It’s not perfect, but it’s progress

I don’t post a whole lot about dressage on here. Sometimes I’ll write a little bit about our lessons, and I do quick-and-dirty recaps of our dressage rides at shows, but there isn’t usually much media. Partly because don’t get a lot of dressage media, especially at lessons. Partly because when I DO get media, all I see is what’s wrong.

When you forget your polos at home and your horse has to wear his jump boots to your dressage lesson

The dressage on Henry has always been a struggle. It took us almost a year to where I could put my leg on him without him exploding, about 2 years before he really even accepted any contact, and almost 3 before he’d quit curling up behind the bit and chomping like crazy as his default. Cantering used to get him so worked up that the rest of our ride was spent on getting him to relax again. He’s a downhill horse who’s default is tense and tight and anticipatory, and it probably always will be. That’s just his nature.

Even though I know how far we’ve actually come, I can’t help but to always see how much farther there is to go. That’s just MY nature. I’m like that about everything when it comes to my riding. So when I look at pictures or video from dressage and my hands have gone rogue, or I’m sitting to the outside, or I’m hunched forward, or I’m not sitting correctly… I just don’t even want to watch it. Will I EVER get my damn hands up and sit properly? Who knows. I’m not very confident in our abilities when it comes to the dressage.


But I think I’m probably doing us both a disservice with that. Newsflash: dressage is hard. It’s especially hard for someone from a h/j background riding a horse that is not naturally well-suited to the sport. This year I have tried to be better about looking for the good just as much as I look for the bad. That’s hard for me, I’m naturally super self-critical, but I think I’ve gotten a little better at seeing the positive.

I finally got some dressage media last night (thanks Diane!) and while I’m not like… overjoyed at what I’m seeing, I don’t totally hate it. Do we need more “jump” in the canter half pass? Yes, always. Do the haunches lead sometimes? Yeah, I’m really good at over-riding the hind. Is the bend always correct? No, sometimes I do too much and sometimes I do too little. Will we ever have a lengthening where the tempo doesn’t get fast? I mean, who knows. Will I ever SIT UP AND PICK UP MY HANDS? Depends on how much duct tape you’ve got.

I could go on. There is a lot of room for improvement.


Henry is light years more rideable though, and I think I’m doing better at at least feeling and trying to correct my mistakes. He’s getting a bit stronger and I’m getting a bit more educated. Of course, every once in a while we’re both still total shit sandwiches, so there’s that.

He cute though. He real cute.

I think it’s time to rip off the bandaid with the dressage media though. Just because I see a lot that needs to be fixed doesn’t mean that I should hate looking at it. This is a journey, after all, and it will never be perfect. I’ve got to focus on the progress we’ve made, not the endless pursuit of perfection. My critical eye needs to legit chill.

So for those who really want to bore themselves to tears, I stuck the clips together into one video. This is mostly for me, though. This is going here and it’s going to live here, and maybe someday I’ll be able to come back to it and feel like we’ve come so far past this point. But for now, I’m going to focus on the fact that THIS is a hell of a lot of progress from where we started, and there are actually some good things happening.

35 thoughts on “It’s not perfect, but it’s progress

  1. It’s tough being your own worst critic, especially because with horses we don’t necessarily make linear progress. I was just talking about this with a barn friend – our goals and what “success” means can change so much over time. It’s great to remember where you started and how much work got you to where you are now!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You guys always look great to me (my bar is low what can I say? :)) I do see the improvement in Henry over the years though. I remember how tense and tight he used to get and while he probably still is, you guys are such a team now he looks wonderful.

    Keep up the good work. I HATE watching videos of myself in fact that has been the hardest thing to post on the blog. UGH opening myself up to that (I am harder on myself than others are I know and that is most people!).

    Glad you got media!! Give Henry a cookie from me!


  3. You should be so proud. Like SO proud. That video shows a smart little horse thinking really hard about how to do what you’re asking. And he is so steady in the bridle, rhythmical and balanced through everything. Ok, sure, he’s not working over is back yet but the overachiever types like him take longer to get that relaxation through their top-line than most…With him, you’re riding his brain, not his back…and the back will come. Stretchy work in small doses when he can handle it, including stretchy canter (his nose doesn’t need to me on the ground, just go until you get that feeling like his is about to buck–that’s his back coming up) will help. But otherwise, you are doing something very right and you just need to keep doing it. Dressage will never ever be perfect…Even the best in the world aren’t perfect at it! That’s the beauty of it but also the madness. Either way, you deserve to take a deep breath and know you’re doing right by your horse with his training here and how you ride him.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. To Henry’s credit, he ALWAYS tries. Usually too hard. LOL. But you have to appreciate the thoroughbred work ethic. Stretchy trot is definitely the thing that really helps bring him back when he gets too stuck or tense. And we finished our lesson yesterday with stretchy trot serpentines!

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  4. You two look so good and a lot of people would love to be where you are. I know I would. It shows your dedication to him and to the sport and you deserve to feel proud. I fully get the self critic thing though.


    1. Yeah, you’re right, and I know that but it’s definitely easy to lose sight of when you’re in the midst of things! Trying to maintain perspective is a challenge.


  5. You are probably going to HATE me for saying this, but it is kind of nice to know that Team Henny struggles at something. Dressage ain’t easy! Nor is it necessarily fun at times (unlike XC for y’all!!!). But WOW!!! I saw some quality movement at times in those clips. And damn, girl, if you did not get a very enthusiastic “VERY GOOD!” from your instructor. Times like that make me beam when I am in the saddle. Embrace that feeling! Thanks for showing us your belly, aka, vulnerable side, and keep up the great work.

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  6. Henry sounds similar to my horse in a lot of ways. She is built downhill, and comes from jumper bloodlines that are definitely not meant for dressage. Her default mode is tense and anxious, and we’ve been working away at the same basics for the past 4 years. We’re slowly improving, sure, but some rides still feel horrible. When I watch videos of myself riding I find that it is all too easy to criticize myself and pick everything apart. It’s hard to realize how far we have come, and how much more improved we are from where we first started. Now, my technique for helping this along is whenever I watch videos of myself, or after a dressage test, I find three things about ourselves that I like and that have improved. After that, I allow myself to look at the areas that still need improvement.
    As you say, dressage is hard. In my mind, as long my horse and I are improving, regardless of whether it is at a snails pace or not, we are successful. As long as we try our best, I’ll be happy.

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  7. I think a lot of us are our own worst critics, and then it’s easy to look at someone else or look at how much you still have to do and think that we’re not good enough. But just as you said – it’s the progress, not the perfection. I personally think you guys look great. Dressage is very hard and I think you guys are getting it just fine 🙂


  8. Hey there, looks really great! I personally only ride dressage, but I’ve been taking a really hard crash course up the levels this year. It’s hard, and you look awesome! One thing that really helped me with my upper body for some reason, is making sure my elbows are physically touching my sides at all times. Again, for some reason, it helps me to sit up, get my shoulders back, and pick my hands up. Hope it helps! Love your blog!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That is definitely a key tip. When I finally figured out to keep my elbows by my sides (they’re close enough that I can feel my hips and torso softly moving through them) all kinds of other good stuff started to happen. We don’t realize how much we throw our otherwise willing horses off balance by letting our elbows fly out wherever they feel like it! A quieter rider definitely makes for a quieter horse!

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  9. When I read your post this morning, I thought about you writing about your mom. If I can be so bold, I think she would be really proud of you and the work that you are doing And the joy you find in every day life, that you share with all of us. It’s all about the journey.


  10. It’s so easy to dwell on what isn’t good enough, but it’s important to also see what’s come so far. And what IS good enough, or better still, is great! I’m a hunter/jumper princess, so I don’t know entirely what to be looking for, but what I see is looking great! Hope you can see it too; it makes the journey a lot less frustrating.


  11. Damn, girl, that’s looking mighty fine. Take a deep breath and look at your really fucking awesome horse, and then give yourself a massive pat on the back for everything that you’ve trained him to do.

    And then go sign yourself up for third level because you’ve got this!


    1. HA, third level, that’s hilarious. I’m just trying to get a not-shit score on a Training level eventing test (for real though, can we put a half pass in there? Or walk-canter? SOMETHING?).


  12. I’m kind of enjoying embracing the “this is where we’re at” and seeing the good with the bad. I dunno, after a lot of practice saying positive things comes more naturally to me now and I feel like I’m a happier rider. Or maybe I’m just an ostrich, burying its head in the sand!


    1. I’m big on being realistic and self-aware but I do think there’s a fine line between that and self-deprecation. A fine line that I have not yet mastered the location of.


  13. May I remind you that you have three trainers who called dibs on Henry??
    I think you should go and read blog posts from when you started out just to have the reminder just how effing far you two have come! I started reading your blog about two years ago (when you first wrote about that horrible Marilyn Little). I read every post on this blog in about 2, 3 weeks and in that fashion I got the “fast forward” of your time together…and maybe that makes it easier to see what you two have already achieved. The confidence, the trust…the fun!
    Serioisly, go back to the start and pick your earliwr dressage-related posts and then go look at your video from today again. Progress, you gots it.


  14. Yeah, I’m also just impressed that you guys do a canter half-pass!!! And, I’m really glad to hear it took years for this and more years for that because it gives me hope for me and my horse!!!!


  15. Ok after reading your description I was NOT expecting to see a video of a balanced, steady, rhythmic Henry. His canter work is particularly lovely and those half passes!


  16. You guys look great! I’m especially jealous of how easy you make the counter-canter look! And how straight your leg yeilds are. I hope to see more dressage videos!


  17. Hey having a canter half-pass at all is well beyond where many riders will ever go with a horse they trained themselves! 🙂 It really does look nice!

    Just an opinion on the video, which was lovely: I think your hands are floating down to where they are because that is where Henry seems to be comfortable, and feels strong and powerful. It’s in line with his build. He’s carrying himself and you very well, and that means a lot of physical development has taken place because that’s not where horses are without the development. I would call him horizontal rather than downhill, just me there. So that’s my very amateur opinion that Henry is giving his opinion, and you listen. Not all bad by any means, just imo. 🙂

    Carry on, Henry and Amanda! 🙂


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