Piaffe Girl

Dressage. Fashionably.


33 Things You May or May Not Want to Know . . .

Liebster Piaffe Girl got nominated twice yesterday for a Liebster Award, which makes me blush, but also means I’ve got to answer some random and not so random questions. Twenty-two of the questions were asked by my nominators, and eleven are random things that readers might like to know about me. Before I continue, many thanks to the wonderful Gallops & Garlands, and A Dressage Story for the nominations! You guys are fantastic.
So here goes . . .

Eleven Random Facts About Me:
1.  I’m green eyed and left handed, both of which are traits limited to about 10% of the population.
2.   I absolutely love Chicken Tikka Masala, Naan, and Mango Lassi. I would be in seventh-heaven if I could find an Indian restaurant in south Florida to rival the ones in Cincinnati and New York.
3. I  make a mean Margarita.
4. I hate bananas and most yellow foods.
5. I once blew a month’s paycheck on wool polo bandages from Hermes, and I’ve never regretted it.
6. I collect vintage cocktail shakers.
7. I still get giddy when I stand at the rail in Wellington and listen to my dressage heroes coach their riders.
8. I cried all the way through War Horse. So sue me… that horse looks JUST like Le Doux!
9. I also cried through the latest Super Bowl / Budweiser commercial.
10.  All of my horses but one have been orphans.
11.  I’ve always wanted to open a travelling tack shop but have been too scared.


Questions from Gallops and Garlands

  1. Describe your first pony: My first pony was a lovely little bay roan with stockings: a Welsh cross named Sock Hop (we called him Rowdy at home). He could do everything (!): drive, all dressage movements through Grand Prix, event, fox hunt, show hunters, and pony jumpers. This little guy was an absolute champ and was never out of the top three in the hunter ring. We took home many a championship together, but he wasn’t a schoolmaster by any means: if I sat incorrectly or loaded his shoulders on landing after a fence, he’d throw me quicker than a flash.
  2. Favourite equestrian magazine? The Chronicle of the Horse
  3. What are the items of tack you use daily? Just basics: Kieffer Esperanza dressage bridle (WB size) with a 5.5” Happy Mouth bit. Dressage saddle (either the Isasbel or the Custom) with a standard, square pad. Polo wraps.
  4. Do you leave your spurs on your boots? Never.
  5. Stretch the legs when girthing up? The Boy is a self-stretcher. He does a huge cat stretch before I saddle up.
  6. Tie or Stock? Stock
  7. What’s your favourite Olympic memory? Gem Twist in the 1988 games with Greg Best up. I loved that horse.
  8. What is your food choice on a horse show morning? Nothing. I absolutely cannot stomach anything at a show or before I ride. I keep it together by constantly drinking Gatorade.
  9. Shavings or straw? Pine shavings
  10. Favourite movement to ride? Canter zig-zag
  11. Best breeches brand? Schumacher

Questions from A Dressage Story

  1. How did you get into horse riding? I can’t really remember! I’ve loved horses for as long as I can remember, and my mother was a hunter rider, so I think she probably gave in to what I imagine was my incessant nagging and set me up in lessons.
  2. What discipline do you ride and why? Dressage. I love the attention to detail, the blending of art and science, and the deep bond I achieve with my horses.
  3. Do you have any equestrian idols (horses or riders)? Absolutely! I love, love, love Uta Graf, and also have a particular weakness for Hans Peter Minderhoud.
  4. What’s so great about horse riding? Just . . . everything.
  5. Describe your ideal horse. I’m lucky in that I actually have my ideal. I prefer a horse that’s a little on the hot side, athletic and quirky, and not too tall. Holsteiners are a plus (no Corde for me, though).
  6. Which discipline do you think is the most difficult and why? Eventing. I did a bit as a kid, and have had the good fortune to know some top eventers, and they really can do it all. The kind of mental and physical fitness they possess – it just blows me away.
  7. Do you have any favourite horse-related books you’d recommend (fiction or non-fiction)? Of course Karen McGoldrick’s The Dressage Chronicles, Enid Bagnold’s National Velvet, and Denny Emerson’s How Good Riders Get Good.
  8. How long have you been riding for? 30 years. Time flies!
  9. Do you have a horse? If so, describe them. If not, describe the horse you usually ride. Until recently I had four, but as of this week I’m down to one. He’s a newly five year old Holsteiner gelding (Lesanto x Montgomery) who has been under saddle for about a year now. He’s a quirky personality: very brave about things that bother most horses, but an absolute chicken about random issues (like trees). He’s a trickster, and enjoys taking a mouthful of water and dropping it on the nearest bystander. He also enjoys picking up brushes or bandages and handing them to me. And he’ll do absolutely anything for a peppermint!
  10. What’s your favourite brand of equestrian apparel? This is a difficult question for me, as I like so many things for different reasons. I’ve always loved Schumacher fullseat breeches: they tend to fit me quite well. I adore my Golden Dress and Eurofit riding vests (gillets), and am partial to my Dehner dressage boots.
  11. What is your strong point as a rider? I’m incredibly patient and non-reactive with young horses. Really, nothing they do fazes me – I just let whatever goofiness occurs happen, then keep going with my original plan.

My eleven chosen blogs:

My eleven questions for the nominees:
1.      What is your favorite non-horsey hobby?
2.      What discipline do you ride?
3.      Do you compete?
4.      If you have a horse, what is his / her name and is there any special meaning to the name?
5.      Do you come from a family of riders, or are you alone in your sport?
6.      What’s the strangest thing a non-horseperson has asked you about riding?
7.      If you could ride with any trainer in the world tomorrow, whom would you choose?
8.      Do you have any horse / riding-related superstitions?
9.      Tall boots or paddocks and half-chaps?
10.  What’s the best horse event you’ve ever attended (either as a spectator or a rider)?
11.  If your horse could talk, what’s the first thing he / she would tell you?

If you’ve been nominated for a Liebster:


The Liebster Blog Award is a way to recognize blogs who have less than 200 followers.  Liebster is a German word that means beloved and valued.  Here are the rules for accepting the award:

  1. Thank the person who nominated you and include a link back to their blog.
  2. List 11 random facts about yourself.
  3. Answer the 11 questions given to you.
  4. Create 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate.
  5. Choose 11 bloggers with 200 or less followers to nominate and include links to their blogs.
  6. Go to each bloggers page and let them know you have nominated them.

Happy Reading, and CU@X!

Piaffe Girl


In Defense of the Dutch: Or, What’s Jumping Got to Do With It?

After I made the switch from jumping to dressage, I had the great good fortune to be trained in the SRS and classical German methods by some excellent coaches. As time passed, I began to clinic with other masters, such as Dominique Barbier, and learned an exceptional amount about in-hand work, development of the young dressage horse, and refining the FEI horse. Interestingly, each trainer and clinician — regardless of his or her background — emphasized the use of repetitive and constant seat and leg aids: driving the horse with each stride. Two years ago I began working with a well-known Dutch trainer, and what she taught me totally and completely changed my approach to dressage and horsemanship.

DUTCH — I know for many readers that word conjures images of rollkur and blue tongues. In fact, a recent discussion on the Chronicle forums clearly suggests that because of a few bad apples, the Dutch method has gotten a very bad rap. While I whole-heartedly agree that any training practice endangering the horse’s mental and physical well-being is suspect / wrong / nogoodverybad, I’ve also come to realise that the Dutch method as I was introduced to it has about as much to do with rollkur as Donald Trump’s hair (I know, I’ve used that shocking image before) does with shag carpeting. That is to say: although they may both be in the same room at the same time, and even seem associated, they are not necessarily the same thing.

Case in point: the first time I rode with Dutch Trainer X, she chastised me loudly and severely for driving my horse too strongly into contact while simultaneously “carrying” him. She argued that in order for a horse to be a happy and healthy athlete HE must learn to do the job of carrying and balancing himself and his rider . . . all on his own. She noted that the rider’s task is to ask for directional changes (which the horse maintains until asked to do otherwise), and for pace / impulsion transitions — but that’s it. Everything else is the horse’s work.

This was a difficult idea for me to wrap my Teutonic mind around, and my German horse felt the same way. But one day it clicked! All of a sudden my years of jumper training came back to me and I understood (ta-da!) that just as you absolutely cannot carry your horse around a course, nor lift him bodily over the fences, neither can you lift, carry, and goad your horse through a dressage test. The horse must do the work; the rider merely directs, suggests, and accentuates.

I’ll take this jumping analogy one step further: fences and courses each ask specific questions that only the horse can answer. My Dutch instructor caused me to understand that the same goes for dressage. The movements . . . the training scale — these are things the horse, himself, must contend with. As riders — good horsepeople who are good stewards of our equine partners — our only job is to provide the correct tutoring and proper directions. We do not have to be (and in my opinion, should not be) helicopter parents hovering over each stride while nagging for progress updates. As my trainer said: let your horse do the job he was born to do with as little interference as possible.

Over my allotted year with this trainer, I never once rolled, tucked, or hyper-flexed my horse nor was I asked to. The most constant refrains I heard were “stop driving” and “bring his neck up.” While I don’t disagree that some trainers of many nationalities use RK / LDR, I think to make the presumption that all the Dutch Team riders and trainers do is shortsighted and cuts us off from the many excellent things the Dutch methods do offer.

In closing, I’d like to suggest a moratorium on the rollkur debate. Hyperflexion doesn’t help horses; we know this. Instead, let’s focus on finding ways to mitigate the divisions within our often fractured dressage community. Let’s agree that no training method works for every horse on a wholesale scale, and that we can pick and choose from the rich training histories around us. Let’s be civil and let our horses do — joyously — what they were born to do . . . with as little interference as possible.


Piaffe Girl

1 Comment

Roeckl Gloves: Truly Suprema?

Stock PhotoI’m a glove addict: I admit it. It used to be part of my seasonal ritual to visit the local tack shop and peruse their latest collection of gloves. Over the years I’ve tried just about everything — Miller’s Good Hands, SSG, Neumann’s, traditional string, and Roeckl to name a few. When I was riding between seven and ten horses a day, I’d go through a pair of gloves every two to three months, so usually bought the classic SSG pigskin with knit back, or their full leather doe skin. When I recently trimmed down to one horse, I decided to make a “luxury” (or vanity, actually) purchase of cotton-candy pink Roeckl Suprema gloves with Swarovski accents. The gloves were (note the past tense) absolutely beautiful, and totally unlike my more workmanlike choices of years past. I particularly like the quilt detailing around the wrist and feel the crystal accents are subtly elegant. The material is quite thin, giving good tack and feel. However, my love affair stops there. After about three months of riding, the gloves’ pink color has peeled off the knuckles and other flex areas, and holes have started to wear through the rein fingers and across the palm. Maybe I’m expecting too much from a pair of gloves, but I really do think that for approximately $60.00, the Supremas should’ve lasted more than 12 weeks. After all, my Roeckl Chelseas are still going strong after — wait for it — ten years. That’s right . . . ten years of daily rides on lots and lots of horses. I know the Chelsea features a microsuede palm, and perhaps the fabric makes all the difference. But, seriously, the Suprema material isn’t that supreme. Ultimately it’s a very pretty vanity glove suitable for light or sporadic use. In my experience they don’t hold up to regular, daily wear. Save them for clinics or special occasions.


– Piaffe Girl


“Wither” Thou Goest

ImageIt’s been a rough ride: literally. After losing my FEI horse several years ago, and then my favorite mare to colic two years ago, I wasn’t sure I’d ever find the right equine partner again. Although I currently have three horses, the one who shows up in all the Piaffe Girl photos is my eldest — a five year old Holsteiner (Lesanto x Montgomery) that I stumbled across on Craigslist in 2010. Although he can be difficult, complicated, spooky, studdish . . . blah.blah.blah . . . he quickly became my “heart horse.” As such, his quirks that annoy (and even frighten) others don’t really bother me all that much. I’ve come to terms with the fact that he will most likely always hate trees, birds, and dogs — and thus spook at them. Every single day. But that’s okay, because once I accepted him for what he is we reached a sort of agreement: he can spook in place, and he can’t run away. For us, it works.

Things had been progressing rather swimmingly in his training until about eight weeks ago when a horrible vaccine reaction left him feverish, convulsing, and in shock. For nearly two days straight I sat in (and later in front of) Deuce’s stall cradling his head, praying, crying, and begging the powers-that-be to just let him be okay. I didn’t care if he became a trail horse, I just wanted him healthy and whole again. The Almighty must’ve heard me because on the third day Deuce threw his head straight up in the air, gave a loud dragon-like snort, and came back to us. He started nibbling grass, drinking, and seemed brighter. After two weeks of hand-walking, Rood & Riddle gave the go-ahead for light riding.

Although I knew we couldn’t pick up where we’d left off, I was surprised when my normally forward horse refused to move under saddle. The vet checked his back, which was unusually sore, so we did Banamine, massage, several chiropractic sessions. Nothing worked. The saddle (which had been custom fitted) checked out. He had a clean bill of health — but the behaviour got worse. I went from relishing the daily progress of my young FEI prospect to worrying whether I could even get him to walk without a meltdown. Since there wasn’t anything physically wrong, I started to feel I was the problem, and that we just weren’t as good a fit as I imagined, so began thinking about sending him away for another trainer to ride and then sell.

However, I just couldn’t get over the nagging feeling that there was, despite professional advice to the contrary, a saddle fit issue — not in the gullet or tree, but over the withers. So I gave the boy another two weeks off, purchased a used Wintec Isabell off eBay, and crossed my fingers. Yesterday, new saddle in hand, I trekked out to the barn for a test ride. After some serious airs above ground on the longe, I took Deuce into the round pen, and quickly hopped up. For a brief moment I could feel him start to rear . . . and then he stopped. He took a tentative step forward, and then another, and another — and soon we were gently walking around the pen. I asked for a few trot strides, and again he thought about resisting, but relaxed and moved. Needless to say lots of peppermints and patting followed! Today, I took him into the main dressage arena and after an excellent warm-up on the longe, rode without issue. In fact, my lovely swinging horse of two months ago was back, and happy to work.

Although I greatly respect all the professionals that keep my team running, I’m glad I listened to my gut on this one and didn’t give up. Sometimes you just need a little luck and a lot of faith.

Leave a comment

On fashion and common sense.


Le Doux stays fashionable while getting his monthly pedicure.

Fashion, and whether others notice our sartorial choices, has been a recent point of conversation among my friends and I. I’ve noticed that some people are particularly self-conscious — to the point of anxiety — about their dress, hair, and accessories. They feel they’re being judged on looks at the exclusion of everything else. This doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. In fact, my mother once gave me a great piece of advice; she said that people are too worried about their own issues to concern themselves with anyone else. Although there are always snarksters out there, I believe this is largely true. For example, I spent Saturday at the Nations Cup in Wellington, and although I can tell you about the conversations I had, and how people (and their horses) behaved, I cannot recall what anyone wore. I know it may seem hypocritical for me — as the writer for a dressage fashion blog — to say fashion doesn’t matter much. But that’s not really what I’m arguing. My point has always been that form follows function. In this case, it’s how you act that’s of primary importance; how you look is secondary. Ultimately, fashion is the olive in the martini . . . the slice of lime on the gin & tonic . . . the toupee on Donald Trump’s head. It caps things off. It cannot make you what you’re not.

Just as placing a cherry on top of a manure pile won’t trick people into thinking the pile is a sundae, neither will prancing around in tails and a topper convince people you’re an Olympian when you’ve never sat a horse. Again, form follows function. Solidify the basics, be the best “you” possible, and then dress beautifully to accentuate the skills you already have. Stop trying to be something and someone you’re not. No amount of fashion can make that kind of backwards attitude “pretty.”


Piaffe Girl

Leave a comment

Ten Things

photo(2)Working with young and green horses through the decades has taught me a lot, and although I’m certainly thankful for the practical skills I’ve gained, I’m even more grateful for the the life-lessons they’ve unwittingly passed on to me. In a few hours, my oldest baby-greenie turns a whole five years old (!) and as I reminisced tonight over his growth — a little teary-eyed, truth-be-told — I realised that there were ten priceless things he and my other youngsters taught me:

1. Humility. It’s difficult to be prideful when you’re sitting in the dirt on your butt thanks to a series of unscheduled, and very athletic, airs-above-ground.

2. Humor. Sometimes all you can do is laugh about whatever situation you’re in.

3. Flexibility. Come to a young horse with a plan, and watch how quickly they’ll make you change it.

4. Flexibility. Working with babies sometimes requires a great deal of physical maneuvering — evasive and otherwise. Yoga helps.

5. Vision. Look at life as a series of potentialities! Not every rough rock produces a diamond . . . many of them produce sapphires, opals, emeralds, and all manner of things much more colorful and precious.

6. Kindness. Be kind to your fellow travelers on this mortal coil; we all need it — animal and human, alike.

7. Patience. We wait for them to be born, we wait for them to nurse, to walk, and to poo, we wait for them to learn to tie, lead, and be saddled …

8. Appreciation. Because mastering even the “simplest” skill can be a giant step forward in a young horse’s development.

9. Endurance. Even when things seem impossible, stick with it, they will get better.

10. Wonderment. Ever watch foals interact with their world? Everything is new, amazing, and wonderful in their eyes. I try to keep a bit of that wonderment with me everyday.

So that’s my ten things. What are yours? How have horses enriched your life? Feel free to share your list!


Piaffe Girl

1 Comment

The State of the Sport: A Call to Action

LeDouxIt’s been quite a while since my last post (apologies to my readers), but attempting to balance a cross-country move, writing a dissertation, and my horse business got to be a bit much. Things have evened out a bit, and so I’m going to shows and generally being more engaged in the sport. That brings me to today’s topic — an S.O.S. (Save our Sport) about the serious, and seriously depressing state of dressage in America.

Pursuit of my PhD kept me out of showing for a few years, and so my recent foray back into the mix came as quite a shock. I actively competed from 1986 to about 2006, beginning on the hunter / jumper circuit, and transitioning to dressage in the early ’90s. At that time, even the smallest schooling shows were packed to the gills in every level from training through FEI. And the big shows at venues like the Kentucky Horse Park, Lamplight, etc were truly mammoth.

Flash-forward: Last year I attended some ostensibly big shows out west, including a regional championship, but what stood out to me most was the pitiful turnout. Many classes were lucky to have three entries, and the FEI ranks, if represented at all, usually had one. Heck, a friend from Holland trailered her young horses out to Del Mar, but returned without showing because the classes were empty!

This dearth of dressage influenced my move back east, and so it was with an eager heart that I awaited the start of the winter season this year. However, a friend and I attended the Gold Coast Opener in Wellington, and once again I noticed empty stalls and short class lists. Feeling bemused, I struck up a conversation with a saddler on the topic, and she mentioned that this was becoming a trend in the dressage world. Ever the optimist, I decided to blame the weather (it was a cold, rainy weekend) and determined to hit the Global Dressage Festival next. Sadly, the GDF proved to be more of the same. The saddler I’d previously met was at the GDF too, so we talked some more about the direction of American dressage, but weren’t able to come up with any positive solutions. A fellow horseperson suggested that perhaps it was a reflection of the general economic slump, but a lovely day watching the jumpers disproved that notion. Seriously — the hunter / jumper side (although slightly smaller than in the past) was fun, vibrant, and active. Going from the jumping to the dressage was like walking from a carnival in to a mausoleum. That’s a problem. Our sport isn’t just stagnating . . . it’s dying. No amount of sponsorship, “Western Dressage”, or Parelli theatrics is going to resuscitate it. You see: building interest in dressage cannot be a top down approach, no matter how much our governing body would like it to be. The problem isn’t spectators — it’s us, the riders, breeders, and trainers. We have lost interest in our own sport, as is painfully evident in the sheer number of people who choose to never move up the levels. Yes, I know that statement will raise some hackles, but when buyers purchase exceptional horses and continuously show them well below their proven level . . . that’s problematic. I won’t even get into the sportsmanship issue related to “competing” an upper-level horse at training level for several years in a row.

While I recognize that many riders compete for fun, I also believe that if American dressage is to thrive — let alone survive — we need to take drastic action. It is easy and “fun” to ride a horse below its capabilities and win lots of ribbons. As professionals, we know our clients want to win, and when they win, they keep paying us. Unfortunately, this can create a negative economic pressure. We need our clients and our sponsors, but we also need to balance the desire to placate with an honest and direct dialogue about the dedication, perseverance, and occasional sheer luck that influences success in any equine venture. Dressage is difficult, and not everyone can be a winner . . . but everyone wants to be. We’ve commodified winning, and made the measure of success a thirty cent strip of blue satin. We must — must — shift the focus of success away from the ribbon and back onto the process. Until we can become actively invested in our own, individual, and incremental improvement, our sport will continue to die.

Join the SOS! Please help save our sport.

CU@X (hopefully)

Piaffe Girl 


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 260 other followers