Monday, July 28, 2014

Where do you find Peace?

This is a highly personal question. I know. Where do you find peace? It's something I think about. I'm experimenting here. I had an experience last night I'd like to share.

Confession. I'm not a stickler for where to find peace. I don't judge. A few examples are: I find peace when I'm riding. I like to walk. I'm good at sitting in meditation. I'm at peace with my cat in my lap. I love being by the water.  A few moments of silence for me goes a long way. I find peace and fulfillment in a room full of yoga practitioners chanting OM. My heart opens, I stop thinking, I'm filled with joy. This may or may not be your experience. I'm opening the discussion widely.

While in Manhattan recently, I have been back to visit several Catholic churches. I was reminded how Peace lives there. Let me back up and set this in context.

I was raised in a rather strict Catholic home. My father and mother were both raised Catholic. My mother's family is Italian, authentically. To be more specific, my great grandparents were from Naples. When I was a kid, I don't recall anyone speaking English.

On my father's side, we trace the history back to the 1600s to Anjou, France (no kidding). They immigrated to Canada. My grandfather spoke only in French.

For me the influence of the Church came early. I was in mass every Sunday without fail as a child, baptized, confirmed, Sunday school, and later, I chose a Catholic College for the opportunity to be in NY to be taught by brilliant Jesuit priests, in the Bronx, at Fordham University. When my Dad died in my sophmore year in college, I turned to the Church for solace. I prayed, I cried in Fordham's lovely gothic chapel. I felt supported somehow, and knowing the teachings, the universal lessons,  saved me from going over the edge. I got married in that same chapel. The church was good for me later too, during a personal crisis of divorce, I went back to church for all the same reasons. I needed help and felt good praying for the answers.

Once ensconced in a spiritual practice based in yogic philosophy and Vedic teachings, I made my place of peace not the church, but the world at large. It's a concept I know that doesn't form fit to everyone, but for me, it's practical and beautiful all at the same time. Finding nature, finding inner solace, it's all good.

So back to Manhattan. For the last 4 months I think I've been to mass at maybe 6 different churches. All of them have been interesting in some way or another. I especially love the beauty of the structures, the art is stunning, the grandeur can take your breath away. I slowly adapted myself back into the practice of prayers, though to tell the truth, it felt awkward at first, to try to sit in rituals and recite words I had almost forgotten. It didn't matter. For me, spirit was present, God is God in all forms.

This past weekend, by chance, I ended up at Our Lady of Pomei for a 7pm mass on Sunday night. This was a strange coincidence. Here's why.
Our Lady of Pompeii has it origins in the Saint Raphael Society for the Protection of Italian Immigrants. This Society was founded to care for the many Italian immigrants of the day, who, it was feared, would fall prey to those who would exploit their labor or overcharge them in the course of their travels. In 1890, Father Pietro Bandini came to New York City to organize a branch of the Society. Father Bandini purchased a building at 113 Waverly Place, which is still standing, and began his work ministering to immigrants. He helped them negotiate the legal hurdles of migration, contact relatives in the United States, to find work. He also provided spiritual assistance at a chapel, which he named Our Lady of Pompeii.

Well that resonates so closely to my own heritage it was a little scary. But what was really great about this church was the huge sense of community. Everyone sang. People were super friendly and happy to be together. Let me take this a step further. After the mass there was a little get together....I went with a friend.

It was in the church's parish house. Most of the attendees were really young. We felt ok being the senior members. We drank home made Sangria, snacked on some really great guacamole. We met a young man. He was so excruciatingly shy, and we couldn't help but offer him refuge and someone to talk to. His name was Nathan. We were wearing name tags. He was clearly uncomfortable at first, but we broke the ice. Nathan said he had forced himself to attend the "social" as a way of meeting new people. I thought how incredibly hard it was for him and others, in a city full of millions, to put yourself out there. His shyness faded as we quizzed him about his job (a computer programmer), his upbringing (Colonial Williamsburg), his education (MIT in Cambridge) his hobbies (architectural redesigning of historic buildings in NYC for current use. WOW). This kid was brilliant. We liked him. He seemed happy to relax and talk. We made him laugh a few times telling him about our trip earlier that day to Govenor's Island where there were so many buildings that could use his expertise.

What I noticed about the church setting was that it naturally gave people permission to be themselves. It was safe. There was a built in open door policy of sorts that allowed us to attend, allowed the young people a place to be together in comfort, and I guess for Nathan, it felt like a place where he could be accepted. The yogis have a phrase, 'observation without judgement." It fit this scene.

We chatted with him for about a half hour. I heard a sense of self deprecation. I wanted him to feel confident in his own possibilities. We finally left Nathan and said goodbye and watched him wonder into the crowd. His peaceful nature seemed hidden and I hoped it would be illuminated. We may never see him again.

Community is a place of peace for me. It's everywhere if you want to find it and help build it. The key is it's a give and need to put yourself out there in your own place whether it's yoga class or church, or work, or the neighborhood....give what you get...give peace, get peace. I learned this in my yoga community in Hudson. I was reminded of this in the Catholic churches in Manhattan....sow, reap, chant, sing, connect....and there in that connection is beauty, spirit and a path to Peace.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Golf? Really? Yes! Really

Ok, so this blog post is about golf. Wait. Before you skip ahead or turn this off I have to say this...I realized I'm not too old to learn something new. For reasons I'll discuss in later posts, I asked my friend Laura if she'd take a golf lesson with me. She said sure, and she said she could suggest a good golf pro not far from where we both live in Columbia County. His name is Lucas Cohen and he runs Start to Finish Golf in Claverack on Route 9H just before you get to the new Hannafords (we all need some landmarks).
Anyway, I didn't think much about the golf thing. Actually, like most people, I thought it would be perfectly deadly, boring, ho-hum, what's all the fuss, a club, a ball...zzzzz. And Hey, I ride horses, that's about as thrilling as sports get as far as I am concerned. But I went because, well, I wanted to see what it was all about and take a turn at hitting those little balls right into their little cups.

Someone should have scrawled "NEWBIE" on my forehead when I arrived at the school. I didn't have a clue , but the pro was, let's say, was gentle. Laura on the other hand owns her own clubs, looks absolutely divine in her golf shirts and her swing, well, I was instantly humbled.

First dumb anti-golf thing I do is I stand too close to Laura as she's swinging her club. This is an absolute beginner no-no. I am politely directed to go ten steps backward. My first introduction to golf... I learn how not to die from being hit in the head by a metal club. The lesson had began.
Lucas, the owner and pro is an absolute sweetie. He's tall and fit and he smiles the entire time he's teaching us. I thought he might be flirting, but realistically he's just enjoying his job. Who wouldn't! This is all about fun, chattering about the minutia of golf and yes, you can bring your own libations.

Anyway, I learned fast not to let Lucas' little boy image fool me. He means business out there because like most great instructors, he truly wants you to learn, get good at golf and have an absolute blast. We wanted that too.

After a brief "interview" with us...we got to stand and watch. I could see Laura  out of the corner of my eye was itching to grab her massive wooden driver and whack a few balls way down the fairway, yet we agreed to listen patiently to Lucas.

He first taught us about alignment to the hole, and alignment of our body to the ball. He taught us the "athletic" stand and positioned us squarely on the green. He maneuvered our fingers into a proper grip. He taught us how to find the "target" how to 'clip the tee', but most importantly, he taught us how to 'finish in balance." For a newbie like me, this was basically a foreign language, but intriguing. I was taking it in mentally and physically. I wanted to go faster, get it quicker because basically,  I'm a born competitor.

I place the blame for this squarely on my parents. I was raised behind an older sister and two older brothers who like most older brothers, were merciless in their torment as we all grew up together as teenagers in a small split level ranch house in a tiny town in Connecticut. So being good in sports goes back to the insane whiffle ball games we all used to have in the back yard, the not-really-touch/tackle football tournaments on the street in front of our house. In high school I competed in gymnastics, track and then volleyball. Then I made the varsity college volleyball team at Fordham. Later in New York City, I played some tennis, I ran races, and  I took up riding seriously when I moved to the country. I enjoyed it I stand with an 8 iron in my hand readying for a new adventure.

Lucas' expert instruction continued. We finally get to approach the tee with our clubs, our perfect grips, our athletic stance, and place the little ball down readying to take a swipe at it.
Lucas is now behind us taking photos (really unnerving by the way) and barking orders after keenly instructing and adjusting us for about a half hour. Laura and I want to finally have at it so we start hitting the ball.
I'm pretty ok but I whiff a few times and Lucas comes over to show me something remarkable. When hitting the golf ball off the tee, it may look like you swing through the air and it flies off gracefully, but in reality, you kind of attack the turf under the tee so you can catch the ball from underneath. On tv you can't really see this happening, but
I took his advice and hit "down" on the ball and though it felt totally awkward at first.... boy that made a difference. My ball got some air and that's supposed to be pretty good for a beginner. I started smiling a lot after that.
We suddenly got the hang of it and soon my shots were gliding well beyond the target about 100 yards away. Cool!
That's me  finishing in balance...
I have to say that golf is a little like gambling. Once you get the feeling of hitting through the ball and seeing it sail, you kind of get the itch to repeat that.
Lucas is a great cheerleader. He loves to tell you you're "doing well" or you hit an "excellent shot." He's encouraging, yet he jumps up immediately if you break his mantra...look at the target, clip the tee, finish in balance. Repeat that three times. His keeping it simple really helped me learn.
What I loved a lot about golfing is that it mimics yoga, really. I think it comes fairly naturally for me because when your in a yoga class, you're thinking about alignment, you're breathing as you move, you learn to relax your mind in stressful postures. Golf requires a lot of the same elements. Understanding where you body is in relationship to the earth is what yoga asks, golf is the same it just puts a ball in front of you and a club in your hand.
So listen up ladies. If you want to learn to golf, go to Lucas. He really knows golf, but more so, he really knows how to TEACH Golf. There's a difference. Your husband can try to instruct you, your boyfriend, your daughter or a friend. Maybe that tell you to loosen your hips, bend your knees, follow the ball. Well they would be wrong, and you need a pro like Lucas to tell you what's right. He makes it simple, he knows his stuff. He's kind, he's cute and doesn't waste your time. For a package of 5 one hour lessons (and by the way, you get this awesome pink polo if you buy the package) it's $225 if you do a semi-private, two people...I think that's pretty good. And you get Lucas all to yourself for an hour if you pay for the $400 package for private instruction.

Lucas is holding many events at his golf school in Claverack this summer. He's got spots open for lessons if you call and reserve. You can practice (and he likes when you practice) any time at his driving range, putting green, etc. on Route 9H. Ok, it's not like riding horses, but it's totally fun, social, athletic and interesting. Go golf with Lucas Cohen at Start to Finish Golf!
That's Laura Teeing off...

Thursday, July 17, 2014

I Wrote A Book of Stories about Columbia County New York

I wrote a book. I wrote a book of stories. I wrote a book of stories about history. I wrote a book of stories about the history of Columbia County, NY. This book's stories are beautiful and bizarre. Above all, these stories are true. I want to say I loved writing this book.
Let me go back to the time when I was eight years old. Without my mother's knowledge, in the summer without a lot to do, I did something indulgent. At this moment I can't remember what magazine it was, but in the magazine was a book club, and  I signed up for one of those mail order book deals. It was impulsive, I admit it, because at the time I didn't have a way to pay for the books that would soon be coming in the mail. I did it anyway because the idea of it sounded, rather, delicious.

When I was a kid reading was a true joy, an amazing adventure into imagination. It was wonderfully solitary and satisfying. It was private, it was personal, it was something I could do for myself, by myself, without people, without limitations, without interruptions.

The book club sign-up itself gave me a particular thrill, but receiving the book was even more exciting. I remember the first one that arrived. It was a simple little story called "The Mysterious Bender Bones." It featured the private adventure of a young lady turned detective. How fun is that! I read this book under a tree in my back yard. It was hot and muggy in the middle of August. The tree provided shade and solace. I luxuriated in the words. I loved the way my mind completed exited real time and relished the altered reality I had entered. I was living in another world, in another person's life. I was transformed and transported.
Some experiences stay with you. This one did. From that moment on, I decided to be a writer. I wanted nothing other than this. I wrote diaries, and later journals. I wrote letters to people. I wrote poetry, songs, plays. When in school, I wrote essays that captured some attention early on. I felt connected to words. I loved being in the library, near books. I still do.
The years passed. I went to Fordham University as a creative writing major. The work of writing was easy, because I loved it. After college things changed. I took a career path where writing was technical, useful and the pay was good writing press releases, brochures, ad copy, you name it.
My personal writing waned and waxed and didn't amount to too much as I was in a time of my life where acquiring things was important. Then marriage came and went. Then horses came into my life and that love captured my heart, my time.
I ended up moving to the 'country' out of New York City. I found time to write again when I moved there. I published articles on the local people. I wrote a novel (that remains in my computer.) I enjoyed a writer's group.
Then I turned a certain age, and revisited my desire to write a book and see it published. That's today. The Hidden History of Columbia County is now published and selling, I think.... This is a dream, in a way. It was a long time ago that I read that mystery book. I'm so very happy to share this book with everyone. May it bring you joy and fun!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Fresh Food in Chatham New York part I

Ok so here's a disclaimer. I'm a vegetarian trying to eat in restaurants in Chatham near where I live. I like not having to cook, especially in the summer so here's my experience. I like Destinos on Main Street in Chatham for a couple of reasons. It has an outdoor patio, which I love, even though it has a view of the busiest corner/traffic light in Chatham. In summer, who wants to sit in a stuffy dining room on a beautiful night. I also like their happy hour, and the friendly staff serving at the bar and elsewhere. There isn't a lot of attitude among the waitstaff and as a matter of fact, I find them quite attentive. If you get there early, they serve you free chips with guacamole, sour cream and my favorite, this amazing salsa. As far as I'm concerned, everyone should go there just to taste this salsa. I could be wrong, but I think the chef there must put tequila in it because I always feel pretty good eating it. Either way, it's super with big chunks of flavorful ingredients and fresh cilantro. In hot weather, (and just about any time), fresh cilantro is heaven. Go eat this salsa. I usually get the big salad tropical which includes greens, mostly arugula and mango. Totally delicious. I think it has candied pecans too, which I'm not too crazy about. In that I've eaten there with lots of friends, I've seen them enjoy fajitas, and once or twice I've had the fish tacos which you can smother in salsa (I'm obsessed). There's a ton on the menu to choose from and I've never left there hungry. Margaritas are the way to go if you're drinking, unless you're like me and enjoy beer in these temperatures. I can say that both are good choices. There's a full bar and most nights a crowd four deep standing there enjoying the social environment. In the restaurant there are plenty of tables and I've never had to wait for more than a minute to be seated. If you miss happy hour you still get chips at your table and no one really cares if you linger for as long as you like. Weekends the place is packed so enjoy the scene.

The Old Chatham Country Store is about two miles from my house. It's technically part of Chatham and an interesting choice for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I've not had a chance to dine there at night, so I can only speak to the other two. I've lived close by for a number of years and this place has gone through a true evolution. One of my favorite things at the OCCS is their iced cappucino. I know that this isn't technically breakfast or lunch, but I put iced coffee into a major food group in the summer. Warning, this pleasure isn't cheap, maybe $3.50 or more, but go for it! It's delicious. The other thing I like at breakfast is their egg sandwich. They 'build' the sandwich any which way you want so pile things on as you prefer, but again, each item comes with a pricetag. If you go with the standard egg and cheese, it's about $4.00. The baked goods are locally made but go quickly. The french bread is yummy and they sell frozen baguettes you can pop in the oven at home. They have great rolls too and will create pancakes and omelette too. Specials are their specialty so on any given day you can find something rather creative from quiche to tartes and so on. Brian posts daily specials on their Facebook page.
Eating inside is kind of noisy, especially if the weekend crowd has piled in after a day of riding or tennis. Go for the al fresco seating which wraps around the patio and is ample. For lunch they really mix it up. While the previous owners had wiener Wednesday, Brian and Patrick create great big salads (I mean huge. The cob salad is the favorite), burgers, gourmet sandwiches, hot dishes, chowder, creative pizza, and pack the freezer with delicious organic ice cream. One of their signature desserts is a fudge brownie the size of a small brick stuffed with sinful chocolate chips. It hardly feels like it's been baked, which is what makes it so good. Enjoy reading the newspaper, chat with friends, dine alone, it's all good. Maybe soon I'll get there for dinner and write about them again.

Our Daily Bread Deli - Well I've saved the best for last. This is owned by the people who have Destino's and have the other eatery down at the traffic circle. It's new and big and lovely. You walk into the bakery deli part and it's hard to know that there's a large restaurant dining room to the left. Don't think you have to squeeze into the small area for lunch, ask to be seated. I kind of wish they wouldn't call it a deli because it really is a restaurant. The best thing about this place is that they've worked really hard to make it delicious and healthy with organic everything. I love that they cater to those of us who don't eat meat. Organic eggs, french toast, lox on bagels, fried potatoes if you go for that, amazing crispy toast, juices, pastries. I tend to eat la lot when I'm there. It's really good and certainly not expensive. The coffee is strong, the cream it thick and I'm a glutton for refills. No one seems to balk when you ask they bring the pot over again. In the winter it was really cold in the dining room, previously an old house and there are actually three rooms in all. It's pleasant in the summer with an added garden patio. For lunch you have 50 things to choose from and I enjoyed my veggie burger packed with toppings. Go on line to see the menu in advance. Kids are welcome here and are always part of the crowd. On your way out snag some of the baked goods or a fresh loaf of break which they bake on site. In the freezer there are other delicious things to go like local cheese and yogurt from our own Sheepherding Company. Next food entry I'll include dinner at the Blue Plate and a trip to the Co-Op. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

See Sondra at Sadhana in Hudson for a True yoga experience

Behind every great thing in Columbia County is an amazing person. This blog is about yoga. It's been about 4 years since I received my yoga teacher training certificate in Hudson, but that's not what this is about. Well, not exactly. I want to shine a light on the amazing Sadhana yoga studio and its owner/creator, Sondra Loring. 

Let me roll back time just to set the scene. I had practiced yoga for many years in the Berkshires at Kripalu (didn't live there when it was an Ashram, but did work there directing the communications for a bit). My first really amazing teacher here in Columbia County was Keli Lelita (aka Kate Reddy) who was teaching a bunch of us first in a friend's basement (yep, pre-the yoga boom) and then in her lovely converted barn. Our little core group practiced under Kate's unbelievable direction for four full years. As life would have it, the yoga group dissolved and Kate now teaches at her place and in Hudson.

this blogger stretching

At the point we stopped, I turned 50 and decided as a present to myself, I would enter the intensive yoga teacher training offered at Sadhana. When Kate was my teacher, she introduced me to a super yogi from New York who was visiting (he eventually moved here and that's for another blog entirely). His name was Ray Cappo and goes by Rahgunath or Rhagu. He's a muscled up hunk of a guy, with a wicked smile and sense of humor and an amazing ability to completely dominate any room he walks in. He can make you go to places in your practice you couldn't imagine and he trained my body and mind masterfully for about a year. With this deep practice under my belt, I felt confident going to his teacher training which he was conducting in Hudson, though his following was still mostly in New York and L.A. (where the stars still fly him out for weekends).
Rahgu  was sharing the training Sondra Loring who owns Sadhana. It turns out, they are totally matched. For every bit of braun and brazen-ness he brings, she brings grace, patience and elegance to the training. I learned quickly that I was going to experience one of the best and most comprehensive teacher trainings anywhere! 
The first day I gratefully meet a man at the door who happened to be driving the exact same car as me. We greeted each other at the door at 5am. He and I bond instantly like two kids entering kindergarten. I am equally grateful that he was around my age (though a four years younger) and but I was still the oldest trainee in the session.

Raghu of course sweeps into the room singing at the top of his lungs, and we start our four month intensive chanting like crazy people as the sun rises. He's so lovable that you unquestionably do whatever he says and smile while doing it.

Later in the morning I experience Sondra. Mind you, Sondra is no wimp. She just shows up differently than Raghu. She's pointed, demanding and very purposeful in making sure that all of us learn yoga from top to bottom. It was immediately evident to me that anyone not signing up for this serious training need not stick around. I appreciated her no nonsense demeanor and admired her tremendously when she started to demonstrate asanas. Her body was so limber and strong, I felt humbled. She's an ex-dancer and it shows, but more than that, she's a studied professional.

I may be going out on a limb here, but I feel there comes a time in one's life when you can simply pull the plug on bullshit. As a matter of fact, that time came for me on this birthday.When you hit the midway mark (if you consider living until you're 100) you realize that the time clock is ticking much louder than it ever has, and if you're going to get to do the things you've longed for, dreamed about, collected on a long list, this is the time. You start weeding your friend garden, you change jobs, you tell people you love them and you no longer tolerate crap. Or at least in my case, this is how it went down.

I could see that Sondra also had no time for crap, and I think this comes from the fact that she very much wanted us all to learn. In my case, I did, because of her encouragement, her dedication and because she showed up, every day, present, energized and giving it her all.

I realized that Sondra's wealth of information was possibly endless. I can't say that I know her resume very well, but it's pretty clear that Sondra is dedicated. She plunged into yoga opening a studio in Hudson far before it was even remotely hip to do so. Her individual classes, which she offers on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays (check her website) are always creative, well planned, thoughtful, thorough and honestly, quite amazing. 

She weaves just the right amount of traditional teachings, music, theory, alignment and humor (I need that humor). It's never gym class, never mechanical, never easy. Oh, that's one thing you should know about Sondra. She's a master teacher, an upper level practitioner, a total female, strong yogini. Don't take this lightly. If you go to her class, prepare to give it your all. What makes Sondra stand out further among her peers is her need for, how shall I say, "correctness." If your butt is up in the air in plank pose, she'll march over and help you lower it. If you've never done a headstand, she'll ask you to simply take the first phase and do it against the wall. If you're experiencing a physical limitation, she'll want to know about it up front. I love that she offers hands on with adjustments (don't worry if you don't like to be touched, you can say so). It's a strong and growing community of yoga in Hudson and without a moment's hesitation, I put Sondra as not just the pioneer of yoga in Hudson, but the best of the best.

I want to highlight plethora of great yoga in the vicinity. TJ at Bodhi Spa in Hudson, Parmananda at Govinda in Chatham along with Keli, Raghu who just started a retreat center in East Chatham. They're all what I would consider amazing teachers, deeply knowledgable and walking the talk, living the yogic lifestyle for real. They eat, breath, and think, feel, teach yoga because it's who they are not what they do.  Everyone should put these people at the top of their list of yoga teachers if you plan to do yoga in Columbia County. We are a strong yoga community. Don't think twice about that. I'm honored to be a part of this spiritually moving group. Namaste.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

If you Ride Horses in Columbia County- See This Lady about a Saddle

So for anyone who knows me, the fact that I ride (horses that is) is no secret. I’ve been riding in Columbia County since I moved here full time in 1989. Yep, that long. I’ve probably sat on over 100 different horses and been in multiple barns from the Berkshires and back. I’ve spent a lot of time riding in Malden Bridge and of course, Old Chatham, the epicenter for riders now, in the past, and probably in the future.

This post is about riding and the critical role of saddles. In sitting on over 100 horses ("sitting on" the colloquial term in riding for “having ridden”), I’ve also probably sat in more than 150 saddles. Most of them were pure crap, broken, second hand, or just cheap. This happens when you’re first learning, you’re under the impression that a saddle is a saddle. Kind of the “one-size fits all” theory. This couldn’t be more wrong. It would be like assuming that my shoes would fit your kid or your husband.

Saddle fitting is truly an art form, and often it’s the area that gets most ignored by riders, though I have to say, the awareness has risen quite a bit. I'm going to tell you about a master saddle fitter, and a really nice person.

I met Laura Vonk a couple of years ago when she and I were boarding our horses in the same barn. She had just purchased a spitfire chestnut horse named Roxy, and I was riding my horse, Louis, whom I’ve raised from a 4 year old. Laura didn’t stay long at this barn with Roxy, but somehow, probably through mutual friends and Facebook, we stayed in touch.

My first instincts about Laura were that the she was a humble, yet an awesome dressage rider. The barn we were in didn’t do much dressage, and that could be why she left. It was ultimately why I left. Anyway, Laura impressed me because she was so unassuming, polite, friendly and upbeat. It’s not often that someone at her riding level (way up there in the dressage scale ) is so nonchalant. In the riding world, and especially in competitive riding, there’s a lot of people with big egos, big agendas, big dreams, deep pockets and tunnel vision when it comes to needing to be in the ribbons (aka...winning). What I liked most about Laura was what I call her compassion for horses. She was sensitive and her demeanor with Roxy, who could pack quite a bit of energy at times, was always calm, controlled, and effective. "Wow," is all I could say each time she’d enter the ring.

Time passed, perhaps a few years, and I felt compelled to move Louis to a different location. I wanted to be closer to where I was working in Hudson, and he needed higher ground, less mud to help his feet which seemed to suffer in moisture. I wanted to be among fewer competitive riders and certainly in a barn that fully focused on dressage.

 For anyone reading this who doesn’t exactly know what dressage is, here’s a brief, but succinct definition. Dressage (often pronounced in French with the accent on the second syllable, so it sounds more like Dress-ig) is most commonly translated into “training.” It is a competitive equestrian sport defined by the International Equestrian Federation as the “highest expression of horse training,” where “horse and rider are expected to perform from memory a series of predetermined movements.”

Some talk about dressage as a dance or horse ballet, where the horse performs beautifully and the rider appears to be doing nearly nothing, (which couldn't be further from the reality). The sport or training methods go back to the Renaissance period where in Europe riding masters developed a sequential training system and little has changed since then. (Wikipedia).

I got into this aspect of riding after years of trailing riding, riding cross country, jumping horses and so forth. Dressage appealed to me for the same reasons yoga appeals to me. Both of these practices require intense concentration, agility, flexibility, balance, control of the mind and performance of the body. They both tremendously develop every part of the body, the mind and nurture your spirit as cliche as that sounds. The difference is that yoga invites you have a deepen your relationship with yourself and dressage allows you an intimate relationship with your horse. These two things yoga and dressage, go hand-in-hand, or should I say, hand-in-hoof. I’m a practicing yoga teacher and dressage rider, and for me, that’s perfection.

So back to Laura. Laura, in the time since she left the barn we were in to the time we reconnected, had decided to build her own place where she could train, teach and rescue horses and ride. I’d seen her post photos of the progress of the barn building on Facebook. It looked quite amazing and gorgeous. At some point last spring, I stopped by to see it. Laura greeted me in her gracious manner, with a big hug and showed me and a friend around. It was truly becoming a magnificent facility. I congratulated her. A while later we talked about moving Louis in with her group of horses which consisted of two upper level dressage horses, two rescues off the track and two orphaned babies whose mothers' had died. She had no real borders, and I was basically becoming the first. I felt honored and needless to say, super excited.

Come to find out months after we moved in,  Laura represents Trilogy saddles. We spent many hours talking one day about her work with the really unique company that was started by a woman who just didn’t think that the dressage saddles out there were really working for her. Leave it to an entrepreneur to reinvent the wheel when the wheel no longer works. So Trilogy was born with this idea of making real saddles for real bodies and real horses. The founder, Debbie, went to England to find the best saddle makers and now the saddles are widely used by both amateurs and high level dressage riders. 

For years I’d changed saddles on my horse. To this day I still have four saddles I’d like to sell. My problem was two-fold. Louis changed shape over the years and that is the plain fact about most horses. From a skinny four-year-old, he filled out and grew taller by the time he was six. Now he’s eleven, big muscled, 16 3hh and a lot of horse. Through the many phases of his growth and our training, his body matured, muscled up and in places, slimmed down in other places. I changed saddles many times to keep pace with his metamorphosis. 

One day Laura invited me to ride in her Trilogy. The first thing that struck me was that Louis was instantly more comfortable. I know this because he dropped his head, which in turn lifted his back and filled up the seat below me. It literally felt like I was suddenly sitting on a massive beach ball. He blew out a big breath which told me he was relaxed, and when we trotted off, he was smooth and swinging, two more indicators that he liked what he was feeling. I, too, felt more comfortable. The saddle didn’t rock, sway or tip to any side. The seat was comfortable and totally balanced and sat flat. My leg hung in a really great spot lining up my heel with my shoulder, and  I stayed put when he had a little falter.  When I asked him to go round (that basically means he pushes from the rear legs and carries himself very lightly, with his neck arched), it was smooth and even and elegant. Wow. Laura watched and I know she was smiling. She didn’t say much except that I should ride in that demo saddle a few more times, which I did.

So, I guess that many of us have slipped on the perfect pair of jeans or sat in the front seat of a sports car. There may be other experiences to explain what this feels like, maybe, but for me, being in this saddle, it was like being carried on a magic kidding. I loved the feeling.

If I had thought about investing a boat load of cash in a new saddle for long, I may not have taken the plunge.  I didn’t think too long. Later that day Laura did meticulous measurements on Louis, tracing his back, measuring his sides and having me sit in a variety of tree sizes (trees are the middle part of the saddle and vary from wide to narrow to fit the rider’s body). I’m not that big of a person and the narrower tree worked well for both me and Louis. She did the ‘fittings” and put the order in with my down payment. Since the saddle was to be made in England, it could take 4, 6 and sometimes 8 weeks to complete. I figured that the saddle would arrive somewhere around my birthday, May 4, and I might be able to justify the expense, somehow.

It’s July 1 and the saddle and I had our first date today. Laura popped it on Louis’ back to see how it fit yesterday. We both marveled at how beautiful it was and how level it sat on him. Only a dressage rider can appreciate this minutia. She added just a bit of flocking (real wool that is inserted into the panels, the place where the saddle meets the horses back) which gave it a better cushion. Finally came the test drive I’d been waiting for. I added my leathers and irons (stirrups) and I climbed aboard. Instantly I smiled. This was amazing. Louis, who had been kind of stiff and cranky in the last few rides, sighed deeply and dropped his nose. With a gentle bump of my inside calf he took off and we did a big rising trot around the arena on a long rein. The more he flowed, the more I smiled. Laura was again watching from the corner silent. She offered a few observations which helped me focus and the ride got even better. Had it not been 90 degrees, I would have ridden for quite a while longer, but I got off and gave Louis a long cool bath. My Trilogy got a good long oiling and put to bed.  The maiden voyage was more like a luxury cruise. Go to and talk to Laura Vonk.  She’s by far the most professional and knowledgeable saddle fitter in Columbia County and a really nice person.