Once in a while life gives you treats, special opportunities that take you to new heights. One such opportunity came this spring when my pal Tracy asked if I would like to take a lesson with Jennifer Roth in June. The answer was a resounding “YES!!!” After seeing some pics of myself riding in April (lots of love in those handles), I set some fitness goals and started working towards both Pippi and I being physically ready for the lesson. I started working out, and increased ride times and work for Pippi.

A little about Jennifer: she is based near Columbus, Ohio and specializes in dressage training for both horse and rider. She is a USDF Bronze, Silver and Gold Medalist and is a USDF “L” Graduate with Distinction who has recently been accepted into the USEF “r” program. She spent time training in Germany in 2006 as PSI/Hof Kasselman as a working student and has trained with top notch international trainers. With a resume like that I sure didn’t want to take many breaks during my precious ride time with her due to lack of stamina. I had watched Jen give a lesson once, and watched video of a previous lesson Tracy had with her, and I knew that we would get alone great because Jen is a positive and fun trainer. Jen uses humor in her lessons, and her quick fire wit makes her extensive knowledge that much more accessible.

I was nervous before the lesson, and warmed up trying to ride my very best. That meant paying attention to all the things I had decided was important like keeping my legs still and quiet.  Little did I know that I was about to be given the key to the vault. After my warm up Jen asked me some questions and then we started riding. This is where the video picks up.

As you see me starting out, my legs were stiff and immobile. I would even use the word “Awkward!” (I have been riding since January 2013, trying to take this Hunter Jumper horse into Dressage. Pippi is a 9yo APHA mare, and the best horse in the world, but I am sure you noticed that right off.) I have been obsessed with quiet legs, and trying hard to make my long legs work with Pippi’s short barrel. I see comments all the time online about how to steady the legs, comments to ride with no stirrups etc, and I have been a huge devotee of the “steady leg mantra.” It was not working. Don’t believe me? Watch video again. I am willingly outing myself as a former “stiff leg bad rider”, in order to share what I have learned.

We went from fighting to keep the canter for a circle to cantering our soft sphincters off. (If you didn’t get that joke, you didn’t watch the video did you?) It is like Jen says in the video “all about exuding confidence and softness,” Gripping with your legs pushes you up and out of the saddle, and pitches you forward out of the optimal Dressage seat. And it makes Pippi take short and choppy steps, and run off during canter. Jen actually told me to “be a little lazier” in my riding, it’s about “controlled relaxation.”  I was astounded to hear “we don’t shove our heels down in Dressage.” All this time I have been trying so hard, doing the wrong thing, but now I could quit. No gripping with thighs, no gripping with knees, no heels down. This is FABULOUS! I felt that I was finally given the formula for easy bake dressage, and let me tell ya, life is easier for both Pippi and I. We are making strides, and even considering a trip into a show arena. Schooling show of course, let’s not go crazy (just yet.)

Malin