Thursday 9 February 2017

Not So Autonomous Anymore

My blog might need a name change.
(Sorry in advance for the length of this post but it's all connected and important and exciting!)

A year ago when I started this blog, the local dressage scene here was looking pretty sad and non-existent. I was the only dressage rider at my barn. The only other active dressage rider I knew in my area was my friend and former teacher KD, but she had decided to stop teaching (because there weren't more dressage students and it wasn't worth it for her to compromise her AA status just to teach me and one beginner). I had no other options for dressage instruction and I was feeling pretty alone. Hence the name Autonomous Dressage.

Some of the other riders at my barn, a bunch of dressage queens they are not! 

In case the barrels don't give it away, this is not a dressage barn

Over the past year I have done quite a bit. I feel like I've been pretty good about thinking outside of the box and figuring things out with what I have instead of wallowing in the situation. 

First, I joined the blogging community. The internet is a great way to feel a connection with people even if they are far away. I feel like blogging is a great way to find out new exercises, tack reviews, and just generally getting support through the crazy journey that is dressage and horses. Thank you all for letting me be part of that. 

Second, I drove to Calgary and found some training opportunities there. I rode a dressage simulator, I rode a schoolmaster, and I found a really great Grand Prix rider/trainer to work with (Sandra). 

Simulator - super fun

The 4th level schoolmaster, Miss Pissy Pants

Third, I became a scribe and took advantage of learning opportunities that didn't involve my horse. 

I'm in the booth, not on the horse in case that wasn't obvious
Photo Credit: Quantum Photography

Back at home, I've worked on becoming a better, more thinking rider so that I could make more progress without regular instruction. 

I still felt the need for some instruction in between Calgary trips though. As one option, I looked into the possibility of Skype lessons, but haven't been able to make that pan out yet (anyone know of a bluetooth headset with good enough range to work across an arena?).

I also started talking to people at any horse related event around (which really pushed me out of my introvert comfort zone) to see if anyone else was interested in dressage. The horse world in rural areas still isn't the most high tech or connected. Turned out that the lack of connection was a key part of the issue. Through talking to people about dressage and getting more names and numbers I learned a few things. First, I discovered a couple dressage clinics close by that were being organized by hunter/jumper riders to improve their flat work and got myself on the list (like the Elaine clinic). I also found out that there were a few other dressage riders in the area who also thought they were the only ones. We had been riding in isolation at separate stables and acreages without realizing each other existed. I made those connections, and started a Facebook group so we could all stay connected and communicate (and I have phone numbers for everyone who doesn't use Facebook).

Hauling to the Elaine Clinic

At first I thought meeting these people might just mean people to haul up to Calgary with but I soon realized more potential. I took the step of trying to arrange a dressage clinic with Sandra down here and it worked. We had our first clinic in November. The next clinic down here with Sandra will be Feb 25-26, and it is almost full. I've also already set the dates for the clinic in May. We're hoping to keep this clinic series going every 2-3 months, indefinitely. The ability to ride in a dressage clinic with an awesome instructor on a regular basis is amazing to me. I would have been happy if this was where the developments stopped, but it wasn't...

Sandra on board Kachina at the November clinic

N is one of my friends and a local hunter rider and instructor. She has organized some very successful hunter/jumper schooling shows here and we had casually tossed out the idea of organizing a local dressage show. We finally decided to put talk into action and over the past couple months we've put together a lot of the costs and requirements. Working with N is great because she's now the event coordinator at one of the barns, she's also great at keeping things running smoothly on the day and getting sponsors involved. On the flip side, I've got the knowledge and contacts to put together the dressage specific side of things. Whether this show is feasible or not is almost entirely based on the number of entries we get. To gather some of that data I put together a quick SurveyMonkey survey and put it out to the world a couple weeks ago. The survey asks people if they would enter the show, what dates they are available, how many tests they would do, whether their priority is a lower cost or higher quality show, etc. So far 27 people have submitted answers. That isn't a huge number, but it's more than I was expecting and that alone makes this show a realistic possibility. 

Organizing a show means I don't get to win ribbons,
but I do get to pick them! So many options!

Things snowballed from there. I reached out to the closest branch of the Alberta Dressage Association (which is still a couple hours away) to see if we could work together on promoting dressage in the area. I hoped that we could at least cross advertise each others shows to encourage more participation. It turned out that the possibilities were even better than that. After a few discussions with their exec by email and phone, they brought the idea of having our area more involved, to their members at the AGM on Feb. 4th. I was still in Ohio at that point so wasn't able to attend the meeting in person, but they voted in favour of supporting our show and area. That means that they will advertise our show, give us a few hundred dollars to help pay our judge, and cover the show under their insurance! This support is so much more than I was hoping for and makes this show much more do-able. In order to facilitate the cooperation between our areas, they also created a new position on their board of directors and voted me into that position!

Then, as if all that wasn't enough, a few different people have contacted me about making my local show part of a new dressage show series in Southern Alberta with high point prizes etc. so that might be happening now. 

Finally, one of the hunter/jumper stables near me just got a new resident dressage trainer. She just arrived last week from out east. I can't take any direct credit for this development, but I wouldn't be surprised if the growing dressage community was part of her decision to relocate here. I have a first lesson booked to ride with her this coming Sunday. She is a Grand Prix rider who achieved a lot of success in the Young Rider arena and I'm excited to see how she is as a trainer. 

Some of this stuff is still very new and a bit up in the air so we'll see how it all ends up, but stuff is happening and that's exciting. I'm definitely not feeling so alone anymore! 

I'm not actually going to change my blog name. I'm not the only blog who has changed from when we first came up with a name. Even if our horses or situations change, it's not a bad thing to look back on where we started. Also, in my case, the name Autonomous Dressage reminds me that while I might not be alone any longer, if I want something, it's still up to me to take initiative and make it happen. I'm excited to see what we can make happen in 2017!


  1. This is so awesome!!!! Congrats on all the progress that has happened in such a short time!

  2. Wow, what a lot of progress in a relatively short period of time -- that's amazing!

    1. It seemed like things started really slowly (the 5 months it took me to build up to the first clinic), but then it started snowballing and moving faster and faster! I've just been trying to go with the momentum.

  3. That is so cool!! I'm thrilled for you.

  4. YAY!! That is such awesome news all around :)

    1. Even if only half of this stuff sticks, our local dressage community will still be way ahead of where it started, that's a pretty cool place to be

  5. I'm seriously impressed in all the work you've put into this and the changes it has brought about! Dedication for the win! It's amazing what connecting with others can do for us. I was similarly inspired by beginning to follow the blogging community to step up my own game and really make my dreams a reality. it's empowering lol!!

    1. It's totally empowering. I credit blogging with some of the motivation to make things happen. It's like "instead of writing again about how I can't have any lessons, why don't I try a new way to get some lessons?"

  6. These are some really serious opportunities. I'm really glad you have a chance to explore all the possibilities.

    1. I'm glad I stepped up to search out some of these opportunities instead of waiting for them to come to me. It's really taught me that you can make a lot happen with a bit of initiative.

  7. Holy hannah that's really amazing! Good for you man! I love reading about people who took it by the horns so to speak and it's paying off!

  8. Wow- you have really made some great connections! Well done!

  9. Wow, you're a force! Nicely done! :)

  10. Ahhhhh! How awesome! You should be so proud of all that you've done to grow the sport of dressage in your area