From Endurance to Dressage
A Goldilocks Dilema
Okay. Sydney is now back to working calmly. He's not rearing or bolting. We're also not cantering, but since he's relaxed, that tells me there was some fear and tension involved with the cantering.
We have a new "problem." Now he's so relaxed that he's lost any desire to go forward. He's reaching ... a lot at the walk, and he's pretty loose, but he's not driving forward from behind. I feel as if I were to quit urging, we'd fall into a pokey little amble. I've tried a few things over the past few weeks to get him going. I ask for forward, and then I quit asking. If he doesn't give me something, I squeeze very firmly until he picks up the pace. Repeat. The problem is that after halfway around the circle, he's back to the pokey, nearly walking, pace. As I am posting, I am thinking forward, forward, forward and I add energy to my posting.
I've also tried lots of changes of direction to wake him up. We'll track left for a circle or two and them swing right for a circle or two, but nothing's really working.
If you didn't know how explosive he can be when anxious, you'd tell me to get the whip and thwack, thwack, thwack to wake him up. I am just not quite sure I want to go that route since I just got him to relax. I also don't want to use spurs since I am afraid that if he does bolt or rear, I might inadvertently goose him when and if I have to grip to stay on.
We're definitely in a Goldilocks situation here: I don't want him racing around out of control and too fast, and I don't want him poking around so slow. I want him to trot out just right! So, how do I get him driving forward in a relaxed way?
4/9/2012 11:52:40 pm
My mare is LAZY! What works for her are transistions, especially within the gait. However, I start with halt walk. And I demand she strike off briskly with a soft nudge. No long squeeze, just quick nudge and she better go forward. If not, back it up with a quick tap (either the stick, or a big thump with both legs to get a big response). Move out a few strides, halt, ask lightly, expect big. Praise heavily for responsiveness. Then start on walk/trot. Then trot, with a few strides of REALLY trot FORWARD. I don't care if the horse is on the bit, or unbalanced, just forces on getting prompt responses for forward. Back to working trot, back to REALLY forward. Etc.
4/10/2012 09:35:44 am
Mia - I had a lesson last night and we rode with a dressage whip. Just holding it in my hand got a lot more forward energy than we've had lately. I touched him behind my boot, SOFTLY, just one time and that did the trick. We also did the trot forward, walk, trot forward, walk. We gave lots of good boys for the forward movement!
4/9/2012 11:59:50 pm
I totally agree with Mia. Ask with a nice, gentle bump with the legs and it that doesn't work use a big thump! My mare is also prone to buck with the whip, but she totally gets the big thump. The other nice thing is your legs are right there if you get a big reaction.
4/10/2012 09:36:45 am
Mary - thanks for the feedback! I can THUMP him for all I'm worth, but it just wasn't enough. Holding the whip really helped.
One trainer told me that horse training is a pendulum swinging from one extreme to the other, and with each swing it goes less far to either side and eventually ends up in the middle. Sounds like thats whats going on with Sydney! "You want *relaxed*, so how about *pokey", mom?"
4/10/2012 09:40:15 am
Wow, Sarah! That is pretty much what JL said. We went from bolting to don't wanna move. She said we'll keep swinging back and forth until we land somewhere in the middle. I tried the lower leg bumping, but all it accomplished was wearing me out! The whip was far more effective. I hesitated to use it before the lesson because I wanted JL to see where we were. I only had to use it once behind the leg, but I used it quite a bit at his shoulder to encourage him to move it over when I asked. That alone was enough to get some forward movement going. I had to use it very softly and judiciously as he was highly sensitive to it.
4/10/2012 09:43:33 am
Kelly - that's exactly what it took to get Speedy moving, but I knew I couldn't use it that firmly with Sydney. I can wack speedy with it pretty firmly and he'll give me a screw you kick which then earns him another whack, whack, whack. He and I have worked through that and now I only need to use it once or twice as we warm up. he's learned to move when I say move. Sydney, on the other hand needs a much softer hand. If I whacked him like I do Speedy, I'd be in the dirt! Just carrying the whip and brushing it against his side was enough to get his juices going! That's okay though. That's much easier than really having to whack him to get him to go!
4/10/2012 09:46:51 am
Thanks to all of you for your suggestions! The whip seemed to work the best for now. I'll write about the lesson shortly. Instead of doing a lot of forward stuff, we did a ton of moving sideways which took a lot of oomph on both our parts. Moving sideways requires him to get lighter in his front end and carry more weight in the back which is hard if nothing is moving forward! We did some nice work though and got forward movement as a result of the exercise. More to come!
4/10/2012 12:25:12 pm
Good advice given so far. I would just mention lungeing again. I like to restablish forward on the line and poles can be very motivating. You don't have to worry as much if the horse over-reacts and the forwardness usually transfers to the saddle.
4/10/2012 10:36:40 pm
Thanks for the tip, Val. I do some lunging here and there, but maybe adding some trot poles will motivate him a bit more!
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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.
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