From Endurance to Dressage
It started well enough. JL was pleased with how "bendy" Sydney appeared to be at the walk and trot. I could bend his neck in both directions, and he seemed relaxed and happy about it.
To help Sydney un-stick his front end at the canter, JL wanted me to do turns on the haunches at the walk and then the trot. We were pretty successful at the walk. We weren't as successful at the trot. She then asked to see the canter.
The next 30 - 45 minutes were spent wrapping my arms around Sydney's neck as he reared and repeatedly launched himself into the air. Think of rearing but with no feet on the ground. Scary.
But really? Not that scary. Not scary enough so that I should want to quit riding him, which I considered. My trainer didn't yell at me. I didn't come off. What the hell was so horrible?
How about the perfect storm of failure ...
My hands were restrictive: This is my fault? Crap. How lame do you feel when your horse is trying to get away from you? JL's observation was that Sydney reared/launched when he had nowhere else to go. I wasn't allowing him to move forward. My legs said canter, but my hands said, DON'T LET HIM GO ANYWHERE! When Sydney feels trapped or stuck, he feels anxious and explodes. Usually in an upward direction. If I give him some room, he'll explode sideways. So essentially, this is my fault.
Buyer's Remorse: I should have bought the small, 3 year old Hanoverian mare that had no go but plenty of whoa. That's one thought I had. When I bought Sydney, I really thought he had dressage potential and could teach me something. "This" wasn't quite what I was expecting.
But who knows? Had I bought that little mare, I might not have met JL, I certainly wouldn't have met RM and moved my horses to Boarding Heaven, and I probably wouldn't be having nearly the success with Speedy G that has come as a result (if 60% at T-1 is considered successful!). And the little mare might have been the worst dressage horse ever.
I am not moving up: Seriously?! Didn't I just blog about that very thing? Uh-huh. Happy to be a beginner, my ass. Who was I kidding? I want to "move up." It's embarrassing to be stuck at walk/trot. In that moment, as Sydney was flinging me into the air, I was very frustrated with what felt like a complete lack of forward progress. It felt like I had taken several giant steps backward. Can we say pride, anyone?
I was very recently reminded that Rome wasn't built in a day, and that it's always three steps forward and one step back. If I am honest, Sydney did plenty of bolting and other scary stuff at the trot way back when. I persevered, and we now work fairly well at the trot. It's not great, but he's getting there. We are moving forward. It's just not fast.
I was just sharing with Hubby how I remember dreading, absolutely dreading, riding Speedy G when he was a four and five and, okay, even a six year old. It was terrifying. And yet, now? He's my go-to horse. Yeah, he's a jerk sometimes. But he's a dependable jerk. He wasn't that way two years ago. He put me in the ER at one point.
JL said that no one would criticize me for selling Sydney: That just demoralized me. And please, don't think that I fault JL for making the suggestion. I think good trainers want to make sure their students are safe and paired with the right horse. It's just that the exact same thing was said about Speedy G, twice! By trainers ... All I heard, of course, is you are incompetent.
It's not true. I know that. Of course JL does not see me as incompetent, but I am worried that she sees me as over-horsed. I worry that she'll "fire" me and ask me to move along. Will she do that? I certainly hope not, but it is something I worry about. What she doesn't know is how dedicated I am to whatever cause I set my mind to.
I am ridiculously persistent. If something needs accomplishing, I'm your man. I get it done. And it doesn't matter what it is. I don't think I have ever truly failed at anything. I will occasionally allow things to fall by the wayside if they don't hold my interest (ballet class, an exercise machine, starting my quad with no help), but I don't give up if it's something real.
I finished my first 100 mile race simply because I couldn't face my kindergarten class with the news that I had quit. I dragged my barfing butt several hours through the Mojave Desert to the next vet check and then rode another 8 miles back to camp, still sick as a dog. After my mandatory hour hold, I then rode another 35 miles. Endurance teaches you not to quit.
And there you have it: the perfect storm of every "mistake" I've made with my horse: poor riding, wrong horse for me, and pride. I left the lesson demoralized and went home and cried. Sobbed. Bawled my eyes out.
Deep breath. A day off. Slow down and re-evaluate. Listen to your friends. Listen to those with experience. Maybe write a little.
JL's advice was that I needed to develop a better feel. Lay off the canter for a bit. Firm up the the walk and trot. Get better at the turn on the haunches. Move him off my leg without my hands. Go on a trail ride.
I am doing all of these things. I rode Sydney on Tuesday, at the walk, and had a lovely aha (lower case) moment. We did some very nice turns on the haunches with no rein pressure. Huh? How did that happen? While we were working, he started offering those sneezy, snorty, grunty sounds that JL says come when he's working over his back. Not sure about that, but he seemed very happy.
I took Speedy for a short trail ride on Wednesday and rode with a loose rein. Even jacked up, (dependably naughty) he listened to my tightened core and slowed down. Really!!!??? And even more fun was that he lowered his poll and rounded his back with some leg hugs (a la Memoirs of a Horse Girl) and a loose rein. There were more rides during the week on both horses, and each time I felt a small degree of success. Press on and all that.
So where am I now? Back to reality, I guess. I let "it" get to me. I'm over it. Three steps forward, two steps back, but one step ahead.
3/2/2012 11:39:32 pm
You get three steps forward? Crap, I'm lucky to get one forward before we zoom backwards at light speed. My trainer had to remind me how to post correctly yesterday.
3/2/2012 11:46:17 pm
I might have exaggerated slightly about three steps forward, Mia. :0)
Hugs are always good! Especially leg hugs that make your horse round. ;) I am so glad that you have Speedy to chill with and your long list of accomplishments to bolster your confidence. You made me laugh when you said that you finished your 100-mile race so that you wouldn't have to tell the kindergarteners that you didn't. Riding is YOUR thing. You will get there with Sydney.
3/3/2012 01:33:26 am
Thank you, Val. I see what you are saying about the turn on the haunches at the trot. It is difficult to explain the exercises that I do with my trainer as her vocabulary as a H/J does not match my limited dressage vocabulary. She called it a turn on the haunches, and at the walk, it certainly was. Maybe you are right and that the exercise she was asking for was too difficult for both of us. Her goal was for Sydney to move away from my outside leg while not racing forward with the leg pressure. I need to think more about that.
3/3/2012 07:43:00 am
3/3/2012 01:16:17 pm
Lori - I am amazed every day at how supportive blog readers are. Thank you for taking the time to comment and share. I took Val's advice and did some lunging today. It's not that I don't like to lunge, but on a typical week day, I only have about 30 minutes for riding time. With Sydney, lunging can get him too revved up which sort of defeats the purpose. It's a long story, but I don't think Sydney was ever taught to lunge correctly. I think his previous life included lunging as a way to run the crap out of him. When I lunge him, it's a lesson in slow down, listen, and move away from me. Since I had the time on Saturday, we did lots of it. I am not sure that it helped my under saddle work, but he was better on the line at the end.
3/3/2012 07:25:40 am
What Val said about there not being a timeline really resonated with me. Probably because I'm struggling with pride/horse/goal issues too. Much less serious than yours but I think I feel a small shred of what you much be feeling.
3/3/2012 01:26:53 pm
Melinda - wow. Thank you for sharing your own story. As a regular reader of Boots and Saddles, I know that your own struggles are indeed similar.
Not scary enough?? What exactly would he have to do that WOULD be scary enough to make wanting to quit riding him okay? :o) I think you are being far too hard on yourself.
3/3/2012 10:53:25 pm
Kelly, I continue to be amazed by the generosity and kindness of people that I've never even met. Each time someone comments, I can literally feel a hug coming through their words. Thank you so much for for supporting my events.
Oh, and what's a good story without some adversity to overcome? It's not depressing to read about this - it's reassuring and inspiring. The best books, movies and blogs aren't all sunshine and roses, they're real and contain conflict and problems. We've all been there and we're all rooting for you! xox.
3/3/2012 10:54:05 pm
Thank you, but I wish it was someone else's story! :0)
3/4/2012 09:08:02 am
3/4/2012 12:09:30 pm
CFS - thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts. The encouragement I get from other bloggers has been so useful. I peeked at the book you recommended and will be buying it. I have read a number of dressage books, but I am always looking for others. Thank you!
3/6/2012 09:40:54 am
I just placed my order! Thanks!
Wow, I'm sad to hear about your frustrating and scary experience. You should be really impressed with yourself for staying on, and for carrying on! A lot of riders would have said "screw it" and put the horse back in its stall. Great job for getting through it.
3/5/2012 10:22:25 am
Thank you for taking the time to comment, Sarah. All of you have been so insightful and pretty dead on. Much of what you said is true. Sydney is not dressage trained and neither am I. I am okay with not being competitive. i am much more interested in the learning which is why I'm sticking it out with him, for now. :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.
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%: