From Endurance to Dressage
A Mental Aid
Each time that "J" comes down for a lesson on Speedy, I try to have some sort of a plan. On Saturday, I thought we could touch on the leg yield again. But, horses being horses and riders being who we are, a whole different lesson was had.
In the months that J has been riding with me, her position, her aids, and her confidence have grown dramatically. It still shocks me that I know enough to help someone else. I feel like such a struggling rider myself that it seems impossible that I know enough to share, but J's progress is proof that you don't have to be an expert in order to teach. My own 5th graders prove that every day.
As J was warming up, I sent her down the long side, ready to ask for some leg yields. Instead, she stopped and asked if we could raise her stirrups. My feeling on stirrup length is that you need to feel balanced. I'll raise and lower stirrups as many times as you'd like. After checking J's stirrups, I told her that they were both even. Instead of raising one - which wouldn't solve the problem, we worked on getting her legs even.
We all know how one leg can feel shorter. Sitting in a car or at your desk does nothing good for our riding position. Even tension can cause one leg to be shorter than the other. To help J lengthen her inside leg, I had her come back to a 20-meter circle. I told her to weight the inside leg. When I couldn't see it, I told her to stand up on the inside leg. Little by little, she was able to shift her weight to the inside leg.
As she worked, I could see that besides her thigh muscles being tight, there was also a twist in her seat. The inside right leg didn't want to stay at the girth. It wanted to go back while her outside leg was coming forward. All of this had the affect of keeping Speedy from getting round.
Since I am not a "trainer," I don't always know what's blocking the horse, but having the opportunity to practice on a live person is tremendously valuable. As J rode, I kept offering feedback. When we got it right, Speedy told us. While J couldn't always see the change she caused, I could see it immediately.
As J worked on her position, I acted as her mirror. Sit up, inside leg at the girth, bend your elbows, be elastic in your elbows (Sean Cunningham's favorite five words), breathe ... J's position got stronger and more balanced. As we had done the week before, we worked on transitions, but this time, J already knew to take the time she needed in the transition. Rather than let Speedy pop his head up, she told him no while insisting that he step up from his hind end.
Each transition got better than the one before. As she prepared to move into the trot to canter transitions, I told J to just sit up. Speedy rolled into the canter without any change to his tempo. J's face lit up, partly from joy, and I think, partly from an AHA moment. Without even knowing it, she had cued Speedy for the canter. I don't think she knew her aid could be almost invisible and still be so effective.
With this new feeling, I asked J to try to use a mental aid instead of overtly asking for the canter or the canter to trot. As I helped her get into position for the canter, I told her to merely think ... left lead canter. And there it was. Before trotting, I told her to sit on her outside seat bone, add a touch of outside rein, and exhale. And there was the trot.
I don't know who was more excited at the end of the lesson - J for having found a new understanding of her aids, or me for being able to recognize an issue of rider imbalance and then come up with a solution. J's ability to apply a "mental" aid with just come coaching from me speaks volumes about her willingness to learn.
Having someone to "practice on" is an amazing way to learn.
Comments are closed.
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%: