From Endurance to Dressage
Speedy was busy this weekend. "J" took a lesson on Friday afternoon, and then "T" came out on Saturday morning. I don't know what J said to him, but Speedy came out rip roarin' on Saturday. He. Would. Not. Trot. I finally told T to just let him get it out, so instead of trotting, she let him canter big on the long sides while collecting him on the half circle at either end. She didn't use the whole length of the arena because I didn't want Speedy to get any ideas, but after a few minutes of that, he started to rethink his life choices. After blowing off a little steam, he was back to his schoolmaster self.
Since it had been a few weeks since T's last lesson, and since my repertoire of material is rather limited, I figured what was good for one lady was good for the other. We spent a few minutes working on some of T's body mechanics for good measure. She's still trying to feel Speedy's motion, so I draped his stirrups over his withers and had her ride at the walk with no stirrups. I wanted her to have a chance to focus on the way his belly sways back and forth. I also wanted her to feel whether or not she was allowing her arms to follow at the walk.
Since Speedy was feeling really fresh, I decided to try a new exercise with T that would make Speedy work hard so he could focus. It's something Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, showed me years ago. She called it the butterfly, and there are a lot of variations, but I had T ride it like this: From the long side, she trotted to C on a left bend, rode a tear drop back to the rail where she changed the bend and then made another half circle and tear drop at A back to the rail. It rides like a flat figure eight. Once she had the pattern down, we made it a little harder by throwing in a 10-meter circle at B each time she came back to the rail. In no time at all, Speedy's brain was re-engaged. It's a fun exercise that gets both rider and horse thinking.
The last time T had ridden Speedy, we worked on some leg yields. To the left, he was easy, but to the right he just wouldn't go sideways. When J was out a week or two back we worked on turns on the forehand, so I had T give it a go. Of course Speedy remembered me jabbing him in the ribs with the butt end of the whip when he started to ignore J's leg, so he was nice and respectful when T asked him to step over with his hind leg. Speedy being so responsive helped T feel what she needed to do with her outside rein to get the sideways movement we were looking for. The leg yields are still a work in progress, but progress is being made. Teaching someone else really helps reveal how challenging even the most beginning dressage movements really are.
I keep saying this, but "teaching" both T and J is also teaching me. Showing someone else how to do it really gives me a chance to articulate my own learning. I don't know everything, but I do know something. As a classroom teacher, kids will ask questions that I simply don't understand, but other kids do. I will frequently ask another student to explain what the first student was asking. Kids will quite frequently "get" the question because they're much closer to the learning than I am. It's not that a "real" trainer wouldn't understand the question, but I wonder if the ladies riding Speedy get a more digestible answer from me because I understand their question better. Or, if I don't understand it better, I might be able to better translate it because I've had that same question myself.
I know both T and J think I am doing them a huge favor, but the reality is that Speedy and I are getting far more from these lessons than they know. He needs the exercise, and he needs to feel useful. When they finish their rides, both ladies are so appreciative of his efforts, and he feels that. The frequent doling out of treats doesn't hurt either. Keeping Speedy happy and healthy is my number one priority, but if I also get something out of the lessons then they're even more beneficial. Finding something that makes all four us feel good is a win/win/win/win!
I am going to take advantage while it lasts!
My Group Member Organization (GMO) of the United States Dressage Federation (USDF) is the California Dressage Society (CDS). Pat, I'd like to buy a vowel, please. I may have mentioned that (about a billion times) already. I talk about my GMO so often because they are, or rather, WE are, an amazing group of dressage enthusiasts. The people who make up the Executive Board and Directors are people just like you and me. In fact, if you live in California and show even occasionally, you probably know at least one board member. In fact, you might have even been a board member or director or committee member.
Even before becoming a CDS chapter vice-chairperson I had at least occasional cause to speak with CDS's Central Office manager, Paula. As chapter vice-chair, I find that I am calling and emailing her quite frequently. I am not special, that's just how CDS does things. It's an organization that strives to meet member needs by being easily accessible. We care about each other, and it shows in how our organization is run.
Each month, CDS produces a monthly magazine that is distributed to members. It recently went digital. When my copy arrived in my email last night, I quickly popped it open and read through it. As I read about the CDS Virtual Annual Meeting, I saw my name mentioned. Even though I've seen my name in print before, it's always a little exciting.
As I kept reading, I saw my name mentioned again. That's a first. CDS had asked for feedback from the members about the virtual meeting. Since it was such a massive undertaking by a group of people who are nearly all volunteers, I thought it was important to let them know much I appreciated their efforts. I sent an email not knowing it would be published. Again, it was fun to see my name in print.
As I continued reading, I was pleased as punch to have been mentioned twice in one month. When what to my wondering eyes should appear? A THIRD mention in a single year! Yep, Speedy and I were there again. Ignore the PSG part, that honor goes to Barbara. I was having trouble with my mark up tool. The Third Level notation is ours.
Every time I think Speedy and I are finished as a dressage team, something else reminds me of all of the great adventures we've had. I know CDS didn't choose to "write about me" - that's just how the cards fell this month, but I appreciate my GMO's efforts to reward its members as often as possible.
I feel like such a star this morning. I promise it won't go to my head.
Well, sort of. I am not an expert in rider position. We all know that. When I look back at photos of myself riding ten years ago, I cringe. I cringe just as much today even though my position is a heck of a lot better than it used to be. Just because I can't make my own arms and legs behave doesn't mean I can't recognize someone else's rogue right hand or misplaced left leg. Poor "J;" I really socked it to her on Friday evening.
If you know anything about me though, you'll know that I am harder on myself than anyone could ever think to be. Want to humiliate me? Stand back; I'll show you how it's done. Try that with a friend of mine or even someone who hasn't asked for it, and you're in for a world of hurt. And in case you're confused, I'll be the one doing the hurting.
No one deserves to be made to feel bad for their riding, but we've all heard it done. That doesn't mean we don't all desperately crave some constructive criticism though. How are we to learn unless someone gently points out that our right toe isn't even in the same hemisphere as the rest of our leg? Cough, cough - looking at you, right toe from ten years ago. The trick is to point out someone's errant body parts in a way that isn't judgmental. The feedback needs to be clear and honest while also recognizing the rider's strengths.
I may not be a true trainer, but I am pretty good at teaching (kids) without making someone feel bad. As long as your students know you really care about them, feedback is taken as constructive rather than critical. So when I say I gave J a hard time, you know I am joking. J comes from a hunter/jumper background, so she brings a whole different seat and leg position when she rides. I am always very quick to point out that heels down is a great thing for jumpers, but it's not so great for a dressage seat - when it's forced. Also not great for a dressage seat are a smaller hip angle and a lighter seat. It's tough to tell someone that what they're doing is "wrong" when it would be perfectly lovely for a jumper.
When I made the move from endurance to dressage, I about killed myself as I struggled to sit in the saddle inside of above the saddle. Endurance riders go to great pains to get off their horses' backs, so deliberately sitting down into Speedy's back felt like I was abusing him. Closing my fingers on the reins felt dangerous; endurance riders ride with little to no contact. An endurance horse needs his head and neck free so that he can navigate the trail without his rider getting in his way. If anyone can empathize with the frustration a rider feels as she leaves one discipline for another, it's me. I know how hard it is to change your body as you struggle to be effective in a whole new way.
Interestingly, J participated in hula for a long time which taught her a lot about isolating different parts of her body. As an aside, did you know those skirts weigh something like twenty pounds? Sometimes I'll show her something about her seat from the ground, and she'll exclaim, that's a (insert word) move from hula! It's amazing how working your core is done in so many different sports. J's experience with hula is helping her to understand how to position her body so that her weight can act as an aid.
Like most riders who are just beginning their dressage journeys, J is working to sit up, keep her elbows bent, and open her chest all while trying to weight one seat bone or the other. It's hard. Even once a rider gets her sitting trot - everyone's goal, it's still hard. We all have to work to maintain our balance so that our seat and hands are independent. It was only just recently that I discovered that Izzy had very nicely trained me to keep my outside leg hovering off his belly rather than resting it against him. Booger.
J is already a nicely balanced and tactful rider who is also a quick learner. She worries that she's being heavy handed or using her aids unfairly. If anything, she's too gentle with him. Speedy can be a bit of a stinker, and if he knows you won't back up an ignored request with a sharper aid, you're toast. Fortunately, she's got me on the ground shouting out orders. MORE LEG seems to be one of my favorites. That and No! Kick him like you mean it! While I am shouting out those directives, I might throw in a string of Don't forget to keep your elbows bent. Sit on your inside seat bone. Sit back! And of course, I wouldn't be a real trainer if I didn't throw in a million, HALF HALT!
I hope she comes back.
For such a short month, February really packed a punch. As I was finishing up at the ranch yesterday, I looked at my calendar and was shocked to see how full it was. What with Izzy's two week long abscess and giving lessons, I was out there a lot.
I don't have "planned" barn days; every day is barn day. I wake up each morning knowing that I am going out to the ranch unless I know I have an appointment. My husband doesn't ask if I am going, but when. Even though it's my routine to be at the ranch every day, life does happen which means I am usually out there only 25 days out of 30. In February, there were only two days that I wasn't out there - once to celebrate Valentine's Day and again for a meeting with CDS.
During the month, I dealt with Izzy's abscess and the aftermath of the abscess. After eleven days of doing nothing but standing around, he came out of the gate rearin' to go. When he's like that, my notations tend to read braced, spicy, energetic, and so on. It wasn't until the last week of the month that I was able to actually work on anything. Once I was able to dispel all that pent-up energy, we got back to having productive rides. We've been schooling simple changes and flying changes like crazy.
As far as lessons go, I didn't have any, but I did give six of them, and I rode Speedy once myself. Even just being worked once or twice a week is keeping him pretty fit. He does live turned out which also helps, but for Saturday's lesson, he was a bit spicy himself. I am hoping that I can get at least two lessons this month, especially since since we're doing a show at the end of the month. I have a feeling March will come in like a lion, but with any luck, it will go out like a lamb.
That would suit me perfectly!
I am still teaching remotely. It was definitely a real struggle in the beginning, but there are things about it that I have grown to love. I can run a load of laundry, get an early start on dinner, and I get to skip the 30 minute commute to work. I work longer hours, but they're more comfortable hours - I am in yoga pants. I do miss a few things though like interacting face to face with people and standing up. If things go according to plan, my students and I will report back to school on March 18th. My last day with students was March 17, 2020. Our return will be a full year and a day later.
While there are a few things I like about being able to work from home, overall, the experience has been daunting. Most of the country is screaming for the heads of teachers; I can't count the number of times that I have heard that I should be fired for "refusing to go to work." I know that there are teachers' unions around the country who are making certain demands before teachers venture onto school campuses, but that isn't us. Instead, we have dug deep to meet the demands of our kiddos.
While I've always considered myself pretty tech-savvy, I had to instantly acquire a whole new set of skills in order to meet the educational and emotional needs of my students. They've cried, I've cried, but we've survived. Quarterly assessments have shown that my kiddos are not just meeting expectations, but in many cases, exceeding them. Through it all, I had to learn how to run Canvas, Jamboards, Zoom and Google Meet, a brand new science program, AND a brand new history program, both of which have digital platforms. It's been tough. I frequently work ten hour days (and sometimes longer), so when I hear that I ought to be fired for "refusing to go back to work," something I have zero control of, it's pretty demoralizing.
On Thursday morning, as I checked my email while waiting for my tea to steep, a student message popped up. They email me at all hours of the day, and I make it a priority to respond immediately. I opened it up to read this:
Of course it was important. Anything they send me is important. When they take the time to compose an email, it's because they're worried, sad, frustrated, concerned, happy, or just need to connect with someone outside of their home's four walls. I opened the Jamboard link, and my heart melted.
And that's why I do this job.
About the Writer and Rider
I am a lifelong rider.
I began endurance riding in 1996 where I ultimately completed five, one-day 100 mile races, the 200-mile Death Valley Encounter, and numerous other 50, 65, and 75 mile races. I began showing dressage in 2010.
Welcome to my dressage journey.
About Speedy G
Speedy went from endurance horse to dressage horse. After helping me earn a USDF Bronze medal in the summer of 2020, he is now semi-retired. Speedy is a 2004, 15'1 hand, purebred Arabian gelding. His Arabian Horse Registry name is G Ima Starr FA.
Izzy was started as a four-year old and then spent the next 18 months in pasture growing up. I bought him as a six-year old, and together, we are showing at Second Level. He is a 2008, 16'3 hand warmblood gelding. His Rheinland Pfalz-saar International (RPSI) name is Imperioso.
National Rider Awards
State Rider Awards
State Horse Awards
CDS Sapphire Rider Award
Third Level: 63.514%
Third Level: 62.105%
2021 Show Season
(r) Ride-a-Test Clinic
(Q) Must Qualify
2021 Pending …
3/27-28 SCEC (***)
4/10-11 SCEC (***)
5/16-17 El Sueño (***)
5/23 TMC (*)
6/12-13 SB (***) OR
6/19-20 El Sueño (***)
6/27 TMC (*)
7/3-4 Burbank (***) OR
7/17-18 El Sueño (***)
7/25 TMC (*)
8/14-15 RAAC (Q) (***)
8/29 TMC (*)
2021 Completed …
10/24-25 SCEC (***)
11/7-11/8 SB (***)
2021 Qualifying Scores
Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC)
2nd Level Qualifying
3 Scores/2 Judges/60%:
Score 1: 60.610% Bhathal
2nd Level Qualifying
5 Scores/4 Judges/61%:
Stuff I Read