From Endurance to Dressage
On Thursday, Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, came down for a double header lesson. I rode Izzy first then did a quick tack swap and hopped on Speedy. I used to do that a lot when she was only able to be here once a month or so. What's interesting is that no matter what issue I want to address, the same thing seems to apply to both horses. In this case, we worked a lot on getting the inside hind to step under and getting a better connection to the outside rein.
Like always, I came to the lesson on Izzy with a list of things I wanted to address. That's one of the many things I like about working with Chemaine. She has a ton of respect for what I am trying to do, so rather than show up with her own agenda, she's always willing to listen to what I am struggling with. And the best part is that I never stump her; she always has an exercise to help fix whatever I throw at her.
At our last lesson, and at the clinic with Ulf Wadeborn, we worked on catching Izzy's outside right shoulder and bringing it in line with his haunches. After working on it for a week or two, I started to feel like we were tipping over the other way. instead of falling to the right, it started to feel like we were falling to the left. I had finally straightened Izzy up, which meant that I just needed to ask for some inside flexion while pushing his inside hind underneath him.
One exercise that Chemaine had me do, and we did it later in the three-loop serpentine as well as in the canter, was to use big half halts at every quarter of the circle. After about twenty-four big half halts in quick succession, Izzy started to anticipate a half halt every few strides. Once he was lighter and more responsive, Chemaine had me shorten the number of half halts to two, one at A and the other on the centerline. When those were going well, she had me reduce the size of the half halts and turn them into "check ins."
When we moved on to the three-loop serpentine, Chemaine instructed me to take that idea of a more dramatic half halt at a predetermined location and convince Izzy that he could be softer. In the three-loop serpentine, Izzy wants to brace against the change of bend. Chemaine had me ride the serpentine with a halt at each centerline. When that wasn't enough of a motivator to soften, she had me halt at centerline and then do a rein back. By doing the halt and rein back every time we crossed the centerline, Izzy started to anticipate the half halt.
This exercise accomplished several things. First and foremost, Izzy got much softer in the bridle. He also got lots of practice in halting squarely. The rein back to a trot is a movement at Third Level Test 3, so we also had the opportunity to work on that.
But Chemaine, never one to let a teachable moment pass us by, added a few more things to the serpentine. She had me think about making the turns much earlier by riding them more like a hexagon. As soon as we crossed the centerline - after the half halt, Chemaine encouraged me to start making the turn incrementally. This had the effect of keeping Izzy's shoulder from falling out which made the half circles much smoother.
To further maximize the benefit of the three-loop serpentine, we did a small lengthening of stride across the diagonal after each serpentine. Since the three-loop serpentine is a bit of a collecting exercise/movement, Izzy appreciated the moment to stretch out his stride.
As if all that wasn't enough, we then started the canter work. Izzy's canter to the left has gotten much better, especially as I control his wayward right shoulder. To the right is another story. Much like with Speedy, getting a right bend is just tough. Asking for more flexion when he's already braced, compels me to use even more "force" to get him to let go. Chemaine is brilliant about coming up with exercises though, so she had a solution.
To "unlock" the right side of Izzy's neck, we went back to the half halts at every quarter of the circle. Instead of just tightening the outside rein, she had me counter flex, let go, and then ask for a moment of inside flexion. Again, after about twenty-four of those, Izzy started to anticipate the halt halt. Instead of counter flexing, I was able to simply straighten the shoulder for a moment and then ask for the softness on the inside rein. Soon after that, asking for the straightness had the effect of telling him to soften which meant I didn't even need to touch the inside rein.
Sometimes I think that we're never going to be able to put it all together and ride an actual test, but then I think how far Izzy and I have come, and I realize that it doesn't matter how long it takes us. When I think back to how impossible he was to ride five years ago and how nearly impossible he was to ride just two years ago, I feel a huge sense of accomplishment. I didn't have to dig through the video clips to find one or two decent moments. Now, I have to dig to find the blooper moments, and even those are starting to look "disappointingly" good.
I'll take disappointing any day!
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%: