From Endurance to Dressage
We all know it's a cardinal sin to cross your inside rein over the horse's neck. Moving the rein like that is called an indirect rein. Riders sometimes do it to try and turn the horse, but it doesn't work. It's not done; don't do it. Except, there are times when you can use it, but not to turn the horse.
When Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, was here on Sunday, we used the indirect rein a lot. We've been using an indirect rein on Izzy for a long time, so it's a not a new tool, but Chemaine had me using it more consistently to make a correction that Izzy is now mentally able to accept.
The whole lesson was really about two things. One was to use the indirect rein to take away his ability to brace his neck and swing his haunches out. The other was about using the outside rein to get Izzy to bend his hocks more once he was soft after using the indirect rein. Sounds confusing? Don't worry, I know just how you feel. As always, Chemaine presented me with a new way of looking at things, and even though I couldn't see it or feel it at the beginning, by the time we were through, I was able to (mostly) put all of the pieces together.
We did a bunch of different movements in this lesson including leg yields, shoulder in, ten-meter circles, and the medium trot. In all of them, Chemaine worked me through the idea of using the indirect rein to get softness while applying the outside rein to get Izzy's hocks bending and sitting. One of the ways that Chemaine explained it went something like this: Once he's soft in the bridle, and you apply the outside rein, he can't get softer, and he can't go forward, so his only correct choice is to suck in his belly, lift his back and bend his hocks. When he does that, he's like a bouncy ball.
So here is how we used the indirect rein. Izzy likes to lean on my right rein and and fall in on the right shoulder. When he moves like this, it feels as though we're tipping over. Moving him over with my inside leg doesn't fix the leaning shoulder. An indirect rein however, does move the shoulder back to where it needs to be. There are varying degrees of an indirect rein. I don't need to cross the rein over his neck. Instead, I simply pull it close to his withers which "forces" him to bend without allowing him to brace against it. The important thing to remember though is to let go once he's stopped bracing.
We started in the leg yield which requires a small amount of inside bend. When he wouldn't give it, I moved my inside hand toward his withers creating bend, and then applied the outside rein to say less forward, more sideways. As the lesson progressed, we utilized movements that required more and more bend. In the shoulder-in for example, Chemaine had me use the indirect rein to get more bend and softness. Once Izzy quit bracing, I could then use the outside rein to tell him to bring his hocks underneath himself.
We also applied the indirect rein to a haunches-in. This was when I could finally feel how he has been subtly leaning and bracing on my inside right rein. We've done haunches in on the circle plenty of times to help me achieve bend and softness. But doing it on the long side helped me feel it more clearly. As in all of the other movements, Chemaine encouraged me to use the indirect rein to get him soft, but then I used the outside rein to bring his haunches in. To help me be more effective with the outside rein, she had me think about doing a rein back with flexion while trotting. That was a lot to think about, but I felt an immediate improvement.
As we continued working, I slowly started to put all of the aids together:
Indirect rein to get Izzy to stop bracing.
Outside rein to ask him to step under.
Half halt with a kick, kick when he wanted to brace and hollow his back.
The quick kick, kick sent his hind legs under while the outside halting rein said not forward.
A lot of this work was really done in an effort to get a better and bigger medium trot. What I finally felt during this lesson is how to keep Izzy from losing his balance near the end of the medium trot. As we come through the corner, I already know how to straighten him so that his shoulders are in front of his haunches. I already know to use a big half halt in the corner and to let his nose get longer before asking him to go. A piece that I was missing was how to keep him from scrambling and popping his head up at about the three quarter mark.
Chemaine helped me feel that when I can no longer sit the trot, it's because Izzy has lost his balance and isn't giving me anywhere to sit. To fix that, she encouraged me to do little pulses on the (right) rein to keep sending him a little half halt - stay light in my hand, and bend your hocks. Right now, if he stays in balance, I can't quite get as much reach, but that will come.
I have a lot of homework to do over the next few weeks. The more I insist that Izzy stays off my right rein, the less indirect rein I'll need. As he braces less and softens more, he'll also get straighter which will create more power in the medium (and someday, extended) gaits.
Our progress is slow, but it's progress.
Life has been verging on the out of control lately as I find myself working ridiculously long hours. You would think that working from home would make life easier. Sure, I can get a load of laundry done, and I can pee without having my neighbor come over to watch my class, but the work that distance learning requires is wearing me out.
Life must go on though, and I refuse to let this pandemic change every aspect of my life. No matter how tired I am, I make it to the barn anyway to ride or take care of what needs to be done. So, here are a few interesting updates.
Update #1 Pivo Pod
After a few initial adjustments, my Pivo has tracked me pretty much perfectly. When Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, comes down for a lesson, she no longer has to be videographer and trainer both. That part has been working great for several months. The trouble I was having was that my iPhone 7 Plus's battery would be drained by the end of the lesson.
I know I mentioned this already, and I shared my plan, but the first time I tried, my solution didn't work. My husband replaced my last solar charger when mine was stolen in November. The first time I connected my solar charger to my phone while using the Pivo, it didn't charge. I later discovered that unlike my first charger, you have to turn this one on. Doh! When I tried the whole set up again this weekend, I turned the darn thing on, and what do you know? It worked! At the end of the lesson, my phone was still at 100%. You gotta love smart technology.
Update #2 Gastro Elm
I now know with absolute certainty that the GastroElm is working. After giving it daily for almost two weeks, I missed a day at the barn. The very next day, Izzy's poop was once again ploppy, and the day after that, his belly was sensitive to grooming.
On one hand, I am thrilled that it is working. On the other, it's frustrating that the ulcer hasn't healed. I am hoping that if I persist with the activated dose, his tummy will eventually heal over. I had planned to just sprinkle the powder straight into his lunch, but since his stomach is till not quite right, I'll continue activating the GastroElm before top dressing his feed.
On the day his tummy was sensitive, I also syringed a dose before riding. I really like that about this product. You can dose them several times a day as needed for more instant "relief." I know UlcerGard (and GastroGard) should be the better choice, but honestly, I got quicker results with the Gastro Elm.
Update #3 Shedding
It always catches me off-guard how early in the year that Izzy starts to shed. The first hairs started to let loose over the weekend. I know the shedding is connected to daylight hours, but winter only just arrived here in California's Central Valley. We had our first heavy rain of the season. Before Sunday's rain, it had only rained about 0.2". Even with this week's heavy rain, we're still under 2 inches for the year!
Speedy of course won't start shedding until March or so, and then he'll continue shedding all summer. It could be just his age, but it's much more likely that his PPID (Cushing's Disease) is affecting his coat. Each year his coat gets a little longer, and he takes longer to lose it.
Focusing on all of the little things like solar power, ploppy poop, and shedding hair forces me to step away from my job even if just for an hour or two. My brain and emotional health say thank you.
Sometimes, it's the little things that are important.
On Sunday, Speedy's newest friend "J" stayed for a lesson after watching my own lesson with Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables. More on that in a day or two. Even though I am teacher - and maybe because I am a teacher, I make sure to participate as often as possible as a student. If we don't know what it feels like to be a learner ourselves, how can we ever empathize with the struggle of being a student?
Because she's eager to learn, J arrived early enough to watch the lesson. We didn't talk much about it afterwards, or at least not specifically, but I made numerous references to my own lesson as I worked with her and Speedy. I wanted her to know that trying to process a lot of information at once is something all riders cope with especially if they're learning something new or difficult. My own lesson was filled with a steady stream of "new" stuff, and by the end, my brain felt like someone had just tried to make a pretzel out of it.
Even though my lessons are free, I feel an obligation to teach something new each time. And if not completely new, I want the lesson to at the very least move past the last one. No one wants to repeat the same thing again and again. For the first lesson, we mostly focused on the basic aids. This time, I had J apply those aids to movements outside of a 20-meter circle. If a rider never leaves the safety of the 20-meter circle, how can she know if her aids are even effective?
Teaching on a circle is pretty easy though. For the most part, you're just going to keep saying a little more bend, add weight to your inside seat bone, post quicker and higher, half halt! Add in a change of direction, and forty-five minutes later you're done. When the student leave the 20-meter circle though, the teacher's job is suddenly made a lot more difficult. And the more complicated the movement, the quicker the teacher has to think and speak.
As the "teacher," I am finding this task to be a challenge. It's forcing me to really dissect each movement to both explain it to someone else and then coach that rider through the movement without overwhelming or discouraging her. It's not easy though, and it's giving me yet another reason to appreciate how difficult a good trainer's job is.
I had J test her previously acquired skills in two ways. First we did a change of direction from one 20-meter circle to another. Later, I had her canter the long sides to E/B, and later S/R, and then make the half circle back to the long side for the half circle at A. There are a lot more aids to those simple patterns than you would think.
For the change of direction, the rider has to begin the change of bend long before those two strides of straightness you get where the circles touch. It doesn't take long to trot a 20-meter circle though especially when you have a whole bunch of things that need to happen. I found it incredibly challenging to coach J through the beginning of the change to the end.
Essentially, to ride a change of bend, the rider has to first initiate the change with what will become the new inside leg. The rider must move the horse off the new inside leg to the new outside rein, add inside flexion, catch the outside shoulder, look in the new direction of travel, change the posting diagonal, and it all needs to happen within about ten seconds. I can't even say all of that in ten seconds.
The canter down the long side was actually easier as I finally resorted to shouting half halt! just before the half circle followed by about ten more HALF HALTs! during the half circle, which was followed by the very simple let him out if you feel comfortable along the long side. The long side was never long enough though so within moments I was once again insisting on a HALF HALT!
Why do "they" never actually get a half halt? And by "they" I mean me. Sheesh. I am sure Chemaine is constantly wondering what the hell I am doing up there while she's screeching at me to half halt. Now I know why she's yelling. As riders, we may be trying to get a half halt, and we may think we're actually doing a half halt, but it's never enough.
I know J thinks that I am doing her an incredible favor by letting her ride Speedy and giving her lessons. The truth is, I am probably getting more from the experience than she is. My dressage knowledge has obviously grown tremendously over the past decade, but knowing how to sit the trot and ride a flying change of lead isn't all there is to learn. I said this a week or so ago, but being able to show someone else how to do it can really help you identify where your own learning is strong, but it can also help you see the gaps.
While I love taking lessons, I am also learning a ton by giving them.
As predicted, the bonnets that I ordered on Thursday from the Riding Warehouse showed up on Saturday. If I actually lived in SLO, Riding Warehouse's hometown, I'd be in big, big trouble. As it is, we try and stop in when we're in their area. With free shipping though, it's actually cheaper to order and have it delivered than it is to go and pick up something.
Between my recent acquisition of two new helmets and the bonnets, I could now outfit a team of horses and riders. The maroon helmet still hasn't shipped though, so team Head to Head will have to wait.
I already wrote about the LeMieux Noice Reduction Ear Bonnet when I received the first one, so I wasn't surprised about how nice it was. Just like the navy version, the ears are padded with micro foam, and the yarn is tightly woven. It's not fancy or decorative, but it fits wells and will hopefully help Izzy focus while at shows.
Other than the blinged-out bonnet I bought a few weeks ago, I had never bought anything with the Equine Couture label. These new bonnets with studs have sold me on the brand. If the rest of their product line is as well made as these, I'm hooked. Just like the first bonnet, these have very stretchy ears made of spandex. Again, the yarn is heavy duty and woven tightly. The studs are little beebees that are individually sewn on. Each beebee has a tiny hole through its center. I don't know how long they'll last, but at $17.95 a bonnet, who cares? If you're looking for an inexpensive fly bonnet, these are much nicer than the price would suggest.
I am a Roeckl girl, price be damned. I haven't worn anything but Roeckl gloves in at least seven or eight years. They generally last me one to two years, but I am not at all careful with them and I only wash them once or twice a year. Mine get grubby, grimy, and well-abused. I also ride with Thinline or rubber reins, both of which are heavily textured. This is also hard on gloves.
I've had nearly every color - white, black, black and brown, black and red, navy and white (more than once), brown and rose gold; I went with straight navy this time. While the Roeckl gloves are a bit on the pricey side and don't last forever, the way they feel like a second skin makes them an easy purchase in my book.
For someone who doesn't think she's into dressing up her horses, I've sure been spending a lot of time doing just that. I wonder if it's because I've never really bought Izzy anything new. Now that he's my main ride, his wardrobe has suddenly increased.
If nothing else, he'll at least look good!
I swear this is the LAST post about that Bronze Medal. I am sick of writing about it. It took forever to earn it. It took forever for it to get here. It took forever to figure out what to do with it once I had it in my hands. I already wrote about its disappointing size. It's a little bit too big to actually pin to a jacket, and it's a lot too small to display. Frankly, the lapel pin checks all my boxes. It arrived quickly, and it's purpose was clearly stated on the box. Not really. I made that part up, but you get the point.
After thinking on it for a bit, I decided it needed to be displayed, but I had to add a lot of other stuff to make the display big enough to actually see. Framing something the size of a quarter requires some creative thinking. Fortunately,I save everything related to shows.
I have every score sheet I've ever earned (except two that I lost in November, and I am still mad about it), so I decided to display two of the Third Level Score sheets. Knowing that I might want to use it someday, I saved Speedy's number from the day when we earned the last score needed for the Bronze. I also saved the ribbon we earned. Don't get too excited, we were the only rider in the class so it's blue. We won by default, but it was a pretty ribbon, so I kept it.
I decided that a shadow box was probably the best way to memorialize our accomplishment. I laid out a couple of tests, the ribbon, the number, a document listing all of the scores needed, and of course the medal itself. I rearranged things a few times and found a configuration I liked. I took a few measurements and found a shadow box that looked like it would work.
For the document, I wanted to show when and where Speedy and I earned our scores. From First and Second Levels I had quite a few scores to choose from. Rather than use the first scores we earned, I chose scores that were meaningful. Two of the scores were earned under the watchful eye of Hilda Gurney. Another score was earned at the CDS Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC) - two of them actually. For the Third Level scores, I wanted to show that we earned at least one score from the championship level test - Test 3. I typed it all up, printed it out on heavy card stock, and used rubber cement to mount it.
It took Speedy and I forever to get through Intro, Training, and First, but once we did, the scores at Second and Third came relatively quickly. I have a feeling it might be a long, long time before Izzy and I earn any scores towards a Silver Medal. We'll need two scores of 60% or above at Fourth Level and two at Prix St. Georges. I never thought a Bronze Medal was even a possibility, but there it is hanging on my wall.
Now that I know that the unthinkable is possible, I am not ruling out a Silver Medal.
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 …
3/27-28 SCEC (***)
4/10-11 SCEC (***)
5/16-17 El Sueño (***)
5/23 TMC (*)
6/12-13 SB (***) OR
6/19-20 El Sueño (***)
6/27 TMC (*)
7/3-4 Burbank (***) OR
7/17-18 El Sueño (***)
7/25 TMC (*)
8/14-15 RAAC (Q) (***)
8/29 TMC (*)
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