Intro to dressage riding

July 10, 2013 – Riding at CARA

I have been threatening for weeks to “go back to my roots” and get back on horses. Today I made good on that threat, and now I am on my way.

Last week I called Dorie at CARA (Central Arizona Riding Academy), a place I am familiar with from the late ‘90s when CARA hosted a therapeutic riding group, Horses Help, for which I used to volunteer as a “side walker,” helping kids who were riding the horses. I never took lessons back then, I was just volunteering. But I’ve always wanted to meet and work with Dorie, so today I got my chance.

On the way there, I got to see just how rural the area is. As I got close to CARA, I was distracted by the sight of a cow nonchalantly wandering down the middle of the road. I missed the road (and I was careful to miss the cow!) I was supposed to turn onto because I was looking at (and taking photos of) the cow. Otherwise, I would have had no problem finding the stable.

Is that a cow??  I couldn’t believe my eyes (shot through the windshield of the car – sorry) The road was shiny from the extreme glare of the sun:

When I arrived, I was introduced to the horse I was to ride, and then told to groom, then tack her. Ironically, she is the exact color and markings of my horse that I worked with and trained so long ago. Inky is a sweet mare called India Ink, her barn name is “Inky.” I had to have a little help since I had no idea where any tack or equipment is kept.  Soon, Dorie came out to greet me, and we walked to the covered arena where I got mounted and situated on the horse. Then we got started on my first real dressage lesson!


We started out walking, of course, and trying for a collected walk. I say “trying” because even though she is a pleasant little mare, Inky is a typical school horse – a little bit lazy, and she tries to see what she can get away with. Of course it didn’t really help that it was about 100° F. already (at 8 a.m.), but soon she got into the mood of the lesson.

Then we began to trot. I was seriously amazed that I remembered what diagonals are and how to be on the right one. All that work and training I had as a kid kicked in because I did it without even thinking, okay, I need to look at her shoulder, see which leg is moving forward … We circled and circled, Dorie correcting my riding form as we went, and I worked at trying to get Inky collected. It was harder than I thought, even though I know how to do it. It was very easy with my horse all those years ago, but that’s because I had trained him. And, this style of riding is much different than riding saddle seat, which is what I rode then.

I was also grateful that I am in good fitness because after I’d trotted for about 20 minutes, I was thinking how someone else who was not at my fitness level would have trouble with that. I still am going to be sore tomorrow! It’s because when you ride a horse, you use different muscles than you use doing any other activity. To take a break, we walked for a little while, cooled down, as much as that was possible, and drank some water. Dorie gave me more information the whole time I was out there.

Next we worked on the sitting trot. I thought that might be a challenge for me since I had only ridden western a few times in my life, the only time I would have practiced it. It was very “different,” and something I will have to practice. I wasn’t horrible, but I wasn’t great, either. Then I did the rising trot (posting) again, and after that we walked some more. Finally, I got to canter for a few minutes, but only one direction. Inky has something going on with one of her shoes, at least that’s what I was told, so we kept it to one direction. I was okay with that. This is the first time in all this time since I had my own horses that I have been able to ride these gaits on a well-trained horse.

You can tell I was getting tired near the end, but actually the horse’s form is a little better:

When the hour was up, I was done. I could have probably ridden some more after a break, but I was thinking more of poor Inky who had been working hard for the last hour. She was sweating a lot. After cooling down at the walk, I dismounted, and then it was time to un-tack Inky, hose her off, and put her away. Again, I was not super fast or efficient because I wasn’t familiar with how they do it at CARA, but next time I will know. I enjoyed taking Inky out to the wash rack and hosing her down. We used to do the same thing with our horses at home, and I had been hoping they did it here, too. She loved the feeling of the cool water on her skin, and I hosed her everywhere. She especially liked it when I sprayed her face. She put her mouth up so the water from the hose went right into her mouth, and she did it for quite some time. She was thirsty, and I didn’t mind pouring the water into her mouth for as long as she wanted me to! After a while, she’d had enough, and it was time to get her back to her stall.

The whole CARA property is clean and well-run. The stalls are big and airy, and clean. I didn’t expect any less because I was familiar with their old facility, which was also clean and well-run.  I didn’t like getting bossed around by a teenager, who was apparently the barn queen, but I kept my mouth shut since I didn’t know the routine yet. I do now, though, and you don’t have to tell me twice how to do something.

Where do I go from here? Well, I don’t know, to be truthful. I can never get those years back in my life, and now I am involved with so many other things that I am going to have to make choices. Owning horses is expensive, and I already have lots of expensive avocations. Maybe I will be able to lease a horse, if I want to continue with this. I will have to see where this leads. In the short term, I am going back next week for another lesson, but then I will be on vacation, then back to work. School starts at the beginning of August. I will see if I am committed enough to make the 25-mile drive in order to ride while work is going on. It’s all well and good now when there’s plenty of free time, but I’ll see how I feel when the madness of work starts again.

On the way home today I felt mixed emotions – glad I got to ride, but sad because my life has passed me by. I regret that I didn’t continue my “horse life” years ago; I would have been at the top of my game by now, not struggling to get back into it as an old hag like I am. On the other hand, if I don’t do it now, I will never get to, and I at least want the chance to find out if I still “have it.”


3 thoughts on “Intro to dressage riding

  1. You should definitely continue to ride while you are able (both financially and physically), but I think you should consider long and hard if owning a horse would be beneficial for either you or the horse. As you said, you have husband and home duties, your teaching job, biking (both kinds) expenses and time, photography exhibitions. For now, though, you should certainly keep up with your lessons and enjoy a sensation that has been part of you for a long time (I was tempted to say long, long time, but you are still young).

    • Thanks, Randy, for your kind, insightful comments! I agree with you, I will think very carefully about what my future holds regarding horses.Much as I’d like to be the teenager I once was, it might not happen that way.

  2. Hmm, not that I have any influence or counsel for you. I apologize if I spoke out of turn. I acted as if you were my daughter and I was giving her advice. Use my comments only as far as they give you considerations.

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