From Endurance to Dressage
Activate the Hind Leg
My life is finally settling back into a comfortable routine after December's "reset." Our daylight hours are increasing, I am volunteering at M.A.R.E., I am back to having weekly lessons, and just as fun and fulfilling, I am giving lessons on Speedy again. I know Speedy's ladies have felt like they get the better end of that bargain - lessons for free, but the truth is, I get way more out of the experience than they do.
Brooke was out to ride on Saturday morning. She's had quite a lot of trail riding experience, and she's had her own horse before, so she's not a true beginner. She is a bit rusty though, and she has definitely never approached riding quite like this. After seeing how well she sat Speedy's shenanigans the previous Monday, I figured she was ready for some canter work.
I don't have a lesson playbook or a prescribed order in what I teach. Frankly, I teach whatever I have been thinking about the most recently. At the CDS Judges Symposium that I attended a week or so back, I heard one statement that really gobsmacked me. The judge was describing the test movements as the rider rode them. The test included a canter down center line with a halt at X. The judge said that the halt will only work if the horse's hind legs are stepping under deep enough.
The idea of collection into the halt isn't new, of course. But for some reason, the way the judge said it, just made a lot of little pieces of my dressage understanding snap into place. So as Brooke was warming Speedy up in the walk, I really watched his hind end closely. I explained the idea to her about the hind end needing to be active in order to achieve smooth transitions up or down. When she had his hind end better engaged, he was able to better lift off into the trot.
When the trot departures were smooth, I had her focus on the transition from trot to walk to trot. The transitions were smoothest when she kept Speedy actively coming through from behind. What amazed me was how clearly I could see all that I have learned over the past decade. Riding the horse from back to front is not just something "smart" to say. It really is the way to create a more balanced horse.
Once Brooked had worked on the transitions from trot to walk and back again, I talked her through the aids for canter. While Brooked has had lots of saddle time, it hasn't been on dressage horses. I explained that when riding Speedy, she wouldn't need to kick or cluck or pull on the reins (unless he was being naughty). To get a smooth and balanced canter, all she needed to do was put her body in the right position and then think, "canter!" For Speedy, the rider needs to look with eyes and shoulders in the direction of the desired lead, keep the inside leg at the girth, sweep the outside leg back, and lift the inside seat bone.
I encouraged Brooke to ask Speedy for a balanced trot. A bad walk to trot transition will not set him up for a good trot to canter transition. Once their walk-to-trot was nice, she thought about the canter for a bit. I don't think she quite believed it would be that easy. As she approached the corner C-M tracking left, I coached her through the ads, and as I knew he would, Speedy picked up a lovely canter. Unfortunately, he also fell in on the circle and spiraled in instead of cantering out on the 20-meter circle.
Once Brook brought him back to the walk, I explained how important it was to sit on the inside seat bone. I could see her struggling with her balance as she let her weight fall to the outside. All that does is push the horse's ribcage in which means he can't stay bent to the inside. The second time she picked up the canter, I rattled off the aids:
For me, being able to "play" with someone else's body in order to affect the changes I want to see in the horse is enormously fun. It is is also deeply gratifying to see the horse that I trained myself be such an awesome schoolmaster. Speedy almost never puts a foot out of place, and he never gets irritated no matter how unbalanced a rider may be. He also won't do it correctly unless the rider's aids are pretty close to right. The better the aids, the better he performs. Brooke is a quick learner. I only hope she doesn't learn too fast, or I will run out of material to teach.Maybe I can talk Speedy into being naughty for a few weeks. That way, she won't learn so fast.
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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%: