Esta was bred via artificial insemination to Conversano Ivey last spring, and gave birth to a colt just over 2 months ago. Despite the long gestation (376 days), the delivery was fast and without complications. The colt was healthy, and we noticed when he first stood up that he was very balanced.

Although we were nervous about how she would react to her first foal, she turned out to be an excellent mother. From day one, she allowed people (including the vet) to handle him without fuss. Now that he is older and enjoys playing and jumping, she is patient with his youthful energy.

As for the colt, his name is Conversano Ballesta, to comply with the naming conventions of the Lipizzan breed. To us, he is “Patton,” after the general who saved the Lipizzans from extinction after WWII. He has inherited a strong and straight frame from his parents, along with lovely gaits. But most importantly, he has a wonderful, loving temperament.

So with Esta’s new role as mother, she will not be ridden again until Patton is weaned.  Lactation has led her to devote time to one of her biggest passions, food!  However, she is being worked in hand to keep her responsive and light.


Quickie Shelter

We moved a couple of weeks ago and needed to get a shelter up fast for Esta and Minuet…only had a few hours to get a shelter up before a monster storm system hit the area.  We hand dug 6 holes (3 feet deep) and set treated posts, then attached boards.  We secured the carport cover to the posts, and ran some twine over the top of the tarp to the bottom of the boards just to be sure the tarp stayed secure.  Storm blew through, shelter held fine.  Easily fits 2 horses, maybe 2 and one could get his head and shoulders out of the rain (if everyone’s cooperating).

The horses like it because it’s light inside the shelter and they have a 360 degree view.

Cost:  about $350.

We bought new lumber for everything; you could get creative and go cheaper if you had to.


A More Balanced Esta

After months of purposeful lunging, riding and in hand work, Esta’s balance and impulsion are looking great!  A big key was the discovery of the surcingle and side reins for lunging.  The side reigns attach to the bit from the surcingle and are designed to help the horse reach for contact with the bit.  Using side reins builds impulsion more than lunging with just a bridle.

So with that in mind, we proceeded to adjust the length of the side reigns short enough for her to find that contact, but not so short that they held her head down.  Ramener (bringing the nose towards vertical) is not something to be forced. Esta was stiffer going clockwise, so we worked her more going that way than counterclockwise.  Every lesson she got better at reaching for bit and keeping a relaxed, steady rhythm. Now that her balance is looking good on the bigger circles, we can work her for short periods on smaller circles that increase her flexibility and bring her closer to collection.



beginning work in-hand

We don’t want to drill the horse, so after working with Esta for a minute or two on flexions, we move on to work in-hand.  Here is an example of the type of in-hand work we’re doing with Esta (credit to Transformational Dressage on YouTube):

Some of the advantages of in-hand work are:

  1.  the horse can be taught almost any movement on the ground without the weight of the rider,
  2.  at ground level you can see exactly what is going on with the horse’s body,
  3.  it requires total engagement of the horse’s mind, and it is very effective in getting a horse focused to work.

For a few reasons, we prefer this method of warm-up to lunging.

Next, Esta’s in-hand progress.



Esta yields to pressure on her right

We’re ready to start with work on the ground.  The first thing we tackled was to familiarize Esta to the pressure she would feel on the bit thru the reins. Only one hand works at a time, and the pressure, which amounts to a soft jiggle, from that hand is lifted toward her ear.  First left, then back to center, then right, with at least a couple of seconds pausing at each position.  We used just enough ‘jiggle’  to get a response, then we quit the pressure.  When we first attempted this she responded with a nice bend of the neck and head, but then swung her body around too.  We didn’t care at that point, and after a few days she didn’t move her body any more.

We do not want to over-flex.  A small bend is fine.  Esta caught on pretty quickly and we moved on to the ‘pressure, stretch, release’ move.



Here we stand one one side of Esta’s head and bring the far rein over the top of her head behind her ears.  With a little steady pressure on both the rein (down) and the ring (up) simultaneously, Esta lowered her head and we immediately released the pressure.  This is what we will eventually use to get her to stretch her neck (and back) out when being ridden, which is important because we want her to work through the entire length of her spine.


Head drops, pressure released

Equipment note:  we are not using the preferred full-cheek snaffle because we don’t have one for Esta…it’s on our list of things to buy.  We also need smooth reins, rather than laced reins pictured, because it’s easier for smooth reins to slide through the fingers.  

head armor

Helmets are a necessity.  I hate wearing them, but force myself.  Now it’s a habit. Plus the dressage world has become pretty adamant about them.


tipperary helmet

It’s a good idea too, when working with an unfamiliar horse on the ground, to wear your helmet.  The horse’s head weighs approximately 10% of its weight, so a 1000 lb horse wields a head weighing about 100 lbs.  Some horses object to what is being asked of them by swinging their heads around…



full cheek snaffle

I like the full cheek snaffle bit for training.  The full cheek setup prevents the horse from opening its mouth and letting, say,  a ring slide into the mouth when flexing the head side to side.  And I think the snaffle bit is fine…I have used a french link snaffle in the past thinking it was easier on the horse’s tongue, but went back to a snaffle once I understood that the pressure should be applied on the corners of the mouth and not the bars or tongue of the horse. This will be discussed more later. I read somewhere that Philippe Karl uses this bit configuration, which makes me feel good about this choice, too.

the purchase

Before we purchased Esta, there were a couple of things we were looking for in a horse:

1) suitable for what we intended to do (dressage),
2) soundness,
3) price we could afford, and
4) not-too-sensitive or opinionated horse my daughter
can ride

We felt the Lipizzan breed might fit these requirements (and so far Esta has done fine in these areas).

We also had a pre-purchase exam by a vet but I suspect a very experienced, TRUSTED horse person could do the same thing. The vet said she looked good and got her up-to-date on shots (the previous owner did not believe in these).  He also mentioned that her heels were low and toes long, so a good farrier straightened her hooves out.

We had her teeth checked out (which should be done before inserting a bit in the mouth). Glad we did because she had wolf teeth and the expected sharp edges.

All this preliminary work was expensive at $800-$900, but we didn’t want to take any chances.  I’ve seen too many friends pick up horses with degenerative diseases or other problems.

And finally, the saddle. Needless to say my arab’s dressage saddle did not fit, so after much deliberation and research we settled on a Zaldi saddle from Spain ($1300).  They are designed to fit baroque breeds.

So with all that out of the way, we started training.



Esta…the big little Lipizzan mare

Ballesta (Esta) is a 10 year old Lipizzan mare.  We have studied Gen Decarpentry’s training methods & together we will train using his methods and chronicle the progress on this blog “training esta”.