From Endurance to Dressage
I know some of you are wanting a Speedy update; I am, too. He was still sore on Thursday evening, but he is improving. I should know more this afternoon. In the meantime …
I was looking through some older photos of Speedy G and found three where we are in the same trotting position in each one. Speedy's right foreleg is reaching forward in all three shots and we are traveling in the same direction. I thought it would be interesting to compare them.
I was prepared to see some major improvement in Speedy's frame and way of going. Overall? There is definitely improvement from the first photo to the second photo, but then … I am not seeing as much of an obvious change as I was expecting.
This first photo was from our first season schooling and showing dressage. He did most of a 55 mile endurance race a few weekends before this. Speedy has always had a nice, ground-covering stride. Working on the endurance trail no doubt helped developed that aspect of his way of going.
I "quit" endurance riding in June of 2010. In this next photo, we had been schooling dressage exclusively for 11 months. His frame has obviously improved.
In the third photo, I think his stride is longer than in the previous photos, his neck is definitely thicker, and I think he has more articulation in his hocks (when compared to the middle photo). I want to say that his back looks more lifted in this photo, but that could just be wishful thinking.
In the first photo, Speedy looks so small! He could easily be mistaken for a pony. By the third and fourth photos, he has started to look more like a horse. I think I must be doing something right!
Although this last photo doesn't share the same angle and direction of travel as the first three, I wanted to include it because it shows where we were at the end of the 2013 show season. His stride is definitely longer and more reaching here than in any of the other photos, and he looks happier. Maybe I am more giving with my hands? I also like how nicely developed his neck appears and he's not behind the vertical, something we struggle with.
What do you see? Anything different (aside from the faults; I see those already)?
Can I just say that finally, I ADORE Sydney, and at this particular moment, I am so happy that I haven't sold him? He is turning out to be the horse that I bought him to be (for this week anyway. Talk to me next week and he may be on the sale list again.)
Aside from the excellent under saddle stuff, he has turned into a total snuggle bunny. When I pull into the driveway, he starts hollering for me before I can even get out of the car. And if I pat Speedy's neck first, Sydney practically quivers with anticipation.
While I am tacking up, tightening his girth, or loosening his girth after riding, he tries to rest his muzzle in the crook of my neck, in the small of my back, or on my chest. He lips my zippers and sleeves and nuzzles my hair. It's like he can't get enough of me.
While I've been hand walking Speedy G this week, Sydney has been throwing little temper tantrums in his stall/turnout. He bucks and rears and then throws in this little squeal as we pass by. He kept at it for nearly 30 minutes on Tuesday evening. When it was finally his turn to come out, he eagerly ran to the gate and popped his own nose into the halter.
But this is supposed to be about Monday's lesson.
I hand walked him down to JL's just like I do every Monday, and he followed smartly along side, eager to get there. I ambled over to the mounting block like I always do, and he sidled up to the block making it as easy as possible for me to get on. He always tries to get positioned just right; he likes to make it easy for me.
I sent him to the far end of the arena on a loose rein; this used to require so much work as that end is "scary." I turned to see that JL had sat on the mounting block and was watching us as Sydney and I talked about stretching his neck and stepping under deeply with the inside leg. She was grinning at us; I am sure she was laughing at our conversation.
When I finally got back to JL's end of the arena, I gave her a quick recap of what's been happening. I sent Sydney into a warm-up trot with me up/up/downing and him just stretching and listening. We picked up a right lead canter - no big deal. We came back to trot and did a change of direction. We picked up a left lead canter, also no big deal. Our warm up was done.
We decided to get right to work on trotting a perfectly round circle with no hurried steps. That also meant no rearing, whirling, or any other shenanigan. And that's what we did. We trot that circle several times without anything happening. JL couldn't find anything to say other than, good!
She asked for another right lead canter, but this time she asked me to not let him go on a "loose" rein but to help and support him through the transition. And when she said that, I felt what she wanted me to do. I shortened my reins, took a deep breath, put my outside leg back, put my inside leg on at the girth, and then asked for the right lead canter. Without allowing Sydney to fall apart, I worked both reins keeping the contact firm and steady. I could feel myself asking him to lift into the canter rather than to scramble into it.
All of my hard work, both on myself physically, and on him, is really starting to pay off. I gave him an excellent ride with contact that was supportive and friendly. I took away the guesswork. He didn't need to guess at what I wanted to do. He didn't need to panic at the lack of direction. I told him exactly what to do, where to go and how fast to do it. He positively reveled in the safety of of it.
The whole process took less than 20 minutes. I could very clearly see him thinking about what was happening. This is a brand new thing for him. For two and a half years he has either been dull to what I was asking, or completely over-reacting to what was happening. In the last few weeks he has started thinking about what to do, and he is making decisions rather than just reacting. We are definitely becoming a team.
If you ride a large warmblood, feel fee to head back over to Facebook or the next blog on your list. This post is for the riders of the smaller dressage horses out there; horses like Speedy G. At 15'1, he's on the larger size for an Arabian, and he's also well-boned. While he's well-proportioned for his breed, he's not sized like most of his competitors. I know we owners of petite dressage horses are few, but we face the same problem: tack that doesn't fit.
I've finally sorted out the bridle issue. My last bridle from SmartPak fit well, but the Micklem fits even better. I have a well fitting saddle and my halter, the Tekna, also fits well and performs great. A well proportioned saddle pad still eluded me.
A few years ago, I bought a rather pricey pad that fits great, but at $100 it was too expensive for daily schooling so I use it for shows only.
Since I started riding dressage, I've searched high and low for a dressage pad that would fit Speedy's smaller stature; most are simply too large. Like this one.
It covers him withers to hip and almost wraps around his tummy. Sydney gets to use this one.
Not being able to find a pad that fit, I resorted to all purpose pads. They're shorter along the top line and don't have such a long drop. Unfortunately, they aren't shaped quite right though.
I even just decided to give up on a smaller pad and ordered this one. It works well for Sydney, but at 26" by 44", it simply dwarfed Speedy G. I had hoped it might work since Dressage Extensions has a coupon in its latest catalog for a "Buy Two Tuffrider Dressage Pads Get One Free," which is a steal as the pads are only $19.95 each. Alas, no.
I just knew there had to be a pad that would fit my smaller horse so I started combing the catalogs, noting the dimensions of every pad I found. And then I found it; the perfect sized pad: the Rider's International Contoured Box Quilt Dressage Pad! It measures 23 ½" X 40". Most dressage pads are 26" long with a 44" or 46" drop.
My find got better and better though; they were on SALE at Dover! They're normally $33.99, but I was able to get them for $20.99 each. And since the pads were so cheap, I even sprang for monogramming. I am more than pleased with the pads. The monogramming is beautiful, the pads are of excellent quality, and best of all, they FIT! I am tempted to order half a dozen of them and store them until needed.
The black pad has silver thread while the white pad has black thread. The "S" stands for my last name and Speedy's name. I love the monogram!
And even though Speedy isn't sound yet, more on that in the days to come, he still got to try on his new clothes.
I can't hear myself think for all of the door slamming going on around here! I mean that metaphorically of course. My husband is not much of a door slammer, and we don't even have doors at the barn.
I've been working diligently on this halt RIGHT NOW thing. On Sunday, Sydney gave me a rear, buck, whirl-free ride! And it wasn't by luck. He was really thinking about what I was asking for, and he decided to acquiesce. I don't know if he thought it would simply be in his best interest (he's not a fan of the small circle), or if he just realized that my request was quite doable and maybe even easy.
I started out like I always do: some work at the walk, some warm up trotting where I continue to work on my up/up/down exercise (absolutely love that thing), and then some quick trot work to both directions. And then I sat quietly and cued for a right lead canter which Sydney offered with no fuss. We schooled that for a minute or two, returned to trot, and then schooled the left lead canter.
We took a walk break and went back to tracking right at the walk. This is where he normally starts to get tense. It's as though he realizes the warm up is over and the "real" work is about to begin. I hope he can let go of that notion soon since in my mind we've been working since I climbed aboard.
He wanted to be tense and rush into the trot, but I insisted he just walk. I kept my seat relaxed and resisted anything other than a trot. As I felt him relax, I started thinking about a trot, but I didn't ask for it. Little by little, he started to offer a relaxed trot. He was really listening to me and trying to do what he thought I wanted.
Once we were trotting again, I had to really focus on maintaining the rhythm as he wanted to rush the circle and fall in. I gave him a warning (half halt!) and he slowed his rhythm. We continued on and each time he thought about falling in or rushing, I warned him with my outside rein that a consequence was coming: either halt RIGHT NOW, or do a small circle.
He heard me. I could see him flick an ear at me and slow his pace. After we had done several circles without the need for a tiny circle or a hard halt, I asked him for a quiet, halt RIGHT NOW and got it. I sat there for a moment praising the heck out of him and hopped off. That was the first ride in I don't know how long that we have cantered both directions without a fuss and had no rearing, bucking, whirling, spinning, diving in, or bolting off.
We are definitely getting somewhere good!
Poor Speedy. No bling (yet) for the gray pony. The browband, which turned out to be quite pretty, is just a smidge too big. I chose this one, even though it didn't come in cob, because several reviewers said it ran a bit small. Uh … no, it didn't.
It looks great on Sydney though, so it's a keeper. I am on the hunt for a new browband for Speedy and have one in mind. It's pricier than this one though, so it might be a month or two before I go ahead and order it.
In the mean time, here's Sydney's new browband!
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
*** SCEC 10/15-16/22
2022 Completed …
(*) Tehachapi 5/22/22
(*) Tehachapi 7/24/22
(***) Tehachapi 8/28/22
2023 Qualifying Scores
Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC)
Qualifying Training Level
3 Scores/2 Judges/60%:
Score 1: 62.115%