Great Expectations

or “My Life in Blog Sounds Much Cooler Than It Really Is”

Archive for the ‘Riding’ Category

Preppy Pony….

Posted by mandyhuckins on February 19, 2010

Please do not think for a momentt that I neglected to buy Dancer a little something special from Equifest.  Here she is after our ride last night enjoying her dinner and modeling her new preppy cooler.  It has matching leg wraps too.  I don’t think she is a real fan of this blanket.  When I first brought it out to try it on her, she turned her head all the way around as if to get a good look at it, then she faced the front, hung her head low, put her ears half-way back and cut her eyes at me.  The look on her face was pretty clear, “I am NOT a preppy pony!”  But, I pay the bills, and I think she looks very cute.


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Horses are dangerous…

Posted by mandyhuckins on August 14, 2009

There is a reason why you should never put your arm through the reins when you are standing on the ground next to your horse.  She might toss her head and spin around and jerk backwards.  This would twist them around your bicep and around her head and tighten them like a noose or a vice-grip.  This is the beautiful result:  I am lucky – it is just bruising.  It could have been so much worse!


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Dancer’s Photo Shoot…

Posted by mandyhuckins on August 11, 2009

GorgeousA very kind lady at the stables, who also happens to be a very talented photographer, offered to give us 30 minute photo sessions with our horses on Saturday.   I jumped at the chance.  This is a very photographed horse already, but I can’t seem to get enough.  As my husband said, “oh good, now we will finally have a picture of Dancer to frame and hang on the wall.”  This was said with a good measure of sarcasm.  But, it was fun to have a semi-professional photo shoot and I think the results speak for themselves.

Heads and Sky


Walking Towards

Side by Side3

Dancer Hugging Me



Here is the funniest one of the bunch…she had been so well-behaved, standing pretty quietly for all the posing, when we finally turned her loose, she let out a HUGE buck!  The camera caught her on the way down, but look at how much air she still has underneath her – all four feet are off the ground.


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Good Dancer, Bad Dancer…

Posted by mandyhuckins on July 23, 2009

Lately, my rides have been excellent.  It seemed like each time, Dancer was better, stronger, more responsive.  On Saturday, she was particularly excellent.  She was loose and supple and her back came up and round as soon as I got on and started walking around.  Her trot was lofty and full of impulsion.  She was light in my hand and not pulling on the bit at all.  She was the epitome of self-carriage.  She sprang off my leg into her upward transitions without tossing her head up.  Her canter was slow and round but without a hint of wanting to break back to the trot.  Her leg-yields and shoulder-ins were smooth and easy.  I was in awe.  It started raining and I couldn’t stop riding her because it was so much fun.  When I spoke with my husband later that night, he asked me how my day was and I gushed “I had the BEST ride EVER on Dancer!”  He said, “do you realize that you have said that about once a week since we got here?”  I had not realized that, but when I thought back, it was true.  She has been getting better and better.  Cool.

I didn’t ride her on Sunday, but on Monday, she was also very good.  Maybe not quite as good as Saturday, but still very, very nice.  It was also getting ready to storm on Monday, so it was blustery and she was a little distracted (so was the other horse in the ring at the time).

Well, we all know that what goes up, must eventually come down.  On Wednesday, Bad Dancer raised her ugly head.  She would not – would NOT stand still.  Any time I asked her to halt, she got tense and anxious and wanted to move forward again.  When I wouldn’t let her, she tried to go sideways.  When I wouldn’t let her, she would rocket backwards.  When we were working on our canter transitions, she got squirrelly and tried her old hopping, head-tossing, bucking trick.  (But, this time I was actually able to ride through it and keep her cantering – yay me!)  Later, when I was trying to get her to do haunches in on a circle, she really wanted to canter instead, so whenever I would apply my outside leg, even the slightest bit, she would leap forward.  I would stop her, ask again and she would leap forward.  She was HOT.  However, I should note, this definitely wasn’t her worst day.  And, even though she wasn’t perfectly behaved, we did accomplish a new thing we have been working on – the counter canter.  I have done a few steps before, but she hasn’t been strong enough or balanced enough to really do it.  Last night, I had her in a good canter to the right.  I came across the diagonal and headed to the left.  I kept her going all the way around in a big loop to the left, back across the diagonal and returned to my circle to the right at the other end of the arena.  I was so stoked!  We had worked for a while, doing some pretty tough stuff and she was lathered up, but I could tell she was still very wild, so I took off her tack and let her have a good free-gallop around.  She loved it.  She loved it so much that even after I went back to the barn, put her stuff away, changed out of my boots, talked to someone and then came back to get her, she wouldn’t come to me.  She made me corner her.  That is VERY unlike her. 

Then, on the walk back to the barn, she was pushy and was walking all over me.  We had to practice giving me some space and stopping when I stop.  She even got a few “spankings”!  Now, I normally won’t hit a horse, but a horse who won’t respect your space (and who knows better) and could possibly be losing her eye-sight is dangerous.  I felt that I needed to nip that behavior in the bud.  So if she started to come over on top of me, I elbowed her and if she didn’t move over, I smacked her on the shoulder with my open hand (it makes a loud noise).  Just to show me her displeasure, as I turned her around once, she slapped me across the face with her tail.  It hurt like crazy!  Bad Dancer, very bad Dancer.  She usually has such good ground manners and is such a loving horse.   She hurt my feelings a little bit.  😦

I won’t be able to ride tonight, but maybe tomorrow will be a new day.

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Dancer’s New Digs…

Posted by mandyhuckins on July 7, 2009

So far, we love our new stable!  The people I have met have all been very friendly and helpful.  One has let me permanently share her organic fly spray and another has lent me her microtek to try to cure a little skin irritation situation on Dancer’s hind end.   There are some very lovely horses at this stable to – so Dancer fits right in (ha, ha) :-). 

Here is what the barn looks like from the outside:





There are 36 stalls in the barn and you can see from the top picture that the left side is the stable and the right side is the indoor riding hall.  So, it is very, very long (although a little bit narrow).


So far, there aren’t many riders inside.  The weather has been lovely and people prefer to use the large outdoor arena (photos on that another time).  But, one rainy Saturday morning, I was riding with two other large horses and a third was being lunged.  I was worried we were going to get jammed up in here, but there was plenty of room.  And, it stays surprisingly cool in here during the hot, hot days we were having last week.  So, that is a bonus.  About half way down on the left is the door way that enters from the stable.  Across from it on the right is the door into the house where the owners of the barn live.  So, every once in a while, that door will open and someone will come out.  That is scary to the horses!


The princess in jail….but, what a lovely jail.  The stalls are 12 x 15 (!) and feature rubber matting, shredded paper for bedding and automatic waterers. 


Not the best shot, but just to give you an idea of the scale – Dancer is not a small girl, so the stalls are a very generous size.  I can see I really need to get her nameplate.  Some people have very cute ones that say the horse’s name on the first line and then “loved by owner’s name” on the second line (or some variation of that).  I will have to give that some thought.

Here is the cutest member of the equine family – and the newest.  I think this little guy was born just a few weeks before we arrived.  He is so friendly.  Anyone can pet him.  He was tired when I had my camera out, so this is the best I could do.


Dancer seems to be settling in nicely. I have been able to ride her about 4 times a week.  Since our training had been rather spotty before we left Montgomery, it took her a while to get back in the swing of things.  At first she felt super unbalanced and she just wanted to run around.  Strangely, she was completely ignoring my leg and I had to start carrying a dressage whip to sharpen up her transitions.  I felt that she was going to pull my arms out of their sockets.  It was gradually getting a little bit better and this past weekend, I had two of the most lovely rides I have ever had on her.  On Friday morning, I rode inside because their was a jumping lesson going on outside.  She was “with” me right from the start.  I was able to establish the same amazing feel I had during the end of my lesson with the British riding instructor several months ago.  Dancer had self carriage, she was on the aids, she was light in the forehand, soft and up through her back and just lovely.  I then was able to ask her to lengthen and shorten her stride at will and it felt like she was so powerful, yet so light.  My wish was her every command.  I was amazed.  Then, on Sunday morning I rode her outside.  It was windy and there was a cross country lesson going on, so every once in a while the wind would bring us the sound of the instructor shouting or a horse would come galloping into our line of vision.  Dancer was keyed-up and jumpy.  I regretted my decision to go outside immediately, but decided to give it a try.  I had a long, long warm up at the walk while I waited for her to settle in.  I kept her busy with suppling exercises like shoulder in, leg yields and some attempts at turn on the haunches.  Once she was paying more attention to me than to everything else and had relaxed in her back, I started trotting.  I made sure to keep her slow and steady from the get-go and she was amazing!  She spooked once or twice, but came back to me when I steadied her.  She felt like she had springs in her legs.  I did a little canter and it was so slow and springy that after a few rounds I decided to call it a day.  No need to mess with perfection.  I can’t wait to ride tonight!

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A new horse…

Posted by mandyhuckins on May 28, 2009

No, not for me.  My friend/riding student has found a horse to lease/purchase.  We don’t know much about the horse because he was donated to the riding team at the University a few years ago and unfortunately, they had the wrong paperwork in his file.  What we do know is that he is a Hanoverian (I used my masterful powers of deduction to come up with that when I saw the brand on his left hip.  It is the same as the one Dancer has.  Leads me to believe he might have been bred/born in Germany.)  His name is EisVogel (translated from German to English =Ice Eagle, I believe) and he goes by Eis.

Last week, we went out to ride him.  He is lovely and has a very kind soul.  No horse is perfect – this one has had to have his hocks injected and he is a bit overweight at the moment.  He also has a bit of a club foot on the front right (which had also lost a shoe the morning of the day we went to ride).  We rode him in A’s saddle which was a bit too tight and her bridle which had a different (softer) bit than the one they had been using for him.  It was a very windy day – but, given all of those things, he was really lovely.

Here is a short video of me cantering him.  As you can see, he got a little fussy to the left, but came right back to work when I steadied him and drove him forward.

I don’t think anyone is currently riding him dressage – but, he definitely has had dressage training.  When I asked for some lateral movements, he responded.  I could tell that he knew what he was doing, he was just a bit rusty.  He leg yields beautifully, but fought me a little when I tried half-pass at the trot.  He did offer a pretty nice shoulder-in and responded well when I asked for a lengthened stride.  Unfortunately, we didn’t get any of this exciting stuff on video.  You know how that goes. 

Assuming he vets ok, I think he will be a good horse for A.  After riding some challenging thoroughbreds for the past few years, A deserves to have a nice, easy to ride boy that will do what he is asked to do.  His calm nature and willing attitude will go a long way towards building her confidence and allowing her to move forward in her riding. 

I hope they will be happy together for many long years – developing the kind of perfect partnership I know is possible between a woman and her horse.  I am just sorry I am not going to be around to see it blossom.  Moving sucks.

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A bad eye day…

Posted by mandyhuckins on May 21, 2009

Unfortunately, my beautiful, sweet, lovely, wonderful mare Dancer suffers from a horrible medical problem.  It is called Equine Recurrent Uveitis (ERU).  It is the leading cause of blindness in horses, but is unfortunately not very well understood.  They don’t always know what causes it or why some horses have it and others don’t.  They don’t know if it is hereditary, although there are some breeds that tend to be more susceptible to it than others (appaloosas and warmbloods, for instance).  Basically, it is condition that causes the eye to attack itself.  It also causes the pupil to spasm and contract and that is very painful for the horse.  When there is a build up of white blood cells in the eye – it causes a lot of other problems.  Raised pressure within the eyeball damages the sensitive inner structures located there and can develop into secondary glaucoma.

When I started leasing her 4 years ago, people at the stable started telling me that she had trouble with her eyes.  But, because these people were Germans and I didn’t always understand them, I didn’t really understand what kind of problem this was.  I knew that we had to turn her out with a fly mask on and I knew that her eyes were sensitive, but I leased her for a year without a single tear coming from either of her eyes.  When she came up for sale, my friends, knowing I wanted to buy her, re-doubled their efforts to warn me about her eyes.  I paid more attention and started doing some research.  I learned how devastating ERU is.  I had two separate vets that had treated Dancer in the past come out to look at her eyes and talk to me about the problem.  One vet told me that she didn’t have ERU.  He said that he treated her for an eye infection one time, but it cleared up with medicine and was not ERU.  The other vet said that he had seen her a few years earlier when she definitely did have ERU and he treated her for multiple flare-ups.  What to do?  Who to believe? 

I loved this mare so much, but I felt that it would be stupid to take on a horse that already had a major medical problem with a high likelihood that she would go blind in one or both eyes eventually.  I cried every day.  The owner found some buyers in another country (none of us were sure that they knew about the eye problem).  I cried even harder as I thought about what would happen to Dancer if they didn’t care for her the way she needed to be cared for.  I just felt such a special bond with her and it was killing me.  My husband saw this pain and went to the owner and asked if it was too late for us to buy her and he made arrangements in secret.  Then, he presented me with her as an anniversary gift.  The weekend before I thought the new owners were coming to pick her up.  She was mine!

I read what I could about Uveitis.  I bought a Guardian Mask and used it.  I only road her in the indoor arena when it was at all sunny outside.  I looked into her eyes every day.   In other words, I tried to protect her eyes as much as possible.  We went on blissfully for 18 months.  Then, one fateful February day in 2008, when I came to the stables, I saw a tear-track coming out of Dancer’s right eye.  There was a grey cloudy area inside her eyeball.  I called the vet right away, but it was a Sunday afternoon, so he didn’t come see her until Monday morning.  He gave her a shot and gave me ointment.  After about a week, it looked better.  No more discharge, no more cloudiness.  I called and asked him how long to continue putting the medicine in her eye.  He said for another few days.  A week after I stopped, it came back.  The vet came back.  We started over again with the shot and the ointment.  It didn’t go away.  He said we should put her in total darkness.  So, a friend and I hung sheets over the bars of her stall to keep the natural light from coming in.  She was already in the only stall without a window.  She also lived in her mask.  Everyday, I hoped to come out and see some improvement, but it was always the same.  Dancer got very depressed.  I got very depressed.  A few weeks into it, the vet told me that Dancer’s left eye was already “dead” and “blind” from a previous ERU attack (this was the first time he ever mentioned it to me – even when I hired him to talk with me about her eyes during the pre-purchase phase).  So, he thought that the right eye was her only seeing eye.  I didn’t believe that, but it definitely scared me.  I tried to get him to do something else for her or try a different medicine since what we had wasn’t working.  He didn’t know what else to do.  What I read about Uveitis online made me believe that hitting it hard was necessary, so own my own, I upped the frequency of her medicine.  I tried to get another vet to come out to see her, but there were “politics” involved.  The vet I was using was the brother of the owner of the barn and this was his “territory” the vet from the neighboring town didn’t feel comfortable stealing a patient.

By this point it was late April and we were scheduled to move back to America that summer.  Thanks to a tip from a friend, I discovered North Carolina State University’s equine ophthalmologist – the premier expert in the field of study of Uveitis – Dr. Brian Gilger.  I emailed and called Dr. Gilger and his staff.  They were exceedingly kind to speak to me about Dancer’s problems.  They even had an intern who spoke German call my vet to discuss Dancer’s condition.  We quickly ascertained that Dancer wasn’t getting the best care.  They really needed to have her in North Carolina.  I started making the plans to ship her.  She left Germany on June 1st, spent 3 days in New York in quarantine, was picked up and driven in a sealed trailer to North Carolina, established at NCSU’s quarantine facility and was seen by an ophthalmologist on June 11, 2008.  That is the day I learned that she was not blind in the left eye, but at some point during the treatment of the right eye, she had developed Glaucoma and had permanently lost sight in that eye.  The interocular pressure in that eye was over 50 (normal is around 15 +/-).  We started treating her with Glaucoma medicine to see if we could get the pressure down and make her more comfortable.

At first, it seemed like it might work.  But, the pressure went back up and it was time to make some hard decisions.  Dr. Gilger explained that horses don’t always respond to Glaucoma medicine (but, it had been worth a try).  I certainly didn’t want her to be in pain forever, so there were two courses of action: 1) I could have the eye removed, which would permanently solve the problem, but had an added risk of putting her under for surgery or 2) I could have the eyeball injected with Gentamicin – which would destroy the inner workings of the eye – preventing it from producing more fluid and hopefully reducing the pressure in that eye.  NCSU was also putting cyclosporin implants in horses’ eyes with some success in staving off and possibly preventing future Uveitis attacks.  Dr. Gilger and I discussed putting one of these implants in Dancer’s left eye.  But, he also told me I had an option there too – a Rapamycin injection – which was new and still experimental, but early results showed it had a similar effect to the implant.  I decided to go with that.  On July 10, 2008, Dancer had the Gentamicin injection in the right eye and the Rapamycin injection in the left eye. 

Unfortunately, the Genatamicin injection wasn’t the perfect cure to our pressure problem.  Working with my ophthalmologist in Alabama, we have found that she still needs twice daily a drop of Cosopt and a strip of Dexamethasone ointment to keep that eye controlled.  I was also continuing one strip of Dex in the left eye as a preventative every other day.  Things seemed to be fine.  Her last check was in February, when we decided that things were good and she didn’t need to be seen until May – right before I would take her to Kansas.

Well….I went out to the stables on Tuesday morning, took off her mask and was greeted with a left eye that was swollen shut, oozing and hot to the touch.  Naturally, I panicked and burst into tears.  Then, I wiped her eye, put Dex in it, and gave her some Banamine.  I put on a clean mask and started trying to call my ophtho.  We gave Dancer another dose of the Dex ointment a few hours later.  That afternoon, when I had her up at Auburn, the eye looked much better.  My ophthalmologist (whom I adore) gave her a good once over.  Her pressures were actually better in both eyes than they ever have been (left 11 and right 15!).  She thinks that my fast action in administering the right meds might have stopped this flare-up in its tracks.  I am going to continue the Dex in the left 4 times a day for a while and then start to taper back down.  One full day has passed and we are halfway into the second day, but the eye looks great.  It is hard to tell there was anything wrong with it two days ago.  I am so relieved!  But, I am still being vigilant and not counting my chickens yet.

Sometimes, I get tired of having to go to the stables twice every day – but now I realize that it is actually a blessing.  Because I am there, I can notice any change immediately and try to get the help she needs.  She was given to me because I truly believe I am the best one to care for her.  Horse ownership is difficult and there are many people out there struggling with horses who colic or dealing with lameness issues.  But, God doesn’t give us something we can’t handle.  And, I thank him every day for giving me Dancer.  She has caused me anxiety and worry and stress – but, the joy she brings me far, far exceeds any of the struggles.

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A good ride…

Posted by mandyhuckins on May 6, 2009

For those of you who are interested in reading about my riding life, here is a post for you (it has been a while).  For those of you that are more interested in my shopping/decorating posts, you can tune this one out. 

I have mentioned before that a very cute 15 year old rider at our stable has a red-dun quarter horse named Jack.  She rode western when she first purchased Jack, but she has decided that she is now interested in the challenge of dressage.  Obviously, these are two very, very different disciplines.  They have asked for my help in re-training Jack.  And, because I only have a little over a month left in Montgomery, we are under a time crunch.  So, I am supposed to be riding him at every possible opportunity.  Last week, I had some nice rides on him – at the walk and trot.  But, things fell apart whenever I tried to canter.   One night, he picked up the canter, but was so unbalanced – it was horrible.  Another night he had a total melt down the minute I would ask him for canter.  I took him to the round pen and had him canter in both directions several times, but he couldn’t maintain the canter for more than one circle around and he just looked off-balance and horrible.  After one canter attempt, when he came back down to trot, I noticed that he looked off.  I stopped him immediately and brought him out.  Sure enough, he was lame.  It looked to me like it was up in his stifle.  When I came to check him the next morning, he looked better – much less stiff.  So, I tried to get on him again that night.  I asked the barn owner, who was out in the ring giving a lesson, to watch him.  He was still short striding (taking a much shorter step) on his left hind leg than his right hind leg.  As luck would have it, the vet was already coming out the next day.  He looked at Jack and pronounced that he was sore in his heels and needed back shoes.  He also had us put him on some pain meds for a few days until the farrier could get there. 

I must admit, I was skeptical that this would solve our problem.  The farrier came on Monday and I put Jack on the lunge Monday night.  He has been known to exhibit bad behavior on the lunge, but that night, he was excellent.  He listened to my voice and walked, trotted and stopped on command.  He looked pretty good (maybe still a bit stiff on that left hind), so I didn’t want to overdo it.  Last night, I got back in the saddle.  He was great!  He didn’t have any meltdowns.  He sprung right into trot when asked.  He is staying down and round through his transition to trot (the down transition still needs work, but it is getting better too).  We even did a little shoulder-fore at the walk (this is when you ask the horse to bring this front half a little to the inside – it is helpful in getting the horse soft and round).  He did trip a few times when I first started….but, overall, he felt so good that I decided to go for broke and ask for canter.  I did have to chase him into it a little bit, but he stayed calm, did not freak out and toss his head up and we cantered nicely around a circle about three times before I asked him to come back to trot.  The barn owner said it was the best transition to canter she has seen him do.  That is sad…but, I was also very excited.  Poor boy!  His acting out was because he was in pain.  😦  I guess all of the work I have been asking him to do in really using his back end and carrying more of his weight back there was causing his heels to hit the ground more than (or harder than) usual and it was making him sore. 

I also had the chance to ride Dancer.  I have noticed that she has really been ignoring the aids when asked to trot.  So, my goal for yesterday was to sharpen that up.  She was definitely getting better by the end of the ride.  We also had several very nice transitions to and from canter.  And, I introduced a movement called Travers (pronounced like “tra-ver” rhymes with where).  Anyway, this is when you bring the horse’s hind end in.  They must remain bent in the direction of travel and cross their legs as they move down the rail.  (That is probably the worst description of all time!)  I am hoping that using this movement along the rail will help to develop my half-pass.  There are actually some different schools of thought about this – some people like to use Travers and other trainers think it shouldn’t be used because it is encouraging horses to be crooked.  I am of the “all things in moderation” mind – I think it should be fine as long as I don’t overdo it and mix it up with shoulder-in.  I want her to be more in tune with my change in seat bone position and I think that these types of movements will help.

All things considered, it was a nice night at the barn.

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Photo shoot….

Posted by mandyhuckins on April 26, 2009

My friend got a snazzy new camera for her birthday and we decided to use today’s perfect weather as a photo shoot.  From about 400 snaps, we got about 50 good pictures.  Here are some of my favorites:







One of my students helping to cool Dancer down – I never have a shortage of volunteers asking if they can sit on my horse for a few minutes.  So cute! 


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A cancelled lesson…

Posted by mandyhuckins on April 21, 2009

I was sick yesterday, so this post was delayed a day.  I hoped to report on our second lesson with Emma Winter on Sunday, but unfortunately, it was cancelled due to the threat of foul weather that actually didn’t materialize until later in the evening.  Bummer.  But, “A” and I came out to the barn to ride Dancer anyway.  She was difficult for “A” to ride – not badly behaved necessarily, but just in that mood where she wasn’t giving anything up easily.  She didn’t want to relax, she didn’t want to come on the bit, she didn’t want to go forward, she kept popping out at the shoulder.  “A” did a good job of sticking with her and she was able to improve Dancer’s carriage by the end of the ride.  Sometimes, horses are like that.  They just have bad days and you have to ride the horse you have during that particular ride.

When it was my turn to get on, Dancer really let loose on the bad behavior.   Just like earlier in the week,it was asking for canter to the right that brough it on.  Here is a snapshot from the video clip of her acting ugly and trying to run the videographer over. 


I wish I had more on tape, but when you have a 1300 pound horse leaping towards you with her blind eye facing you, you drop the camera and run!

After we worked through this little tantrum, she was actually quite nice.  Here is a still shots of trot and of canter to the right:





I love how her ears are turned out to the sides in these – that means she is listening to me and inwardly focused on the work I am asking her to do instead of paying attention to something off in the distance or pinning them back in frustration.  I like that I am sitting up straight and balanced in both gaits, but I need to keep my thumbs up (instead of turning them to the inside) and I still need to move my heel back under my hip a bit.  I was riding in my student’s saddle, so maybe that is why my stirrup has moved back.  Dancer’s back is up and she appears more “squashed” through the body instead of being strung out.  Progress? 

Compare the trot picture above to this one about a year ago in Germany (sorry for the poor quality – the lighting was bad):


See how much longer she looks here?  It is as if she is just throwing herself around instead of carrying herself on her hind end.  (And, look how I am being popped out of the saddle!)

Here is a sequence from yesterday during a period that felt “right” (although we were going to the left – ha, ha!):







Pretty, no?

I still have concerns – I don’t like having to hold her. I don’t like that she is getting fussy.  I don’t like that huge muscle developing under her neck.  But, I am hoping I can have more times like the trot sequence directly above and fewer times like the very first picture in the post. 

We are nothing if not a work in progress.

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