Hilary Moore Hebert: The Calm Before the Storm

With an eye on the thermometer, I close the doors of the arena behind me and lead the first horse of the day to the mounting block. The frozen bits of mud, dust from layers that only seem to collect in winter and bits of hay from the countless flakes thrown to warm the belly seem to gather from hoof to helmet. They remind me that show season–shampoos, soaps, polished boots–will come with warmer weather. Now it is about the work.

I may not be in Wellington, Florida, but the sand beneath my horse’s feet is better than any beach and the steel columns of the arena are my palm trees. As I apply my aids to bring him back to steps of an effortless pirouette canter we have perfected over weeks, I am reminded of something I heard once: “The only way you can do this is if you love the daily routine. Forget competition, forget performing. True dressage is about the one-on-one work with the horse.”

So there we canter, just the two of us, and it is wonderful. No spectators, scores, judges or critics.

Complete silence, save the hoofbeats and wind.

“Good boy!” I praise him out of habit, but when it is this quiet I don’t need to speak for him to hear me completely.

Say what you will about the low temperatures, snow and sleet, in dressage sometimes the quiet of winter is the calm not the storm.

Hilary Moore Hebert: Horse Show Ribbons

As I unpacked the last of the boxes from our move to the farm two years ago, I found a bunch of horse show ribbons in the bottom. As I tossed them to the side, it gave me pause. What year and class were these from? I couldn’t remember. Reflecting back on when I could have earned them, I recalled my first blue. Back then, I wouldn’t have tossed ribbons to the side. When someone handed me a trophy, it might as well have been a winning lottery ticket.

Somewhere along the way I stopped minding if my horse chewed on the odd rosette. When I moved to college, my ribbons came off my wall and now just get stuffed into one of the many glass vases I use for display in my barn office.

You could say that the win doesn’t mean as much to me now, but I see it as something else. My ribbons, so many I lose them in moving boxes, just mean something different. When I started to show, a ribbon was more a result of luck than hard work. Since then, I have received as many green and brown ribbons as faces full of mud and grass from hard falls. For all of the blood, sweat and tears, I have a matching collections of red, yellow and white satin.

As I stare at the countless ribbons in my display, I see the story of my riding career–the necessary struggles and the lucky successes. Individually and together, they stand for everything that has made me the horsewoman I am today and prove to me that along the way, I learned how to truly ride.

Hilary Moore Hebert: Dressage Training Notes

When I write a blog post or article, I spend a lot of time thinking about the overall message. What is the life lesson, underlying theme, etc. Today I have decided to throw that all away and simply write about dressage as I think about it in the saddle. I have spent many years trying not to overanalyze my riding and just do it. If my extension feels sluggish behind, ride quick transitions to engage the hind and repeat the extension. Only if that quick answer doesn’t work do I pause to think about the problem before approaching it another way. Just as I need to shut up and ride, sometimes I just need to stop thinking and write. So here I go….

This weekend was really cold and I had my horse at a new facility. He was HOT and bucking into the canter departs before leaping sideways towards the fence. I worked on the trot more, getting him relaxed, before gently asking for the canter. I insisted on the canter because avoiding these high-pressure situations will only make him more crazy. The next day he was better and I felt that he was still wired but not out of control the way he was the day before. I practiced some harder canter work to reinforce that he do a relaxed line of tempis, even when he wanted to leap from his skin. The hotness made for some amazing collected canter–I had enough energy in the reserves that when I collected him and asked him to step under and engage, he truly felt like he was recharging like a pinball machine. The uncoiling of each stride felt like he was pushing off with 110 percent of his strength. Goodbye old man doing squats in aerobics class, hello Olympic weightlifter lifting hundreds of pounds with ease. Note to self: warm-up just enough to gain control at shows, but not enough to lose the extra energy and the canter will be his strongest gait.

One thing I did appreciate on the second day was having been smart enough to rub a glycerine bar on the flaps and seat of my saddle. I usually don’t need sit-tight or anything, but with the cold wind the day before I felt like I was sitting on a saddle made of nylon. I was fine, but would have appreciated a little extra stick when my horse was doing airs above the ground. By having the stick on day two, I felt locked into my saddle and could focus on riding completely.

It also helps that I have been using my iGallop to warm up before I get on my first horse of the day at the farm. If you haven’t heard about this, check it out online. It seems completely bizarre and mildly R-rated, but I promise you that it loosens your hips unlike any unmounted exercise I have done before and all you have to do is sit there, turn it on and you are ready to ride in 10 minutes. Since the seat is pretty flat, I put a small pillow on it to make a more saddle-like shape that I can sit on without having to bring my knees too far forward. It also helps if your breeches were in the dryer too long and need a bit of stretching. I really hate getting on a horse and realizing that part of my walk warm-up has to revolve around pulling my breeches higher, adjusting some sock wrinkle along my calf or wishing I had worn a different top. With my iGallop, I can tell if everything feels OK before I start to use up precious time in the saddle.

So there is my post. No underlying theme. Just notes from my riding. I sometimes forget to share my notes as a dressage trainer and get too professional. I hope that these small anecdotes and tips will help you with your own dressage progress. I try to share them with my students and hope you appreciate them as well. Happy riding!

Calculating dressage scores from a test that day. I believe it was a 72 percent!

Hilary Moore Hebert: Horse Humor

Here are just a few humorous memes I made up for our fans:

It’s so hard to believe it’s already September. And if that isn’t bad enough, we’re busy working on the November issue of the magazine! Of course, with that comes the annual gift article. Over the past few years we’ve brought you everything from high-end items like the oil on porcelain portrait for $2,000 to eco-friendly gifts like the vintage show ribbon belts (love this idea) and traditional equestrian gifts with an updated twist (the Giddyup Rocking Stools made using an old saddle).

This year we decided on the theme of gifts that give back and have highlighted companies that donate a portion of their profits to charitable organizations. Because of space, we couldn’t include all the companies that give back, but we think we give you a good handful to get started with. We hope you’ll agree!