From Endurance to Dressage
A trainer, or it might have been a friend, once said to me that dressage is like an onion. You just keep peeling back layers of the same thing. So it did not come as a surprise when during last Friday's lesson Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, introduced another collection exercise.
With Speedy just having recovered from his abscess, Chemaine knew that he wasn't really ready for a "regular" lesson. He was sound, but I'd only ridden him once in three weeks. What we needed was to knock the rust off.
The whole lesson was about collecting while keeping the hind leg active and marching. Chemaine brought out an old exercise, but it felt brand new; the whole peel back another layer of the onion idea. We started at the walk and then halted, all the while keeping Speedy's hind legs active.
It sounds pretty simple, and it probably is, but it took a lot of coordination of my aids. The hand says whoa while the seat (and legs!) say march. For each gait, the collecting phase should have a piaffe feeling - marching in place. As always, Speedy wasn't the biggest fan. He's happy to work, as long as things aren't too hard, and he simply hates being told to do MORE.
During the trot work, we did the same thing but it was about collecting the trot with strides as small as I could make them while still trotting. While it doesn't look like a piaffe, it certainly had that feeling. There are several difficulties in doing this. The first is that Speedy of course tried to walk. The second is returning to a longer stride without him lurching forward.
To combat the "lurching," Chemaine instructed me to slowly increase his length of stride by asking for one or two longer strides before thinking medium trot.
Then we moved on to the canter. That was when I had one of those V8 moments. Do you remember those? The hungry person smacks themself when thy realize they could have had a V8. Yeah. I had a V8 moment about collection.
The exercise was exactly the same: collect him down to the walk while maintaining an active hind leg and then step back into the canter. All of a sudden, I heard Chemaine's voice speaking through the noisy static of eek this is hard, and I am probably messing it up.
As though I had a speaker directly wired into my brain I heard her say collect him all the way to the walk. I literally had to stop Speedy in his tracks to ask if I had heard her right: collect him all the way to the walk? The sudden clarity of that idea struck me like a lightening bolt. The canter should be connected to the walk. It should be a fluid transition. Finally having such a visceral understanding of the transition improved Speedy's walk to canter to walk transitions immediately.
The entire lesson was about adding more leg to my riding. I tend to babysit Speedy a bit without making him responsible for the forward. By adding leg (and the whip when needed), I was telling Speedy that he must engage his hind end in all three gaits in order to free up his shoulders and lighten his front end. When I rode him on Saturday, we tackled these ideas again. For Sunday's ride, he did some of the best half pass work he's ever given me.
The photo above came from that moment of pushing into a bigger trot after collecting the trot. Yes, he's behind the vertical in this instant, but what I saw in the video was how much his back came up in that moment of push. Even with his face behind the vertical you can still see that he's in an uphill balance. Chemaine explained that this collecting exercise is designed to achieve just that - a rounded back with the hind legs pushing.
I have the feeling that things are just getting started.
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 …
8/7-8 SCEC (***)
10/30-31 SCEC (***)
2021 Completed …
10/24-25 SCEC (***)
11/7-11/8 SB (***)
4/10-11 SCEC (***)
5/16-17 El Sueño (***)
6/26-27 SCEC (***)
7/17-18 El Sueño (***)
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