots of new saddles in the past twenty years.  They all say “Stubben” on them.  And I’ve never had anything but the Tristan tree.

Whatever.  Go with what works for you–but I do like having different sizes for different  horses.

And that brings me to the point of this post.


Go look up “dressage brow band” and you’ll find some that cost more than having a dental appointment. (For your horse). And look more like a tiara than a piece of barn equipment.

$150 is a lot to spend for a single 16 or 17 inch piece of tack that is in all effect probably not necessary.  Never mind the Swarovski crystals.

But I wanted to find something that worked, and just going an inch up in size did not help–it was the stiffness and semi-bowed shape that were causing the problem that I wanted to fix: ear infringement.

Please let me introduce you to the “Big Lug” the chestnut to the right in this picture.


To the left is his first cousin, once removed, “Miss Perfect.”

First cousin “once removed” means that Regazzoni (by Rubinstein) was his (Big Lug’s) father, and also her (Miss Perfect’s) mother’s father.

(Don’t worry, he’s gelded.)

Breeding.  More crap shoot than science.  Just look at those two. Closely bred and could not be more different. Same very famous grand daddy and great grand daddy.  (Peron’s influence could have had something to do with Miss Perfect’s likeness, but really–here is Rubinstein.)


And Miss Perfect below.  (We won’t even talk about the way she moves.)


Anyway, here is the Big Lug


He’s a normal sized dumblood, but there is a problem with tack fit for him–his head.

As we riders all know, centuries of breeding have made warmbloods much smarter–and therefore they have wider heads.


Well, maybe not smarter, but broader I will give you.  Look, do you see  how this standard “horse sized” brow band lifts toward the ears and pulls from behind them?

He’s going in a double some of the time, and its clear it is not comfortable.  Lots of straps feeding in there in an already tight configuration.

I see no reason to crush his somewhat thick skull with a standard 16 inch (stiff) leather brow band.

Why not just bigger?  It is better–but not perfect. A 17″ leather band sticks out like the prow of a steamship on him.  Remember the movie Titanic?

There had to be something better.

I looked and looked. The menu included a host of clinched and jeweled offerings–all  with the same basic design as always. Different, as long as 16 or 17 is all you need, and you have more money than you think you need.

Then there was an offering from Sweden coupled with an intriguing bonnet-shaped head stall and a snap on browband design. They claim it will fit any normal 1.25 head stall.  But of course you could buy none of these “by the piece” except the incredibly expensive accessory bands.

Thinking myself lucky, I snapped one up on Ebay for $60.  Only to find that as promised it would fit a 1.25 head stall–but nothing else. (IN SHORT, A VERY SPECIFIC DESIGN!)  Not going to work with the wad of leather the Big Lug’s double bridle presents right behind the ears.  Here’s the problem: Look below.  It might be okay for the forehead.  Might, I have not tried it–because there is no room for cavesson or double bridle rigging.



The second job–perhaps the only actual job–of the browband is to contain the various straps (cavesson, bradoon hanger, etc) in a tidy package.  The red one had done that job for years–made a jab at the Atlanta Games with it.  But it and all the others are too small or the wrong shape for Big Lug, and the Swedish model wouldn’t fit either the cavesson strap nor the bradoon. Bummer.

$60 and many hours into the project with no luck, I got tired of the search, and thought of abandoning the brow band altogether.  Sigh.  Couldn’t do it.  Yes, in the end I am a traditionalist. And while I love hair ties for many things, tying the straps together behind the ear is not on the list.

But then I talked to my friend Lori–who sews.  And we hatched a plan: it involves the things you want in your own head band.  Silk, elastic, something, well, non-military.  (Okay she can make a Steam Punk one if you insist.)

Big Lug has one.  He is happy as can be:

IMG_2343 - Version 2

Note the soft materials and elastic attachment allowing the throat latch to angle correctly without changing the tension in front?  No tendency to ride up toward the ears? Plenty of room for straps.  (Trust me on this.)IMG_2328Fancy hand set (and useless) copper rivet.


Many interesting colors soon to be available on our Etsy Girth Shield sales platform.

The horses love them.  And  in honor of Valentine’s Day I made a special one for Miss Perfect.




If you want one come visit. $39.  There are lots of colors. . .


Wear your helmet.

One of my favorite bloggers, the infamous Bike Snob NYC, wrote the following about helmets in a very funny post which included jabs at both the NYC Fuseproject and the new Kick Starter launched “Folding Helmet” which, among other virtues, is capable of protecting the user from the weight of one used book, gently applied.


And then this classic from 2009:

Slow and Steady: The Tortoise and the Helmet Hair

Bike Snob relates:

“It’s also typical of the non-cyclist to focus on the helmet as a symbol of cycling safety. Indeed, the helmet has become a symbol of safe cycling just as the condom has become a symbol of safe sex. However, there’s a big difference between the two. If you use a condom properly it will be highly effective, but if you use a helmet properly it won’t make a difference if you’re still doing everything else wrong. Riding without a helmet will not make you crash, but riding with a bunch of stuff dangling off your handlebars might.”

The winning design!


Back to Dressage Snob.  (I’m not nearly as funny as he is–though perhaps more polite. . . )

Re the offering above: actually, over the years having been subjected to the equestrian versions of helmets, these look pretty good.

Dressage Snob bias and disclaimer: I have been a egregious offender in not setting a good example by always wearing a helmet.  Why?

I am 56 years old and have been riding since I was s little shy of three.  I was a B Pony Club member before I was 12 (this means jumping things). My friend Darcy and I logged over 200 falls each before we were ten.  We rode every day at breakneck speeds all over the country and we survived.

The only broken bone I have ever suffered was while skiing, which made me so mad I quit skiing for a number of years.

How come I broke my leg skiing?  I was not very experienced and found myself in the middle of a large patch of ice. I was a relative beginner.  And while being experienced is no guarantee of not getting hurt,  (as you will see below,) it helps.

So though we in the sixties always wore helmets when jumping, it was not traditional to do so when riding “on the flat.”

Why until recently?

None of MY dressage instructors wore them.


But, times change and helmets are both safer now and more comfortable, never mind used by virtually everyone in the US.  I have several current helmets, ranging in price from a bit over $100 to almost $500.  The latter, with a fancy front vent, that I do not wear because even though it is my size, it falls down over my eyes so I cannot see where I am directing the poor beast.  Riding momentarily with the eyes shut is often something I ask my riders to do on the longe line, but I try not to practice it for long periods solo.  (Refer to note on condoms above.)  The first rule of staying safe in any sport is to not do stupid things.

So, just as it takes some time, effort and expense to procure a beast that you are comfortable with, it takes some effort to get a helmet with the same qualities.  I understand this and I do now routinely wear a helmet.

Please do so as well.

And now that you have done so I will tell you the bottom line of why you must:

If you are unfortunately injured, (and we hope this will not be the case,) you will have to answer this question from every medical person you meet from now until your eventual demise:


“Where you wearing a helmet?”

And as telling stories is my  business here, I will tell you a quick story–which I hope will have a happy ending.

This is my partner.  His name is Rick.

Both of the pictures below are posed–and these are literally the only times I have ever seen him not wear a helmet on a bike.

The rides lasted twenty feet or less.

They were staged, and the expression on his face is the point of both pictures.  Well, particularly in the first the expression might not be the only point of the picture.  What is not to LOVE about a handsome guy in shorts and an ironed shirt arriving with broom (see back of bike), fresh towels  and duster to your door?


He rides real bicycles–and not just our cargo bike–for fun and transportation.

He has been know to try out other models as a lark. He disliked the gearing in this one.


Here is how he really looks when he really rides:


Last year, Rick to the left and his son to the right getting ready to ride up the side of some unthinkable incline.

Rick is a very, very experienced cyclist.  He does not do stupid things.  And it is logical that a very experienced cyclist can probably beat the odds of bicycling across the driveway on a clear day with no traffic.

Knowing which situations are likely to be dangerous is part of being experienced.

But in this case it did not help.  Coming home from working out in the late afternoon (daylight) on December 1st, 2014, helmet securely strapped on, sporting a neon yellow jacket, astride his bright red Cinelli bicycle, lighted on front and back, Rick dropped behind the line of cars passing him as he rode down the bike lane, and eased into the traffic lane.

He does this every time in this location, where he rode nearly every day.  It is standard “best practices” for bikers in this situation for two reasons:

1. The bike lane is ending, if he stays to the right it is possible that cars will attempt to turn right over the top of him.

2. Taking the lane makes him more visible to any crossing traffic.

From a side street an elderly woman, not expecting to see a cyclist, did see her chance to get home a bit early and when the line of cars passed she gunned her car out in front of him.   If she had been turning to merge with traffic he might have gotten around her.  But as it was, there was no place for him and he struck the car with enough force to be thrown over the hood, across two lanes and into the other curb.

One can hear her voice on the 911 call,  “But he hit ME!” as the gathering crowd insisted that she stay and wait for the police.  She was given a ticket. Failing to yield right of way.  $170 fine.  Probably wrecked her evening.

Rick was given an ambulance ride.  And a good deal more time than the evening has been wrecked for him

Though over 60 Rick is a fine athlete. He lived though being hit by the woman’s car and thrown across two lanes into the curb.


Broken rib. Concussion. Also broken helmet.

A friend gave him a new helmet.


The black one was cracked.  And it probably did save his life.

The problem is that it did not save him the concussion. And truthfully, most helmets, biking and otherwise will not. In a high speed wreck they  are more effective at making you look good in your casket than preventing your entry.

As they explain it to me in later months, your brain is like a lump of vanilla pudding floating inside your skull.  And when you stop the head very fast (as in hitting a solid object from some speed) the brain bounces within the skull.  It hits the interior wall and then rebounds back to the other side.  It is called a coup contrecoup injury, and this is not something the brain likes. It typically leaves no mark, but small and frequent chemical and electrical connections are disturbed, disconnected, severed, bruised, bled on–or all of the above.

And though the brain may reroute eventually along different pathways–restoring the survivor’s ability to be in bright lights, listen to more than one conversation, balance with his eyes shut, remember yesterday, understand context–it can take a while.  Like a few weeks.  Or months. Or years.

After a time there is what TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) folks call “the new normal”.

You may ride again, if your balance returns.

You may drive a car again if your depth perception improves.

Or you may ride in a different manner:


(Trust me, for an avid cyclist, after three months of not riding at all, the stationary bike was a huge treat.  The dark glasses and basement are because concussion folk are often very light sensitive.)

Here’s the next step–if he is lucky.


So yes, wear your helmet.


Being dead is not the preferred outcome.  But don’t discount other types of brain injury.

Anyway, find a helmet you like, approved and designed for riding.  Wear it.  If something does happen, your family will thank you.

This is my latest one:

It looks pretty much like the rest of them.  Is very comfortable. And the science makes sense to me.  Nevertheless I do wish the medical community (and everyone else) would quit it with the first question to Rick:

“Did you have your helmet on?”

For those of you in places that have a sensible attitude about bicycles and cars, let me reassure you it is quite true in the US that running over a cyclist is largely acceptable.

The elderly lady who hit Rick did did not lose her license to drive. Not for a day. Those of you in Europe will be dropping your jaws at this, but it is true.  She did however have her insurance pulled.  It appears she had been involved in other accidents.  She was 93 years old at the time.  A year later would find her in a nursing home.

I have bicycled in places where there is adequate public transportation–so the elderly are not isolated if they cease driving.   I’ve also cycled in places where the largely American “this is MY road” attitude is not the case–and it is a real pleasure.  Hats off–literally–to the law-makers and the educated drivers in these places!  Ironically, in many of these bike-friendly places, it is not required that the cyclist wear a helmet.  But that drivers of cars are vigilant.  Go figure.


Post script. Four and a half years later.

We have moved to a quieter and more liberal US town. One with very good bike paths–not painted lanes, though there are those as well.  Rick rides a recumbent trike.  He cannot drive a car.  His post traumatic seizures have been mostly medicated into submission, and with that his memory is improving.   He still looks to me for record keeping of his life.  New memories are difficult to form.  Crowds baffle him.  Faced with a three part decision he becomes confused.

If life stays the same every day he does well. I have started to ride again.  For a long time after  Rick’s accident it seemed like an unreasonable risk.  If something happened to me Rick would be institutionalized.

I have a very good book to recommend to  you.  It is called “Being Mortal”


My next blog will be about head injury.  I’ll let you know when I start.

Be well!




Dressage: Divine but Useless–Yes!


Credit Mark Pernice

“CHRISTMAS is at our throats again.”

That was the cheery yuletide greeting favored by the late English playwright Noël Coward, commemorating the holiday after which he was named. Less contrarian were the words of President Calvin Coolidge: “Christmas is not a time nor a season, but a state of mind. To cherish peace and good will, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas.”

Which quotation strikes a chord with you? Are you a Coward or a Coolidge?

If you sympathize more with Coward, welcome to the club. There are many more of us out there than one might expect. A 2005 survey by the Pew Research Center found that more than half of Americans were bothered “some” or “a lot” by the commercialization of Christmas. A 2013 follow-up confirmed that materialism is Americans’ least favorite part of the season.

Call it the Christmas Conundrum. We are supposed to revel in gift-giving and generosity, yet the season’s lavishness and commercialization leave many people cold. The underlying contradiction runs throughout modern life. On one hand, we naturally seek and rejoice in prosperity. On the other hand, success in this endeavor is often marred by a materialism we find repellent and alienating.

On a recent trip to India, I found an opportunity to help sort out this contradiction. I sought guidance from a penniless Hindu swami named Gnanmunidas at the Swaminarayan Akshardham Hindu temple in New Delhi. We had never met before, but he came highly recommended by friends. If Yelp reviewed monks, he would have had five stars.

To my astonishment, Gnanmunidas greeted me with an avuncular, “How ya doin’?” He referred to me as “dude.” And what was that accent — Texas? Sure enough, he had grown up in Houston, the son of Indian petroleum engineers, and had graduated from the University of Texas. Later, he got an M.B.A., and quickly made a lot of money.

But then Gnanmunidas had his awakening. At 26, he asked himself, “Is this all there is?” His grappling with that question led him to India, where he renounced everything and entered a Hindu seminary. Six years later, he emerged a monk. From that moment on, the sum total of his worldly possessions has been two robes, prayer beads and a wooden bowl. He is prohibited from even touching money — a discipline that would obviously be impossible for those of us enmeshed in ordinary economic life.

As an economist, I was more than a little afraid to hear what this capitalist-turned-renunciant had to teach me. But I posed a query nonetheless: “Swami, is economic prosperity a good or bad thing?” I held my breath and waited for his answer.

“It’s good,” he replied. “It has saved millions of people in my country from starvation.”

This was not what I expected. “But you own almost nothing,” I pressed. “I was sure you’d say that money is corrupting.” He laughed at my naïveté. “There is nothing wrong with money, dude. The problem in life is attachment to money.” The formula for a good life, he explained, is simple: abundance without attachment.

The assertion that there is nothing wrong with abundance per se is entirely consistent with most mainstream philosophies. Even traditions commonly perceived as ascetic rarely condemn prosperity on its face. The Dalai Lama, for example, teaches that material goods themselves are not the problem. The real issue, he writes, is our delusion that “satisfaction can arise from gratifying the senses alone.”

Moreover, any moral system that takes poverty relief seriously has to celebrate the ahistoric economic bounty that has been harvested these past few centuries. The proportion of the world living on $1 per day or less has shrunk by 80 percent in our lifetimes. Today, Bill Gates can credibly predict that almost no countries will be conventionally “poor” by 2035.

In other words, if we are lucky enough to achieve abundance, we should be thankful for it and work to share the means to create it with others around the world. The real trick is the second part of the formula: avoiding attachment.

In Tibetan, the word “attachment” is translated as “do chag,” which literally means “sticky desire.” It signifies a desperate grasping at something, motivated by fear of separation from the object. One can find such attachment in many dysfunctional corners of life, from jealous relationships to paranoia about reputation and professional standing.

In the realm of material things, attachment results in envy and avarice. Getting beyond these snares is critical to life satisfaction. But how to do it? Three practices can help.

First, collect experiences, not things.

Material things appear to be permanent, while experiences seem evanescent and likely to be forgotten. Should you take a second honeymoon with your spouse, or get a new couch? The week away sounds great, but hey — the couch is something you’ll have forever, right?

Wrong. Thirty years from now, when you are sitting in rocking chairs on the porch, you’ll remember your second honeymoon in great detail. But are you likely to say to one another, “Remember that awesome couch?” Of course not. It will be gone and forgotten. Though it seems counterintuitive, it is physically permanent stuff that evaporates from our minds. It is memories in the ether of our consciousness that last a lifetime, there for us to enjoy again and again.

This “paradox of things” has been thoroughly documented by researchers. In 2003, psychologists from the University of Colorado and Cornell studied how Americans remembered different kinds of purchases — material things and experiences — they have made in the past. Using both a national survey and a controlled experiment with human subjects, they found that reflecting on experiential purchases left their subjects significantly happier than did remembering the material acquisitions.


Credit Mark Pernice

I learned this lesson once and for all from my son Carlos. Five years ago, when Carlos was 9 years old, he announced that all he wanted for Christmas was a fishing trip — just the two of us, alone. No toys; no new things — just the trip. So we went fishing, and have done so every year since. Any material thing I had bought him would have been long forgotten. Yet both of us can tell you every place we’ve gone together, and all the fish we’ve caught, every single year.

Second, steer clear of excessive usefulness.

Our daily lives often consist of a dogged pursuit of practicality and usefulness at all costs. This is a sure path toward the attachment we need to avoid. Aristotle makes this point in his Nicomachean Ethics; he shows admiration for learned men because “they knew things that are remarkable, admirable, difficult, and divine, but useless.”

Countless studies show that doing things for their own sake — as opposed to things that are merely a means to achieve something else — makes for mindfulness and joy.

In one famous experiment, college students were given puzzles to solve. Some of the students were paid, and others were not. The unpaid participants tended to continue to work on the puzzles after the experiment was finished, whereas the paid participants abandoned the task as soon as the session was over. And the paid subjects reported enjoying the whole experience less.

FOR those living paycheck to paycheck, a focus on money is understandable. But for those of us blessed to be above poverty, attachment to money is a means-ends confusion. Excessive focus on your finances obscures what you are supposed to enjoy with them. It’s as if your experience of the holidays never extended beyond the time spent at the airport on the way to see family. (If you’re thinking that’s actually the best part, then you have a different problem.)

This manifestly does not mean we should abandon productive impulses. On the contrary, it means we need to treat our industry as an intrinsic end. This is the point made famously in the Hindu text the Bhagavad Gita, where work is sanctified as inherently valuable, not as a path to a payoff.

And finally, get to the center of the wheel.

In the rose windows of many medieval churches, one finds the famous “wheel of fortune,” or rota fortunae. The concept is borrowed from ancient Romans’ worship of the pagan goddess Fortuna. Following the wheel’s rim around, one sees the cycle of victory and defeat that everyone experiences throughout the struggles of life. At the top of the circle is a king; at the bottom, the same man as a pauper.

Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales” uses the idea to tell of important people brought low throughout history: “And thus does Fortune’s wheel turn treacherously. And out of happiness bring men to sorrow.”

The lesson went beyond the rich and famous. Everyone was supposed to remember that each of us is turning on the wheel. One day, we’re at the top of our game. But from time to time, we find ourselves laid low in health, wealth and reputation.

If the lesson ended there, it would be pretty depressing. Every victory seems an exercise in futility, because soon enough we will be back at the bottom. But as the Catholic theologian Robert Barron writes, the early church answered this existential puzzle by placing Jesus at the center of the wheel. Worldly things occupy the wheel’s rim. These objects of attachment spin ceaselessly and mercilessly. Fixed at the center was the focal point of faith, the lodestar for transcending health, wealth, power, pleasure and fame — for moving beyond mortal abundance. The least practical thing in life was thus the most important and enduring.

But even if you are not religious, there is an important lesson for us embedded in this ancient theology. Namely, woe be unto those who live and die by the slings and arrows of worldly attachment. To prioritize these things is to cling to the rim, a sure recipe for existential vertigo. Instead, make sure you know what is the transcendental truth at the center of your wheel, and make that your focus.

So here is my central claim: The frustration and emptiness so many people feel at this time of year is not an objection to the abundance per se, nor should it be. It is a healthy hunger for nonattachment. This season, don’t rail against the crowds of shoppers on Fifth Avenue or become some sort of anti-gift misanthrope. Celebrate the bounty that has pulled millions out of poverty worldwide. But then, ponder the three practices above. Move beyond attachment by collecting experiences, avoid excessive usefulness, and get to the center of your wheel. It might just turn out to be a happy holiday after all.

I never finished my story about Swami Gnanmunidas. Before I left him that day in Delhi, we had a light lunch of soup and naan. I told him I would be writing about our conversation; many Americans would be hearing his name. He contemplated this for a moment and, modeling nonattachment, responded simply.

“Dude, do you like the soup? It’s spicy.”

It is the riders job to make it easy for the horse

I’d guess in everyone’s life there are pieces of advice that resonate over the years.

(And by the way, as we are approaching the end of the year I wanted to say I am thankful to you for sharing Dressage Snob recollections–somewhat astounded in fact.  30,000 individual views this year.  This brings up an obvious point. Shouldn’t you be doing something more productive with your time?)

Never mind.  We are dressage enthusiasts.  Productive is not the purpose.

One bit of advice that has had particular traction with me is from Rudolf Zeilinger.  He said it over the back of a horse and with a certain “You may not understand this now,” sort of look on his face.

“It is your job to make it easy for your horse.”

And indeed I did not understand it–or came to understand it in so many different ways that my first impression was certainly inaccurate–or at best trivial.

How do you equate taking a sport that is as physically and emotionally demanding as Dressage and making it easy?

By knowing what you are doing!

More advice, trickled down from Wili Schultheis’ classic cure for most problems having to do with a horse:

“Ride better.”

Helping your horse?  Short version:

For any given movement the horse is asked to perform, they are placed in a balance that facilitates that movement. Do not get in your own way.

Examples?  I will give you the ridiculously complicated cracked egg one below,  as well as the tight rope on snow shoes, but they exist at every level of dressage and probably most things in life:

Don’t make it overly complicated and don’t get in your own way.

For instance,

Don’t chase the green-ish horse with fast steps into canter–insist that they respect the half halt and step up to canter.


Because the balance, once thrown on the forehand, is very hard to get back.  Best to not lose it at all.

Do not get in the way of the very thing you are asking for.

Important concept akin to, “Please do not shoot  yourself in the foot.”  Make sure you (or your tack) are not getting in the way of the message transmission, or preventing the horse from executing the request.

Another instance:

Ride a collected canter for pirouette that is easily ridden forward.


Because if the balance and activity are correct you can go forward (or backward or sideways) without loss of balance.


I could go on–and probably at some point will.

But there is another category of making things easy that can be addressed as well.

Again, Don’t make it overly complicated and don’t get in your own way.

Pick your partner well then pay attention to how it is going.  No amount of complicated technique will help a horse shine who is simply plain. The best thing you can do is honest, correct work.  If it is a boiled egg then it is a boiled egg.  More on that below.

On my ignorant defense of all the horribly ill-suited horses I attempted to bring along, Rudolf gave me another sage piece of advice which I try to remember–while also remembering the scope of my budget and current goals.

“Good horses make good riders.”

The best rider in the world will not succeed on a horse that is lame, over worked, under worked, malnourished or not capable of doing the job.  Some horses are not meant to be dressage horse.

I’m not disputing that the principles of dressage training, rather like Natural Horsemanship, can help most (if not all) horses and their riders.  It’s just that the athleticism, and (of late) the movement preferred, for a horse to really be competitive does not exist in all horses.

It  is very much easier for a horse mentally and physically suited to the sport to enjoy doing it than it is a horse who has impairments.  Never mind that it is much easier to make it look easy when it actually is fairly easy for the horse.  A good horse has good natural balance and rhythm. (Note I did NOT say extravagant movement–though that is nice if you can both afford it and ride it.)

Still, we see many examples of lovely horses whose riders are not yet familiar enough with the balance required for the movements to assist the horse in getting ready.  And no one likes being asked to do something and then being prevented or hindered from doing it.  Or being asked to do something that is impossible from the point of departure.

Imagine tight rope walking in snow shoes.


Side note: (Following this postulate I went on a diligent search for a picture of someone actually walking a tightrope in snow shoes–which I now believe is the one thing that does not exist in the World Wide Web.

Instead I found this, too good to skip, “Reading comprehension” quiz:

Name: _________________________
Date: _________________________

Tightrope Walking

Read the story and answer the questions to test your comprehension.

Tightrope walkers balance by putting one foot in front of the other. They wear special leather-sole shoes so that the wire will dig into their foot, giving them some ground to stand on. There are five different styles of tightrope walking. The pole the performer carries helps his or her balance on the rope.

  1. 1. Where do tightrope walkers place their feet?
    1. a. Shoulder-width apart
    2. b. Hip-width apart
    3. c. One after the other
  2. 2. What kind of soles do tightrope walkers wear?
    1. a. Leather
    2. b. Rubber
    3. c. Steel
  3. 3. What does the pole a performer carries do?
    1. a. Helps movement
    2. b. Helps agility
    3. c. Helps balance

I particularly enjoy the idea of walking the rope with feet “Shoulder-width apart”  though of course it is technically possible.


So, back to good advice,

“It Depends” and

“Help your (horse or XYZ) by making sure the darned thing is in a place to do what you want.”

Hopelessly vague!  What do you expect me to DO??

In the age of the “Internet Expert” we are all too frequently faced with mounds of information on almost anything.

And with the seemingly sole exception of getting photos of tightrope walkers in impossible footwear, we can prove anything we want.


This is as true for horses as anything else.

I give you, for example, the raging debate about how best to poach an egg.  (Search it!)

Or, is Sous-vide the absolutely correct method to boil an egg?

Our Friends at WikipediA (who are currently looking for donations if you feel like it) tell us:

“Sous-vide (/sˈvd/; French for “under vacuum”)[1] is a method of cooking food sealed in airtight plastic bags in a water bath or in a temperature-controlled steam environment for longer than normal cooking times—96 hours or more, in some cases—at an accurately regulated temperature much lower than normally used for cooking, typically around 55 °C (131 °F) to 60 °C (140 °F) for meats and higher for vegetables. The intention is to cook the item evenly, ensuring that the inside is properly cooked without overcooking the outside, and retain moisture.”

(I’m going to answer this question for you right here: it depends.)

Suction pack one egg to cook in a water bath?


But, get a little greedy, in a hurry?  Totally different outcome.

Now you CAN cook the eggs below, and any “expert” will tell you that indeed Sous-vide does mean vacuum packed.  But, there is absolutely no need to go to the risk and trouble of doing it because eggs themselves come vacuum packed and you can lower them into your water bath as is with no difficulty whatsoever.



So the argument and advice gets only down to semantics.  People have been doing it for centuries and I do not think yet we have established how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

There is no definitive, and more importantly, who cares?

Anyway, with cooking, as with horses, the best answer is often “It depends”.

Rider criticism?  It depends.

Is he or she leaning back too far? Maybe.

Do the hands move too much? Maybe.

Is the bit wrong or cruel? Maybe–or maybe not in all cases.

It depends–if (whatever) is helping the horse to understand or to physically accomplish the job, then it is not wrong.  Period, end of story.

Let’s not all die in beauty while we are waiting for something to happen.
You CAN take 96 hours to cook a roast, will it be 96 hours better?

And we can argue about how to best poach the egg all day.


One poached egg over 1/2 avocado, slightly smushed, and salt/pepper to taste.

No Hollandaise required.

You do have to know how to do it (not hard) and you have to think of doing it.  As well as give up on the complicated things that actually do not work very well and are a lot of extra trouble, but you can read about all day long on-line.

If you do not take the time to develop you balance, you will not ride well.  Think of our brave tightrope walker.  Suitable shoes can help–but practice and adequate shoes will do at the start.

A certain level of mastery may overcome less than perfect equipment, and this is an important point.

Given a new saddle or $3500 worth of training, which will you choose?  If your saddle REALLY does not fit, then probably the new saddle is a good idea.  If the trouble is above the saddle (You) or below (Your fittings) the new saddle not such a hot plan.  As I say in another post, do the easy things first and do not make it overly complicated.

End of advice.  Go ride your horse.


End note–and I think fairly to all posts

Because the Dressage Snob blog is popular, attempts to monetize it are rife.  In fact, I just paid Word Press a sizable amount of cash NOT to bug you with ads so you can enjoy Dressage Snob without the latest thing you looked at on line popping up to tempt you.

(I really object to this “cookies” marketing technique.  If you wanted to shop you’d be shopping!)

So forgive me the small plug on this really very useful invention, and if you have thought my advice was sound on other things, then you might consider giving this a try.  Your horse will be happier.  Mine are, and now quite a few other people.  You can read what they say below.

Selfishly I do not have them in the local tack shop.  I thought about it, and I’m feeling generous about sharing, but truthfully a little conflicted.


Miss Mariah. 14.1 (in front) out-scored a fair troop of expensive warmbloods at Prix St George last year.  (It was not easy.  Don’t do it. Sorry Rudolf)

So, all of you in some other competition zone, please feel free to get one. 

The Girth Shield

For something that does work, and will cost roughly three riding lessons, not three months of training, improve your girthing strategy.

Best wishes,



How to be a better trainer. Do the easy stuff first.

Rudolf said to me once, with some disgust, “What is all this talk about teachers?  It is the student that makes the difference!”

Well, yes.  But there are some notable teachers, himself included, who have changed the course of many riders.  And historically riding teachers have been more or less directive.  Recall this sport started with the cavalry?

The cruel trick now is most enthusiasts are adult and professional women.  People not exactly accustomed a sound butt-kicking on a daily basis–as might have been a more common teaching strategy in the old days.

The pendulum swings. But here is something for any stalled students who wonder sometimes plaintively, where to go next:  you may have the best horse in your area, more money than most, time enough to ride, a facility lots of riders dream about.  But, if you cannot or will not take instruction, if in your heart you want praise for what you are doing more than you want to improve what you are doing, then you will someday come across someone who has all those same things–a horse, money, time–and perseverance.  Someone who knows how to be trained.  And that person, the one who knows how to be trained, will quietly leave you in the dust.  Think about it.

From what I can see currently there is a big love-in happening in the dressage community between the students (the ones with the check book that are actually in charge) and the teacher who assumes a role of being in charge for a short period.  People are so nice now!  What happened?  And are riders doing better for it?

I’ve been at this a long time.  I was a girl in the hunter circuit on the East Coast in the seventies when George Morris sent everyone on a crash diet.  Mr. Morris was (and is) one of the most revered and feared jumper coaches of our time.
Distance-George-Morris(Thank you Amy.)

This is very good advice, by the way.  Dressage riders, take it to heart on any line of changes that you engage in.

So this little ditty has some references to George and is largely about how to be a better (and possibly hated) trainer by actually making a difference in your riders.  Its also about how to determine the correct moment to duck and run if that is what is indicated.  And it has a pointer at the end to something that actually makes life easier for your horses–and thereby you. I’m going to say this several times.  In almost all cases the best teaching plan is to do the easy and obvious things first.  Horse limping?  Check his feet before you buy a new saddle.  Do the obvious–because 9/10 that is what the problem is.  Horse bites at you when girthed?


It means it hurts.  Do something.

More on this seemingly-obvious, but never-addressed issue at the base of the post.  Making your horse more comfortable is a great example of picking the low hanging fruit.  Do first the easy (and inexpensive) things that make the biggest difference. Bit trouble?  Maybe. Get his teeth looked at before you splurge on a new bit. Avoid trends.  They are expensive, designed to get you to focus on equipment rather than riding.

Anyway, in our social media-enabled age of instant perfection, coaching is getting to be a complicated subject, largely because actually being a better trainer is likely to get you fired.

Though changing old behavior into new is the reason riders presumably hire coaches, people tend to get mad when you actually ask them to change.

(Oh dear.)

First off, and question of note: why would you WANT to be a trainer in this country?  Never mind a better one?

Point one, there is a lot of free competition: a seemingly endless supply of U-tube and Facebook experts willing to give an opinion, watch a thirty second clip and make a judgement.

Point two, the liability aspect of the game in the USA is enough to send all but the impoverished (or extremely well-insured) running.

And then there is the,  point three, “meanie” quotient.

images-2George Morris fairly terrorized a generation of young riders–myself among them.  Many of which amounted to something.  There is nothing that says you have to be a tyrant to train aspiring riders.  You do not have to insult them or send them on crash diets, or be unsympathetic to their individual needs and learning styles.

But it helps.

Some advice from George:


Look at how relaxed and at peace that horse looks.  I guarantee you, the rider at the other end of that gaze did not.





Well, trainers, maybe you do need to ignore “their learning style.”

(George once famously accused a rider in a clinic of appearing like a wart on a horse.  Ouch.)

Trainers DO need to ask (and sometimes demand) their students  to change.  And as I have begun advising in clinics of late: “This part of what I’m about to tell you (over and over) is probably going to make you angry.  You are going to hate me.  That’s okay.” 

(That’s also why I have a hotel room on a clinic and probably don’t want to go out to dinner with the larger group.)

Hands up who has been mad at their teacher !!!!!!!!!!!!!!    0

(There is at least one liar in every group.)

Teachers can (should) be demanding.


(Trust me I’ve been there.)

Change is the process of letting go of what you thought you knew or understood.  Change (learning) often evokes grief, rage, disappointment, and even momentary despair. Change is about doing something different.

That’s all part of learning something that in the end may be deeply satisfying, but the road towards it is a real PITA.

So, as a teacher, if you are basically there to cheer on your students, they may feel great–but will not change/improve.  Good side of this “cheer on” plan, short term, is they won’t ever be really mad at you either, so you can probably get on for a while, and everything will be okay.  Until they decide to go to a horse show and encounter a thing called, a score.

More on simple changes that make a big difference below, but here is my advice on training, some of it gleaned from some good sources.

Check the tack. Make sure the most simple details are attended to before you ever start.  Make sure the tack fits, the equipment is in good order and comfortable for the horse.  (Unites States Pony Club.  Remember, I am a graduate A . . . we never start a lesson without checking the tack.)

Have a plan and sit outside the arena. (Anders Lindgren, Rocky Mountain Instructor’s Series.)

Make sure it is the student who is putting in the majority of the effort. (Rudolf Zeilinger, my hero and a master of inspiring his students, both equine and human.)

Be very demanding, but when they are really working make them more at ease by forgiving small mistakes–which inevitably happen. (Meg Plumb, who coined the phrase I often use, “not to worry!”  Rudolf Zeilinger’s equally profound version is: “Es macht nicht” or “it does not matter.”)

Knowing when something does not matter is critically important.

Only care deeply when change is possible. (I’m not going to attribute this to anyone, but there is no point in knocking yourself (and the student) out when change is not really wanted or it is just too hard. If the horse is old or lame, or the client is frightened, making excuses, or rides only twice a month, let it go.  They have given you a message: you have been assigned educational hospice care, not intervention.  You might choose not to teach them if it annoys you.  But let them down easily. There is no shame in that.  They are in charge of how much effort they put in).

I’m going to repeat this: The student is in charge of how much effort they put in.  Time, money, commitment, goals.  They belong to the student.  And if the student does not organize these to a level that may make a difference, there is nothing you can do as a trainer but collect a (small) check and go home.

People used to (annoyingly) say to me, You’re so lucky that you “get” to go to Germany and train! 

Luck had nothing to do with it. And my raised eyebrows at the comment had to do with the grief, rage, disappointment and despair that were often my companions on the journey.  It was not fun.  Gratifying, but not fun.  And truth was, I made it happen by giving up many things the people claiming I was “lucky” possessed.  They could have done it too.  I did it because I wanted the training very, very badly–I was tired of the grind of “almost” knowing.  But many parts of that journey were humiliating, confusing, expensive and painful.

So I am amused when my casual students seem to expect that lessons are in some way entertainment.  Sure, you can use humor to keep the mood light, but that’s not the goal.  Nor is marketing.

Which leads us to client choice.

As a trainer do not work with horses or riders whose talent, temperament, or level of training are outside your training skills and goals.  That means both horses too green and horses too experienced.

There are probably other people better suited to these jobs, and it is silly to think you are an expert in every one of the various fields.    No one is.   If you are a Grand Prix rider with good cred and no experience with young horses, then teach the upper level.  If you know about bringing a young warmblood along the levels, do that.  If you know how to break a horse and gentle them in, do that. Some people have two out of three of theses skills.  Almost no one is an expert in all three.  Live with it.


I have never done polo or tent pegging, but I have watched both with enthusiasm.

I have experience in breaking and training young horses.  I don’t do it because I don’t find it very interesting–and you need really specific facilities, help, and other very broke horses.

I have experience in jumping, eventing, trail riding.  I don’t do those much because I already have. (Well, sometimes I still jump, and sometimes I take the horses out.  But I don’t get paid for it.)

I have  experience  in upper level dressage, a background in science, a degree in English, Brown belt in Aikido, and know something about biomechanics, carriage and suspension.  I teach because I enjoy making it easier for people to understand (and feel) how they are going to get where they are going–if indeed they want to go.  If they do not want to do it my way, it is usually not a good fit.

So my training group is really limited.

That’s fine!  I don’t have all that much time.

Another great piece of advice from Rudolf?  “Get done with your riding day and go do something else.”

Sometimes productive things happen when you step back and think.






Plan B–training your young horse never to find it.

I think I’ve written about this before, because it comes to mind every spring. The snow clears, shedding starts and we see eager young equine athletes emerge from the fields, in search of a higher education.

Or rather, their terrified owners hope they can manage to transport their suddenly huge monsters to the trainer of choice without getting killed.

The trainer of choice, not wanting to get killed themselves, responds in several ways depending on their experience and ethics.

The only response that makes any sense at all–unless the trainer is truly an expert in the business of breaking horses, and being hired for that job–is to ask that the rider/owner mount the horse and show it in all three paces.

Wili Schultheis taught me this, slyly reporting, “It is the only safe way–the owners, they will put you on anything. . . ”

And that is sadly true.

If the owner has taught the horse that “plan B” exists, and cannot in a strange, but safe, environment show the horse in all gaits, then it should go to a specialist in horse breaking until it can politely stand for mounting, walk off nicely, steer with reliability and go forward in any circumstance.  We are not talking dressage–just manners.

Plan A: Junior doesn’t have to have a frame, he does have to go forward on command: “Yes ma’m!”

With “blank check” forward there is something to work with.

The problem with most riders, who may not have not ridden many young horses, is that they put too much in front of the horse (hand and frame) before the horse is really in front of them.  What does “in front of them” mean to a young warmblood?  Some breeds tend to rush, and though you do get that issue with wambloods, to a letter they all at least once will try to slide out behind you.  Plan B.

To the rider, the start of Plan B feels like the front of the saddle drops and a large and ominous hesitation occurs.  Most riders have felt that sensation with a horse approaching water for the first time, or a jump that looks scarey.  A warmblood may trot out that behavior for the first time when they have to change their breathing strategy–a bit tired–or when they see something they are frightened of.  And if in that moment the rider does not change direction and hurry them on with the great diligence, the seed of a nasty little habit has been sown.  For once the horse figures out that sucking back frightens the rider and leverage is to be had, a very serious mistake has been made.  And of course the hesitation is not the problem, it is what happens right after the hesitation that will get your attention in a way you won’t easily forget.  And if they get the habit, you’ll never again want to ride a young horse who thinks it’s okay.

(Experience is another word for knowing when to be frightened–and take seriously small moments that will likely lead to ugly things.  Corrected strongly the very first time presented, the small thing will go away.  But I don’t want to be the one up on the horse that has figured out plan B works and will have a tantrum when the rider is not as impressed as they had come to feel normal. Upping the ante is also a warmblood trait.)

So the experience of having to go forward on command, even if it is new or strange like a stream (or the horse would simply prefer not to) is of essence.  And of course that means hundreds of firm “go now” commands in non threatening situations so the horse becomes accustomed to that behavior and responds both obediently and without much thought.  This is the golden rule of young horses.  They must be in front of you.

But, young horses can be scarey at first.  Most dressage riders pull back too much anyway, are a bit afraid to go forward.  And I hear of late that reliable horse breakers are hard to find.

I hear things like, “They might hurt him, or press him too hard.” 

Then I think to myself, “Perfect. Better they frighten that young thug, before the horse comes to frighten me.”

The problem of course is not with pressing too hard–it is with knowing when to stop with “Yes.”  firmly in the horse’s brain.  And some folks do not realize what they are getting into with a young warmblood.


Most folks in fact.

These folks probably did.  Remember cannons and war horses and such?


Mind you, I don’t have any trouble with trusting the people I have start my horses.  I’ve used the same team for many years now.  The program is the beast is kept with them out at pasture for at least two years, sometimes three. And worked with in planned sequences.

Babies go to “the ranch” after being basically halter broken and weaned–something I like to do in two adjacent stalls with a peep hole between them.  Put mother and baby next to each other, but separate. This is something most of the babies know about already as the mothers are almost always riding horses who when the foal is several months old have had brief periods away to start work again–the kid in a safe stall.  Provide feed and water and ignore the inevitable fuss.  Mom will like it if you let the foal nurse once or twice.  This helps her dry up without so much discomfort.

Why not just throw the foal in a stall alone?

Alone in an isolated stall foals often get depressed or panicky.  Next to their mother they get angry and frustrated–and learn how to deal with it.  Much like a 12 week puppy had learned something from its mother saying “No more nursing!”

Isn’t it nicer to give it another friend to keep company with?

Another foal at weaning takes away a valuable training experience–surviving alone but with company near.  This might not be natural to horse in the wild, but it is necessary for horses who must be stabled during periods of their lives.

A week in a stall alone but with company next door coming and going, teaches the baby that this will happen during their lives.  They do not like it, but eventually they learn to cope.  Any interaction with humans should be matter of fact and to the point.  Put on your halter. Pick up your feet. Thanks very much, goodby.

Then, of course turnout and life with another weanling or two.  A horse the same size and age,  and then “off to the ranch,” where occasional well-timed lessons will be taught by humans, aided by other horses.

All transactions have a point. Put on your halter, face me nicely for this, please, here’s how to be ponied, yes, the blacksmith exists–and is bigger than you. Sometimes you’ll be in a paddock with bigger horses.  They are nice–just don’t test them.  Do run like crazy if one lays its ears back.  Here is a blanket.  Here is a tarp. Here is a trailer. Here is a stream. 

These are all training opportunities.  They take two people, and a horse or two of seasoned nature.

But, you the owner might say, I paid a lot of money for that stud fee, and sometimes out in the open horses get hurt!

(Reventon Oldenburg. Corina X Regazonni) disciplining Wilson, Azteca. from Andelusian Romancero De Evelon)

body-vgood-sm undersaddle4-sm

I am not such a snob as to think a warmblood is the only horse that exists, but look again at the tape of the size difference and mass of these two horses.  One might not always WANT a warmblood.  You can see the attraction of both. And look at that neat roll back Wilson did to avoid the larger horse?

So, yes.  The youngsters do get chased.  If they don’t run they get bitten or kicked.  Sometimes they tangle themselves in fences and gates.  Parasites exist–even with a good program.  But guess what? Horses have been living with horses for eons.  Fences are a new project, but trees and logs are not.

We harm our ultimate training strategy by not allowing horses to teach horses valuable lessons in social conduct.  And we need skilled people to teach horses that the respect and attention they give the lead (and mean) mare is the minimum due to every human that crosses their path.  And contact with clueless humans who think youngsters are cute and adorable and suitable to be played with are forbidden.  Sure in periods young horses ARE cute.  Don’t stand so close to the fence please, it teaches them to nip.

(By the way, I’m picky about how you play with my dogs too.)


If you insist on leaping around like a baboon trying to excite them, I will ask them to go stay on their mats until you get bored and leave.   Dogs are very much more easily influenced to good behavior than strange humans.)


Back to horses–one of the cute baby phases:

IMG_9439 IMG_9511

Ripple (Kumitage) is indeed adorable (now a four year old and equally so) but at six months she went to the ranch and has lived out. She crosses water, climbs hills, stands tied, leads well.  Has she been kicked–you bet.  Do you think this is a breeding I am not excited about? Ripple from Ricarda, (Regazonni) by Cord (Peron). How many Peron son stallions were there?  And her sire is sadly deceased as well.  But I’d rather have her injured than with the idea she can rule the world, because with that she is useless to me.  I don’t want a princess.  I want a respectful and willing partner.


Marley the Klein Poodle on a down stay–at six months.  She will wait an hour parked on a mat in the shade while I ride.  Good breeding.  Some basic training.  Makes life more fun.

Anyway, I have a dog trainer.  I also have a horse trainer.  And I talk with both regularly about ideas and strategies for the young horses.  Melynnda and I work together almost every day if we have the young horses in training–which only happens at certain times of year.

Why all the folk?  Because you cannot do a good job on a young horse alone–nor will you do a good job on your dog in isolation from feedback.  Without support everyone makes compromises.  Without other ideas our training gets stale.

So, back to the barn in spring, with the youngster arriving that has now grown to proportions rivaling an economy car, and whose protective, thrifty or inexperienced owner has failed to give it the basic lessons:

You will never jump on me.

You will never bite me.

You will never lay your ears back at me.

When I tell you to go you will do so in a hurry.

Before we do ANY dressage, the young horse must know this for sure: you will do things you are unsure of (or might prefer not to do) and the outcome will be safe for everybody.  There is a question and it has an answer.

If your horse knows this they are easy to ride and handle:  A question has been asked, here is the answer.  Good, let’s go on.

But, the inexperienced owner, not trusting that the too-precious horse will survive the growing up process at “the ranch,” perhaps attempts this young horse project on their own–often with the disastrous goal of “being friends” with their young horse.  Or, with good intentions and some experience, they take on the project, but lack of necessary backup and help.  Dealing with an ignorant hulk of a teenage horse is completely different from dealing with a mature working animal.  (With these you CAN be friends–as long as boundaries are set.)  Dealing with young horses takes a team.

Sure, any good rider can probably ride a young horse–for a time, until it occurs to the beast to say “Not my job.”

Knowing the danger points and reacting promptly is another matter from just riding.  Thinking because you can ride, and do sometimes, that you can break a horse properly by yourself is about like learning this:


And expecting to best this:



I can do a forward roll.


I don’t take my Aikido to the worst bar in town and think I’ll just give it a try.

That’s why, at 55 years, having stood three breeding stallions, raised close to fifty foals, background eventing, packing, Grand Prix dressage, I insist on help that far less experienced people would shy away from.  I don’t need my young horse team to know every detail that I know.  They have their own skills, which I value highly.

So, you all know how I love words, and here is ours for today:



excessive pride or self-confidence.
And scenes like this are what comes of very large and powerful youngsters not knowing the basics.
And so what arrives in the spring is 1400 lbs of beautifully-bred, but also recalcitrant and lonely four and five year old.
  (They come in lots of colors, and for amateurs we hope only two genders–gelding and mare.)
If you have taught the beast Plan B by not following Plan A with diligence, I  guarantee you that no matter how long it took you to load the beast, I can get it back on that trailer in less than two minutes.

Just like I don’t expect to go to the bar and pick fights (that would be stupid)  if your horse has learned to threaten the rider, rear, buck or suck back, if it does not know how to stand in a stall or on the cross ties, if it bites, lays its ears back, shoves or attempts to kick at us, we will probably decline to get on it.

Melynnda and I have plenty of very nice horses to ride.

And why do you think Wili Schultheis insisted that the owner ride first?
Old horse trainers may have learned something. . . .



Scandal Andreas Helgstrand under fire after public training photos.

Hmmmm. . .



I’d question the Boucher bit used as a snaffle, because that looks rather like a 2X curb in action rather than one of both.

The action of the snaffle is rather nice.

Why get rid of it?

Don’t know, but I am sure they had their reasons–or that is what they had in the tack chest.  Its not a sin to try to problem-solve training by trying different equipment–and sometimes it is unusual. ( Talk with the western crowd in our area about this.)

Here’s the fluff.

Okay, its an ugly photo.  But that’s it, without further evidence, an ugly shot.

And I’m out of the loop, so take it for what it is worth–almost nothing–but I had a horse once that with the thinnest bits you could imagine whose tongue would turn blue the moment one was put in his mouth.  He had a fat tongue.  We tried and tried to get bits that would not do this.  Get a horse that pulls even a little with a tongue like that and well, you get a blue tongue.

Dressage rules state that you cannot ride in a bosal.


Bits do happen.

Animal cruelty also happens.

Lets get it in perspective:

Look for a photo of the companion animal meat trade in China.

(Actually, don’t do this, it will make you cry.)

Google dog fighting.

(Don’t do this either.)

Look at the life of the average turkey.

Most upper level horse love their work and have superb riders.

Not all.

Having a good rider is key to being happy.

If a horse is not happy to some basic and real level they will not work for you. Dressage riders know that–and good ones are in the business of making their horses both happy and working.

Idling is not happy.

The horses to worry about are generally with people who know nothing and think they do:

Example: This is Wilson, my most recent purchase:

IMG_0306 IMG_0306

I went to look at him because he had interesting breeding and was advertized at 16 hands–a nice size for a young dressage horse.

In the end I had to send a student to buy him because the obese and frightened teenagers showing him resented my adjustment of his halter and pointing out his real size.

(It was not my most tactful moment, but reality is reality.  Get a tape measure, remember a hand is four inches and the measurement is done at the withers, not the poll.  And loosen the darned halter or take it off because it should not grow into his face.)

They told my student who rescued him–and is a perfect whiz at loading a horse–“I’m so glad you got him, we had a really stupid woman out here last week.”


(I notice this every day and was grateful that the teenagers were so adept.)

(One inevitably makes mistakes when training a horse.  Humility is a good thing.)

By the way, Wilson is safe now–got on a worming program, can be caught at will, no tight halter and now has a chance to make something of himself.

We’ll keep you updated.

Lots of things can look bad with enough spin.

Keeping the girls in line

You knew I was going to get around to it.

Talking about something essential to most women riders.

58  AMAZONE  16X12





No, not dogs really, just bras.

Unlike Pug bunny ears, bras are an essential piece of equipment for a lady rider.

(Similarly ignored but essential is this.)



(See post from the winter: )

Anyway, never mind the cute pictures above–though entertaining–I lead you again to some relevant science and the New York Times today:

Apparently the runners are ahead of us yet again in getting down to what’s really happening when you take unsupported chest appendages and bounce them around over many miles. (They used cameras and treadmills.)

(FYI. Did you know the first sports bra, made mid-seventies was actually not called the Jogbra, but the Jockbra?  It was created with the idea of two jock straps knitted together to create, well something. . . we hope it was helpful.)

Things have improved somewhat over the years, and now we at least have brightly colored instruments of torture to strap on–and models to look pleased about the whole thing:


(This is actually supposed to be a pretty good item–though I have not tried one.  You can get it from

Anyway, there are two popular methods of securing the ladies.




Encapsulation is making some version of little coffins for the breasts and adhering those to the chest.

Compression, as we all know, is smashing two breast flat, into the uniboob position.

A mamogram in the other direction if you will.

These two methods, by themselves, are helpful for yoga classes and can be thought of as the low security wing of the women’s penitentiary.

But even the runners will admit that riding–particularly the sitting trot–is a high impact activity.   Just wishing for stability does not make it happen.  All methods available should be used.

Here is how to do it, without making yourself so miserable in the tack up and barn work that you are going to wish never to ride again.

Please note: In all that I say below the items in your kit should fit very well.  They should be tolerable in the dressing room, if not super-comfortable. It does not matter what they look like.  They have to feel okay.  Don’t be shy about letting the fitting people give advice about the best “one of type” for you.


1. Start with an under layer:


In this case the model is showing you two of them, which you can do, they are cheap.  Several companies make them.  This one is the Rhonda Shear Ahh Bra and can be gotten from  a place called Her Room.

(The Walcoal  version is better, but a lot more expensive)

In this bra you could possibly walk quietly to the grocery store without embarrassment.  It offers no support, neither compression nor encapsulation.

It is a layer.

As noted, this first layer is useless for riding–but it will stop your other outer and more functional bras from driving you crazy.

Never mind wearing these will give you something still on–when in the car on the way home you strip off those high impact outer bras that I am going tell you about.

Also good if you are arrested–which you will be if you try to take off the one below while driving.  Don’t do it.



So, anyway you have not done anything foolish, you are going to ride and you have the under layer on.  The girls are not yet in the penitentiary, but you would like them to be.

2. You strap a nice hook style encapsulation bra on top of the first layer.


A layering of course that the bra companies will not show you, the myth being that these more robust items are comfortable next to your skin while sweating.  (They are not.)

Encapsulation achieved.

Then, depending on how you are built, you grab a third item,

3. A compression style bra–hopefully with a front closure.  (Thinking about the future is something you should do.)


Strap that outer layer on.

This one is called Under Armor, but there are many styles.

Anyway, there you go.  Protection, encapsulation and compression–all at once.  Never mind the end result is some degree of modesty, comfort, and really pretty good stability.  All in a process easily reversed so you can go about your day after riding  without hiding in a rest room and wrestling off sweaty entrapments.

Never, ever, buy one of those super-tight sports bras that you can only get on by squeezing it over your head like a sausage casing.  There will be a day, dressing in a hurry right after a shower, when you will 100% regret it.

Highly specific behaviors you do over and over.

This from the New York Times this morning, an article oddly enough from the business section:  Tony Schwartz

He’s talking about the practice of doing short, intense, focused workouts, as it relates to employment.  (How to not  check in on Facebook every ten minutes but really focus for a period–and then really take a break.)

Mr. Schwartz writes:

“So what’s the trick to overcoming our resistance to pushing ourselves really hard, even for short periods?”

“The answer is fierce prioritization in the form of rituals. Set up highly specific behaviors you do over and over at precise times so they become automatic as quickly as possible and no longer require conscious intention. As the authors Roy Baumeister, Charles Duhigg and others have written, the more we have to think consciously about doing something, the more rapidly we deplete our severely limited reservoir of will and discipline.”

Hmmm. . . . “highly specific behaviors you do over and over at precise times so they become automatic as quickly as possible. . . .” 

“fierce prioritization in the form of rituals.”

That would be just like training dressage. . .

Walk on long reins

Warm up trot

Shoulder in left and right

Freshen the trot

Half pass left and right


Counter canter

Half pass in canter

Flying changes left and right



Medium canter

Extended trot

Back to the barn.

(Every single day at the same time.)

“the more we have to think consciously about doing something, the more rapidly we deplete our severely limited reservoir of will and discipline.”

It really does help to do the same thing every day, and if possible at the same time.  If your horse is not ready for the advanced movements in their slots, do things that will eventually prepare them for those movements.

Might be as simple as collect the gait and then send them forward without abandoning the frame. 

Wait a moment, every one of those movements above is just that!

Hmmm. . . . “highly specific behaviors you do over and over at precise times so they become automatic as quickly as possible. . . .” 

Practice, practice, practice!

Shoulder Forward and medium canter

Bringing the horse’s shoulder a bit to the inside in canter is called shoulder fore.  It is a schooling movement that (to my knowledge) is not asked for in any test, yet is incredibly useful.

Why should this boring (until you try to do it correctly!) and little-used movement be so important?

1. If showing is you goal and you have ever got a comment about your medium canter down the long side “Haunches in,” or haunches drifting,” this movement is your friend.

2. If your horse understands shoulder fore in canter he or she also understands that you may use your inside leg to activate the inner hind in canter–without the horse offering a change of lead unasked–and that you may freely straighten the horse on your outer rein–also without them offering to change the lead unasked.  These are two absolutely essential things to be able to do at will.

Note:  In flying changes sometimes it can happen in the course of the work that the horse blackmails the rider into taking away necessary positioning influences: “If you use your leg or hand to straighten me I’ll get behind you and switch my lead!”  “I will, I really will!”

Shoulder fore is a way to make this concept clear to the horse:  “I am on the right lead canter, and the rider can actively use the right leg and left hand to influence my angle. They can also send me forward on the angle and bring me back onto my neatly positioned inside hind leg.”

What it looks like: it looks like a shoulder in with almost no bend, done in canter, typically down the long side.

The typical problem riders have with this movement is they approach it by attempting to use a lot of inner leg, seat and hand.  Effectively driving the shoulders of the horse to the outside and the haunches in–the opposite effect to the desired one!

The easier way to approach it is to first teach the horse to counter flex just a bit in the corners so they are familiar with the influence of the outside rein.  Then use the outer rein to line up the outer shoulder–an absolutely straight horse, directly in front of the rider’s pelvis and directly behind the rider’s pelvis.  Even on both sides.  (The angle is initiated with a slight, correct, angle of the rider’s body, weight centered.)

We are not approaching this like pushing the broken egg back into the shell!  It should feel like lifting the horse forward into the movement. The better the rider is and securing their own core the easier the horse will be able to understand what is expected.

And in schooling, take it easy at first if the horse has difficulty.  Just do a few steps and go on down the line again.  Once they understand to keep this angle until straightened on the line, you can send them forward to a nice medium canter and bring them back with no trouble.  It’s pretty easy, but the horse has to be straight or it will not work.  No bend, just positioning of the shoulders to the interior side.