From Endurance to Dressage
A Lesson in Body Mechanics
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.
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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
State Rider Awards
State Horse Awards
CDS Sapphire Rider Award
Third Level: 63.514%
Third Level: 62.105%
2023 Show Season
(r) Ride-a-Test Clinic
2023 Show Schedule
2023 Completed …
2023 Qualifying Scores
Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC)
Qualifying Training Level
3 Scores/2 Judges/60%: