From Endurance to Dressage
Over the weekend, Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, was here for a Saturday clinic. We had some new riders, and this time, Chemaine was able to do a yoga ball clinic in the middle of the day. With the yoga ball, she explained seat aides and rider position. She also showed us a series of stretches to do before we ride. The yoga ball portion of a clinic is a fun and relaxing way to work on your position.
I rode Speedy in the morning before everyone else arrived. I put Izzy last on the schedule because he can be a bit of a handful, and I didn't want him spooking the rest of the horses. He was a little nervous, but nothing like in the past.
The truth is, it would have been a boring lesson for anyone to audit. In fact, it was so repetitive that Chemaine finally sat down and just kept repeating herself - more, MORE, COMPRESS, more, more, compress, COMPRESS ... you get the idea. Weird as it sounds, it was a great lesson.
Izzy is finally to the point where I am not trying to keep control. His steering is good, the spooking is nominal, and he knows I am up there. The next great hurdle is getting him to unlock the base of his neck so that his back can swing so that he can take a bigger stride.
When he's tense, which is less and less, he locks his neck and tightens his back. If I ask for a longer stride, his short, choppy stride just gets faster and faster. No amount of leg will lengthen that stride.
For the past month, Chemaine has had me compress him instead. When he won't stretch his neck, I flex his neck, add leg, and hold the half halt as long as I need to until he offers to stretch his neck. As soon as he softens, I release by moving my hands forward and sending him forward at the same time. And like magic, his stride lengthens.
Since the stretchy stride only lasts for a few moments, I compress repeatedly, achieving a longer neck each time. Unless he relaxes his neck, he can't build up a bigger trot. So every time he rushes or gets short and choppy, I compress him and slow him down until he softens his neck. Sometimes that means he evens comes back to a walk.
I rode him on Sunday, and all of Saturday's tension was gone. Of course it was as we were alone as usual. Even so, I was delighted with how quickly he wanted to stretch down when I compressed him.
Now that he's getting broker, he's a lot more fun to ride. When he's not worried, he's a great listener with a huge work ethic. He loves to get the right answer. I am eager to see how far we can get before Chemaine comes back in February.
I don't know if flexion is Chemaine Hurtado's word of the month, or if Speedy and I are finally at a place where we need more of it. Either way, both of my horse's did a ton of flexing this weekend with instructions to do it about a million more times.
I am pretty sure I haven't shared this yet, but Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, recently moved to Kern County which is where Bakersfield is located. Don't get too excited. Kern County is the same size as New Jersey, but at least she's closer. That means I've had lessons twice this month with two more on the horizon. It's been amazing.
Over the weekend, she helped me see why Speedy and I have been struggling with some of the work at Second Level. The super short version is that he's lost some of the suppleness in his back that we had before he was laid up. Since he's not stretching over his top line, the canter work, particularly the simple change, has been hard for him.
That means I am going to be spending the next several weeks getting him to stretch over his top line. Basically, that means a ton of over-flexing. What Chemaine had me do in the trot work was over-flex him to the inside, always too much, and lift the outside side shoulder. When he softens, I need to push my hands forward and push him forward into that open space. In this way, he takes a longer stride and lengthens his neck.
We did a lot of the same work at the canter, particularly in the 10-meter canter circles. Speedy has been having trouble with sort of stalling out. To help that, she had me over-flex as we went into the turn but then release the inside rein while sponging the outside rein. This created a softer neck while putting him on the outside rein.
By the time we finished up the lesson, Speedy was stretching his neck forward while also taking a much longer stride. He felt better than he ever has! Hopefully, I can get the same level of suppleness on my own.
Either way, the good news is that Chemaine should be back in two weeks to continue helping me turn Speedy into a Second Level horse.
We don't have a very big dressage presence here in Bakersfield, and the truth is, I am not sure it would even take two hands to count the number of active riders showing dressage. So when a non-dressage equestrian group offers to put on a CDS-rated show, it should be something we support.
My local friends are eye-rolling now, I know. You see, this show has ... some history. It hasn't gone well the past few years, and local riders are skeptical that it won't be any different this year. In fact, it's going to be interesting to see if the show actually gets enough participants to put together a schedule. For the record, I am going.
Most everything about the show has been done well. They've offered High Point awards, raffles, and food. The facility had good parking, was centrally located, and while the footing wasn't the greatest, it was good enough for this former endurance rider.
So what's to complain about? Well, without beating a dead horse, some of the show day decisions have been questionable. One year, the show manager refused to return score sheets until the end of the show. Often times, classes were scheduled in what appeared to be in no particular order. On top of that, riders were permitted to ride out of order so that the class couldn't close until nearly the end of the show. Last year, ride times were confirmed the night before, but by the next morning, everyone's times had been switched around; mine by four hours! Other riders had been rescheduled to an earlier time and so were not even on the show grounds! In short it was a disaster.
This year, a new show manager has been brought in to replace the manager of the past few years. He's excited about the show and working hard to fix the glitches of the past. They've moved the show to a new venue, one that none of us has seen. They're still offering high point awards and no grounds fee. On top of that, they're providing a free BBQ for riders, trainers, and owners! That's a new one for me.
So local peeps ... what do you say? Let's give them another chance. If nothing else, it's a cheap show, and you'll get lunch out of the deal!
I usually find that things come in fives, but this time, I've only got two. One I am sure you've heard about (the trailering thing) while the other is not so newsworthy unless you live in California - changes to the CDS Championships.
You've no doubt heard the buzz created by the the law's newest phase: Electronic Logging Devices (ELDs) for Commercial Motor Vehicles (CMVs). Essentially, if you haul horses as part of your business, like trainers do, you are subject to the new law. If you are a sponsored rider, you are subject to the law. Basically, anyone who receives money for riding, and then hauls horses, needs a CMV. The law now mandates that owners of CMVs must install ELDs to record the number of hours driven in a 14-hour period.
For most of us, this law doesn't pertain to us. As recreational riders, we can haul as many hours as we'd like. For drivers of what are considered CMVs, this phase of the law is going to create some real hiccups. Think about this: what if your trainer is hauling several horses to another state for a big, year end show? It's a 12-hour drive, but she really doesn't have a place to pull over for the night. She's maxed out her 11-hour drive time for a 14-hour period. What does she do?
As a professional who hauls clients' horses, she is required to have an ELD in her "commercial" vehicle. I know that this issue doesn't affect me directly, but I can imagine that there are a lot of trainers and assistants who are scrambling right now to figure out how to be in compliance.
I've only competed in one California Dressage Society Championship. I had a fabulous time, learned a lot, and came home with a lot less money in my checking account. But when I entered such a prestigious show, I knew that would be the case. Championships, wherever they're held, are supposed to be a big deal.
Over the past month, Facebook has been filled with mutterings about some recent changes to the format of the CDS Championship. Not that Facebook should be your source for news, but the CDS website hadn't done an update, so I was left with social media. I saw a petition go by and several posts filled with a lot of "that's unfair" and "what do I pay dues for?" kinds of comments. Frankly, I wasn't sure what the fuss was about.
This weekend, the newest edition of Dressage Letters finally made it to my mailbox. I opened the cover to read the "President's Column." His first paragraph expressed deep concern for the horses and riders affected by the recent fires, but the rest of the page was dedicated to explaining the rationale for the changes to the Championship show.
From the article, also available online, it seems quite clear why the changes were made. The first two changes (no longer hosting the USDF Breeders Championship and combining the 4, 5, and 6-year-old futurity Amateur and Open Divisions with special awards given to highest scoring Amateurs) were done due to lack of participation. That doesn't seem so controversial to me.
Skipping number three for a moment - the fourth change was about increasing prize money for Horse of the Year (HOY) classes from $1,000 to $1,500. Who's complaining about that?
The fifth change bumped up the qualifying score for Freestyles from 62% to 64%. It sounds as though 62% was too easy to get, and CDS wants only the best competing. I get that.
I don't think those are the changes that have so many people upset. I suspect it is changes numbers three and six. Those are the changes that seem to affect the largest number of riders, particularly amateurs.
Since 1967, HOY has been determined by averaging the results from two different rides of the same test over two days. The year I competed, each day's test was scored by two different judges. That meant that the winner was determined by averaging four sets of scores. Beginning in 2018, each rider will only ride one test, but it will be scored by three different judges. Placings will be determined by averaging the three scores.
CDS has determined that this will actually be cheaper for riders, one less test to pay for, and it will free up riders to compete in other classes for which they are qualified (USDF, equitation, other levels, etc.).
The complaint I am hearing is that determining HOY based on one test alone isn't fair. Naysayers state that if your horse has a bad day, you've lost your chance to earn HOY. That might be true, but then it's also true that you might save your placing if your second test turned out to be a bomb. In addition, riders had to qualify to even get to HOY, so it's not really based on one test at all. It's been a season long journey culminating in one final championship class.
In my mind, the change is not unfair. Every rider has the same opportunity to put in their best test.
The second change that seems to be irritating people is change six which requires a $25 nominating fee for each horse/rider/level for all divisions. I am not sure why this idea is causing so much turmoil. CDS has the exact same requirement for the Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC). The money is used for prizes, swag bags, a hospitality tent with food, and so on. Riders only pay IF they're actually entering the Championship show.
When we make it back to the Championship Show, the extra $25 won't be a big deal to me. It seems the least of the costs associated with going to a big show. I worry more about gas money!
So there you have it, two recent controversies. Are you being affect by the ELDs? Please share. What are your thoughts on the Championship changes? Am I missing something?
I am not even kidding. I almost didn't ride yesterday afternoon. It was 71℉ at 4:00 in the afternoon! Since I don't blanket my boys, they have full on, polar bear winter coats. When I went to get Izzy, he was sweating. It's January. What the heck?
It seemed silly to waste such a lovely day however, so I saddled up anyway. I know I've been filling this space with My Horse Is Now Awesome types of posts, but I have to add another one.
Even though the gardener was using a wood chipper to dispose of some piles of leaves, Izzy only gave him three seconds of a hairy eye-ball, and then shrugged it off.
Since he was so relaxed and already kind of sweating, I made the executive decision to keep things at a walk and trot. Feeling that he was ready to be pushed a little though, we did all of the walk and trot work from Second Level (except the turn on the haunches).
He's got a sweet shoulder in, and his travers is way better than Speedy's! We did those fun little 10-meter half circles, and for the very first time ever, I was able to get a baby trot lengthening.
When we were finished, he was actually drier than when we started. I think some clouds rolled in, and we picked up a small breeze. Either way, I decided to make sure he got a good drink that evening by giving him a dose of electrolytes with his dinner bucket. It was supposed to be in the 30s over-night.
Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, will be here for another clinic this Saturday. I sure hope he keeps it together, but if not, I know how to help him put his brain back in. And if I can't, Chemaine knows how to kick his butt even better than I do!
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%: