From Endurance to Dressage
Not mine, although there is some of that, I am talking about Sydney's.
I mentioned yesterday that I am starting twice-a-week lessons now that I am on summer vacation. They could not have come at a better time.
I had one of those ow! my head is hurting kind of lessons yesterday. You know the kind; a big idea that doesn't quite fit in your head, but you struggle and grab on and keep shoving it in until your head is so full of idea that it feels as though it is going to simply burst.
The idea was this - Sydney is not anxious anymore. He is anticipating. This might seem like a teeny tiny little idea, but for a horse who is an over-achiever with a very sensitive ego, the nuance is huge. With an anxious horse, the rider needs to soothe and reassure while providing leadership. With a horse that is anticipating, the rider needs to provide correction while being the leader.
For so long, it was okay that Sydney anticipated. At least he was in the conversation. Because before that, he couldn't a hear a word I said. This horse did not trust me at all to make decisions. He simply took matters into his own hands and careened around doing what he thought he was supposed to do.
At some point, he realized that I was up there, so he started to try and figure out what it was that I was asking. My aids were obviously very unclear so he simply guessed, also known as anticipating. This was good.
But now, the anticipation is causing problems. For a horse who prefers structure and a strong leader, this iffiness is confusing. He would rather not have to choose what comes next, but since I haven't been making the decisions in a clear and obvious way, he's been helping me out. Until now.
So that was the big idea; Sydney no longer gets to hurry into the trot and he never gets to race off into the canter. He must now wait for me to tell him when. In order to achieve this though, several things need to happen. First, he needs to respect the outside rein. Second, his shoulders need to be in front of his rear end.
Waiting for me wasn't hurting my head; it was understanding the implication of a hind end fishtailing behind me that caused the headache. So here is how we worked on it:
For classical dressage instruction, this probably seems so backwards. We are taught shoulder in and inside leg to outside hand. But to the right, Sydney does not want to weight the outside hind which means that in the right lead canter, the inside leg is not free to step deeply beneath him because he wants to carry his weight on the inside hip and shoulder. In essence, he carries all of his weight on the inside hind and fore which creates a rolling-over effect. Does that make sense?
After working on these exercises for a while, Sydney's head came down and it was so obvious that he was finally working back to front without the need to fiddle with his mouth. Once he was straight, his back came up and he began to work honestly.
My homework for today's ride will be to do lots of walk/halt and trot/halt transitions where I do not allow his hind end to fall out. Keeping him straight is the key to getting lovely right lead canter transitions.
As a little hmm, that's interesting, JL pointed out that it has only been in the last few weeks that Sydney has seemed to take note of her in the ring. For the past two and a half years, he has basically ignored her. Lately, she has noticed him looking at her, flicking his ears in her direction, and trying to walk in towards her as the lesson comes to an end. It's as though he has finally realized that she is there helping.
And like the other day, Sydney was so relaxed and happy by the end of the lesson. His relief at not having to "run the show" was so obvious. His whole demeanor just exuded love and gratitude. It's really the darndest thing to watch.
Here's to happy horses!
6/4/2014 05:27:10 am
It was funny how as soon as I looked at the issue differently, I had the right tools with which to help me fix it all! Today's lesson (Wednesday) lasted about 15 minutes; that's how easy it was to "fix" the issue. :0)
Yay happy horse! How interesting it is to hear Sydney come out of his shell. :)
6/3/2014 06:32:58 am
Thank you so much for the info, Austen! I never mind lengthy explanations as I usually need them. :0)
Sounds like you've got it down! I tried to hit on all the things that have hindered Guinness' straightness, but they obviously don't apply to every horse. Interestingly, Guinness does the same softening when I can get him truly straight. He tends to pop his inside hip to the inside and lean on his outside shoulder, so sort of the opposite of Sydney.
6/3/2014 07:30:21 am
I definitely need some lessons that just focus on the shoulders. I have such a difficult time moving Speedy's because he is such a noodle. Sydney is a bit easier as he is stiff so I have something to push on; Speedy just goes limp in my arms. Passive aggressive maybe? :0)
6/3/2014 08:18:12 pm
Hi Karen, I have a (stupid) question for you. They say that dressage horses' tails should swing rhythmically, especially if their backs are loose. I do not have a clear image in my mind of what this proper swing looks like. I think it's cuz my Arabian Baasha held his tail up like a banner, minimizing this swing. I made some videos of my new horse and the lower half of her tail swings left and right, kind of curling up on itself at the top of the swing. Is this a good swing? I tried searching on the internet but found nothing. Maybe you can help me.
6/4/2014 04:33:11 am
Neer a stupid question, Lytha. If so, I would be the world's largest idiot. How are we ever to learn if we don't ask? I think most people just sit around in ignorance praying that someone will ask their question for them.
6/4/2014 05:36:48 am
Speedy gets grumpy too. My on-the-coast trainer calls it resentful. That's an accurate description. In order to alleviate his resentment, I have to be very diplomatic and soft with my aids. If I ask quietly (and correctly), he's more willing. So yes, I totally get what Miles is thinking! :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.
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