From Endurance to Dressage
Back when I was endurance riding, it took completing my 1000th race mile before I felt enough confidence (that word again?!) to count myself as a member of the endurance ranks. Since the sport is about enduring, it didn't seem right to claim an ability to endure until I had. It wasn't until I had finished my first 100-mile race that I felt as though I really and truly belonged to that elite group of riders.
If I ever earn my USDF Gold Medal, I don't think even that would give me a sense of command or expertise in this thing we call dressage. No matter how many awards I win, no matter how many levels I complete, there will always, always be more to learn. Not that there wasn't in endurance, but after successfully completing so many 50-milers, multi-day rides, and hundreds, I felt that I had more or less mastered the sport. From that point on, it was about proving (to myself) that I could keep a horse fit and healthy enough to continue on year after year. That's what endurance meant to me.
I don't think dressage can ever be completely mastered. Do you think Robert Dover or Carl Hester feel as though they've learned it all? Are they still discovering elements of this sport that they hadn't grasped before? I hope so.
So where are you going with all this? I have a point, really I do. Well, not a point exactly. More like some things that I've learned over the past month or so. Just when I think I'm really getting somewhere, I'll have one of those moments where I'll feel something new that is really basic and think to myself, what the hell have I been doing over the past 10 years? How did I not know THAT? Insert whatever it is I've just learned.
This month, I am finally, finally starting to feel the hind legs. I've read so many books and articles that talk about giving the aid when the hind leg is in the right position for the rider to influence it. I've always just nodded my head and thought, my horse has a hind leg. If I keep squeezing, kicking, tapping, half halting, etc., he'll eventually move it to where it needs to go.
I am being honest here. I have never actually been able to tell when that right moment is. And not that I can tell today either, but I am definitely getting closer. Wednesday was one of those days.
Riding two horses every day is a luxury that I will never take for granted. So often I start an idea on one horse and then get to really explore it on the second horse. Influencing the hind leg is something that I've been working on as it pertains to the flying change. This year, I learned that the flying change has to come from behind first. If the horse changes his front legs first, it's called a late change.
The flying changes have really forced me to pay attention to what's happening with Speedy's hind legs. The canter half pass and half turn on the haunches have required a similar focus. Squeezing and kicking just isn't going to cut it at Third Level.
The big OHHHH ... that I am getting is coming from the walk to canter transition, something we did a lot of at Second Level. If you're at Second right now, (Katy!) pay attention to your simple changes because they're going to get really important at Third Level.
I am starting to feel a connection between my outside rein and Speedy's outside leg. Yes, we could get a simple change at Second Level, but now we have to get a really good canter so that the hind leg is active enough to carry us through the corner into the canter half pass and later, across the diagonal with enough jump to get a flying change. The hind leg's quality of activity has become really important.
I am not schooling the flying change on Izzy, but I have. No, the hind leg connection that I am feeling right now is the inside leg to the outside rein. OH MY GOD, HOW OLD OF A CONCEPT IS THAT? And yes, I am shouting because that is the mother of all ideas, and I am rolling my eyes that I am still struggling with it.
Over the past month or so, Izzy has really learned how to stretch over his topline AND push with his hind end. Or, could it be that I've learned how to ask him to stretch and push? Either way, I am finally able to put him on the outside rein and feel him bend around my inside leg. It doesn't happen every time, but now that I know what it feels like, it's getting easier and easier to recreate the feeling.
If you're still struggling with the same idea, it's a feeling of riding the inside leg. I can really feel it in the leg yield. It's as though I am pushing that inside leg to M or H. I can actually feel his inside leg step under and over.
The good thing about feeling something new, especially when I've created it on purpose, is that once I feel or learn something, I can't unfeel or unlearn it. If you like to finish a task, dressage is probably not your best choice. You'll never be finished. If you like torture and humble pie, then this is your lucky day.
I'll have two slices, please.
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 Second Level. 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%
2021 Show Season
(r) Ride-a-Test Clinic
(Q) Must Qualify
2021 Pending …
2021 Completed …
10/24-25 SCEC (***)
11/7-11/8 SB (***)
2021 Qualifying Scores
Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC)
2nd Level Qualifying
3 Scores/2 Judges/60%:
Score 1: 60.610% Bhathal
2nd Level Qualifying
5 Scores/4 Judges/61%:
Stuff I Read