From Endurance to Dressage
A Big Light Bulb Moment
Before I even start this post, I want to apologize if it is boring and rambling because it will probably be both. And to make it even less inviting to read, I have no relevant media to share.
The only thing I have to share is an epiphanic revelation, and yes, epiphanic is a real word. About once a year I "get" a dressage idea that once realized seems so straightforward in its simplicity that it makes me wonder how I can be trusted to walk and chew gum.
You've been hearing about Izzy's progress for some months now. Sometimes I gleefully share how wonderfully he's doing and other times I am moaning and groaning about the lack of progress. Over the weekend, we hit yet another snag, so I fired off a quick text to Chemaine pleading for some help.
Now that we can at least get a canter on the correct lead, I am working on refining and smoothing out the canter that follows. It may be a canter by definition, a three-beat gait performed by a horse, but there is nothing controlled about it. It is wild and wooly and difficult to maintain. As we pass by the gate/rail/open end/etc., Izzy's shoulder bulges out and we can't make the turn.
No matter how hard I pull on that outside rein or counter flex him, we can't make the turn, so he either slams to a stop or falls into a washing machine trot. Fortunately, he's an equal opportunity "shoulder bulger" which means that it is happening in both directions. It seems to happen mostly as we are approaching the gate end of the arena, and for what it is worth, I NEVER finish our rides at the gate or even looking at the gate. He simply knows where the exit is.
Chemaine had several suggestions, one of which was to play around with his shoulders. She told me to think about an opening outside rein to allow his shoulders to move out, and an opening inside rein to move his shoulders back in. She also suggested things like moving on to another topic, trying to get a walk or a trot before the sticky place, or going for a walk to change the conversation. I've used all of these ideas before, but the one that really resonated with me in this situation was the idea of moving Izzy's shoulders.
The next day, my entire purpose was to move the shoulders in and out. I started from the walk tracking left then right and all over the place. I didn't stay on a circle, but rather moved his shoulders around no matter which direction we were walking. In a very short time, I felt him get really supple in the bridle and knew that I was on to something.
When we picked up the trot, I focused on keeping his shoulders straight, not his head and neck. And suddenly, I had a different feel in my hands. It very nearly felt as though someone actually smacked me in the head.
For several years now I've been working on getting my horses to quit hanging on one rein or the other. By focusing on where Izzy's shoulders were, I could immediately feel where he was being heavy. As soon as he leaned left, I gave a little bounce; when he leaved right, same thing. The trot work improved instantly.
When I felt like he was between my reins evenly, I asked for the canter. It was still wild and crazy, but instead of focusing on where his head was, I kept his shoulders even, right between my legs. To the left, he was able to make the turn almost effortlessly, and I was able to start pushing him over onto the outside rein.
To the right was a still a struggle, but I think he finally started to figure it out. I worked really hard to keep his shoulders square which meant that it felt like I was riding in a counter bend. When I finally felt him rock back on his haunches and lift his shoulders in the turn, I brought him back to a walk and gave him tons of praise and quit working.
This idea of moving the shoulders instead of the head is a really big one for me. I think Speedy is really going to appreciate me moving his shoulders more instead of focusing on his head. I can't wait to get more rides in to see how effective I can be at riding with this idea in mind. I'll be sure to let you know how it goes!
8/30/2015 11:16:39 pm
This is a fantastic description of exactly what I've been working on! Basically my goal is to keep the same weight in each rein, because really, pulling on the reins does me no good. Instead, I move Paddy's shoulders around the turns, and think of keeping that inside hind active. WORKS MIRACLES, I swear. However, if I pull on that inside rein to make the turn? All balance is lost, we both fall apart.
8/31/2015 11:05:51 am
LOL!! I've learned not to over use the inside rein, but in place of that error, I just don't use the outside rein at all which is equally as ineffective. :0)
8/31/2015 11:07:15 am
It's a little embarrassing to admit to not knowing the obvious, but I'm willing to do it if it can help at least one other person. :0)
This happened to me recently! A while back, I read that the rider's legs should "drape" around the horse. I didn't get it AT ALL at the time... it sounded weird and strange and I couldn't get my body to do that.
8/31/2015 11:10:30 am
I can't tell you how many times I've had the actual MEANING of something click like that as well. You can hear the words, but until you actually feel it for yourself, you can't MAKE yourself understand it.
YES! I had this lightbulb moment courtesy of a trainer many years ago who preferred draft crosses. She was just terrific, and she recognized that Tristan's shoulders were so deep and broad that controlling them would be key to re-directing and re-balancing him. Now, actually DOING it has been the project of many additional years. :)
8/31/2015 11:18:18 am
It is definitely working with Izzy. He got it much more quickly this afternoon. :0)
bookmarking this, writing it on my hands, tattooing it on my forehead, etc. This could very well be the main issue in my riding - I too focus on putting the head between my hands but have lately come to find out that I'm not getting the shoulders there.
8/31/2015 11:20:26 am
I am chanting the EXACT same thing as I ride. :0)
8/31/2015 11:22:33 am
I did have more of them when I first started, but the ones I get now feel MASSIVE. They are almost painful for a second as they cause a chain reaction of other ideas to snap into place. I often feel like Neo in the Matrix when he is first sent in for training and responds "Hell yeah!" when asked if he's ready for more. :0)
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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 the lower levels. He is a 2008, 16'3 hand warmblood gelding. His Rheinland Pfalz-saar International (RPSI) name is Imperioso.
National Rider Awards
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Third Level: 63.514%
Third Level: 62.105%
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