From Endurance to Dressage
So I may not be as dumb as I first thought, and Speedy might not have earned my poor baby either.
He's a smart horse, that one. And he's very lazy. He's very fit, he's very healthy, and all of his parts work quite well. He can touch his nose to any part of his body, and he can do it standing on one foot!
As I mentioned the other day, Speedy and I are are working on advancing and improving on our current skill level. What was satisfactory last month is now on our needs improvement list. I know we're ready to press on because what was once hard is now easier.
Take the canter for example. Six months ago, every canter transition came with a flying kick from the outside hind or an out-and-out buck that involved both feet and a grunt. While our canter departs aren't perfect, they are now fairly smooth and quiet-ish. We're ready to start insisting that the canter be more uphill. He is ready to carry more of his own weight behind.
When you look at the Pyramid of Training (PoT), straightness is near the top just below collection. And while I may not be an expert at dressage, I am an "expert" at teaching and learning.
Every U.S. state has what are referred to as the Standards of Education; the what that every kid is supposed to know (soon to be called Common Core State Standards). In each grade level's standards, you will find Number Sense, Reading Comprehension, Grammar, and so on. This does not mean that a kindergartener will have the same number sense or reading comprehension skills as a 6th grader, but he or she will be expected to have a certain proficiency appropriate to his or her age and grade level.
I think the same holds true for the PoT. A Training Level horse, much like a first grader, should have some proficiency at each level of the pyramid. A Second Level horse should have more proficiency, and a Grand Prix horse should demonstrate mastery.
Which brings me to Speedy G and our recent struggle with straightness. Is Speedy G going to be as straight as a Grand Prix horse? Of course not, but that doesn't mean he doesn't have to show at least some proficiency. So after my I just don't get it lesson on Monday, I set to work to understand the exercise that JL had laid out for us, riding a square.
While cooking dinner during the week, I used a small patch of tiles on my kitchen floor to simulate a corner. I tracked forward three or four tiles with my shoulders hunched over to create "four legs." I quickly realized that to make the turn, I had to do a turn on the forehand to get my hips around the corner, and then I had to finish the movement with a turn on the haunches to get my shoulders to line up with my hips. AHA! (Thank you TPR.)
Do you remember my post about the Affective Filter? If so, you'll remember that my area of specialty is language acquisition. TPR is another component in that field of study. Wikipedia, take it away:
Total physical response (TPR) is a language-teaching method developed by James Asher, a professor emeritus of psychology at San José State University. It is based on the coordination of language and physical movement. In TPR, instructors give commands to students in the target language, and students respond with whole-body actions.
Since I wasn't understanding JL's "language" during the lesson, I replayed her instructions in my mind as I used my whole body to do it, and viola, I got it! This isn't exactly true TPR, but the approach is pretty close. I told you dressage was a foreign language. Who knew my university education was going to help me figure out my chosen equestrian sport?
On Friday, I saddled Speedy with a purpose: we were going to make the turns with some semblance of straightness. We started at the walk; my expectations were at the kindergarten level. I rode into a corner and tried to do a turn on the forehand. Nothing. I came out of the corner and tried to do a turn on the forehand in a more open space. Again, nothing. I dug my spur into his side; nothing. I gouged him with my spur and still nothing. Not only was there nothing, but he flicked an ear at me and said quite loudly, I can't heeeeaaarrrrr yoooouuuuu!
I realized immediately that the problem wasn't entirely mine. Speedy flat out just didn't want to move his butt over as it is hard. I calmly hopped off, led him back to the barn, and quietly picked up my riding crop. I pat his neck, hopped back on, and rode back out into an open space. You know what's coming; he didn't. I shortened my reins, tapped him with my left leg, and then smacked him sharply right behind my leg.
Guess, what? After a wide-eyed, WHAT? he took a quick step away from my left leg. We worked on turns on the forehand and turns on the haunches for at least 15 minutes. Every single time that he ignored my left leg, I gave him a smart whack with the crop. It was amazing how much quicker he moved away from my left leg.
The next day, I worked down both long sides and up centerline focusing on moving him away from the left leg. It was amazing how much better he was making the turns. He moved into the corner away from my leg, and came out of the corner much straighter. I can't say that we're perfectly straight yet, but things are looking much better.
I'll be at at the barn later this morning for another day of practice. My goal is to have him moving off my leg pretty smartly in preparation for Monday's lesson. I'll let you know how it goes!
In between Sydney's rides, I had a very difficult, demoralizing, and frustrating lesson on Speedy G. And it wasn't Speedy's fault. It hasn't happened very many times, maybe once before, but I simply didn't. get. it. at. all.
Speedy and I have reached a certain level of okayness. We've laid a solid foundation, but now it's time to start finessing some things. I told JL that one area I can finally see that needs improvement is getting Speedy off my inside left leg. We need bend without him veering off in all the wrong directions. I am sort of sorry that I brought it up.
Here's what's happening according to JL (and it's not that I doubt her explanation; it's just that I can't make my body do what it needs to do to address the problem): Tracking left, I get a bend, and we make the corner, but as we come out of the corner, Speedy is still bent around my leg with his shoulders and butt still stuck in the bend. Even if I drop the inside rein this still happens.
He is simply crooked. As we come down the long side, his shoulders are falling in. My "solution," obviously the wrong one, is to add inside leg, leg, leg which creates a carousel-horse effect. As I add inside leg, his hind end is pushed out, but his front end just keeps swinging in.
Oy vey ...
So JL had me try the following exercise: Ride a square.
Ay yay yay ... poor Speedy G.
p.s. rider has since done some TPR (total physical response) work since Monday's lesson. In teacher speak, TPR is when you have the student move their body during a lesson. Student finally had an AHA moment. More to come ...
I've been riding since before I can actually remember. No formal lessons until my late 30s, but I did compete in endurance for 15 years, and I've ridden in every environment possible (mountains, beach, desert, forests, city, other countries, etc.).
Now that I am riding dressage, I am refining my likes and comforts for arena riding. Here are my (current) five favorite tack accessories.
I have a very nice pair of Ariat paddock boots and a comfy pair of chaps, but a few months ago, I decided that I prefer tall boots. For Christmas, I wanted to ask for a second pair of dressage boots (I use my first pair for shows only), but then I remembered that I have a super comfy pair of Ariat field boots. Who cares that they're not dressage boots? I don't. So I've tucked my paddock boots away, and I now ride exclusively in these.
A new find. All I can so is OMG why didn't someone tell me that expensive riding gloves can be so, so much more comfortable than the cheapo cotton gloves I've been wearing?
It's dirty, and I'll probably need a new one this summer, but the Ovation Sync is the most comfortable helmet I've ever worn. This one FITS me!
I use the Nunn Finer Rubber Spur Straps. They wash up easily, and they are super adjustable. They also stay flexible and don't get stiff. This pair is several years old, and I ride nearly daily. They're holding up really well especially for the price, under $10!
And of course my Road ID bracelet (Thank you Dr. Hart for the recommendation) - I never ride without it. It's like riding with a helmet; I can't imagine getting on without it.
Monday was a marathon barn day. Again, a big thank you to all of our presidents for the lovely day off. It hit 70 degrees; I even have a small sunburn to prove it. In February?
I got to the barn at 9:00 a.m. with a plan:
1. clean and re-bed my stalls
2. ride Sydney (part 1)
3 lesson on Speedy (part 2)
4. re-ride Sydney down at JL's place so we could be in a busy ring (part 3)
Done, done, done, and done!
From the comments I've been receiving lately, the OTTB lovers out there seem to be able to relate to Sydney's issues better than they do to Speedy's. His Arabian feelings aren't hurt; quite the contrary. Speedy's pretty happy as a one-human pony and doesn't seem to care much whether anyone worries about his training progress.
Sydney's issue are changing, thank goodness. Over the last few weeks, he and I have figured out a lot of things. When I hopped up for ride number one on Monday, I told him, Dude, this can be a fifteen minute ride if you show me something good. Boy, did he want to be back in his stall! In exactly 10 minutes, we walked long and low, trot all over the arena with my hands planted into my thighs, and did canter circles to the left and right with zero fussiness.
I asked for a halt, pat his neck, and put him away. What more was there to ask for? That was Part 1.
For many, many months, I fought the frustration that came with getting on and having the same fight day after day. And yet, while it seemed like the same daily fight, it couldn't have been as here we are cantering like we've been doing it for years. It's hard to see the incremental progress. It's like watching hair grow; you can't see that it's longer until summer rolls around, and you can now wear it in a pony tail.
That's why I took Sydney for ride number two. I've finally seen the pony tail. This is Part 3. We have made progress, tons of it in fact. So now it's on to the next daily struggle - field trips. I knew there would be several riders at JL's so after my lesson on Speedy, I re-saddled Sydney and rode up to play with the big girls.
I usually lead him, but since he'd been ridden and turned out already, I figured we'd be safe enough riding on up there. He had a giraffe neck thing going on, but we made it with no mishaps. RM was doing a short lesson at the walk/trot, but Cha Ching and his mom were preparing for a jump lesson, and Cha Ching was a little YEEHAW. Perfect!
I spent a good hour (or more) on Sydney asking him to deal with dropped poles (HOLT CRAP WHAT WAS THAT? as all legs left the ground), rubbed poles (RUUUUUUN!), and a snorty, whinnnnnneyy horse (Cha Ching is still a baby and wanted everyone to stay and play).
It was a great experience. Every time Cha Ching and his mom stopped to consult with JL, I asked Sydney to trot and move. When they returned to jumping, we stopped working to watch. Walk/trot ... stop and watch. Walk/trot ... stop and watch. Eventually ... big, deep sigh ...
And then Cha Ching left the arena and we had the barn end to ourselves. It was a great opportunity to try some canter work, left lead only thank you very much. There were some woohoo moments, like when he smacked the fence with a BIG kick, but overall, we got the canter without a bolt or rear. Yes, he was a little tense and a little heavy, but eventually he softened and lightened up, not perfectly, but he did it.
I brought him back to a trot, asked for a walk, and gave him a big pat. I caught JL's eye, and told her the right lead canter would come another day. She agreed wholeheartedly. All I had wanted was for him to think about the fact that he had survived the trip, and for that, he was a good boy.
And so the next leg of our journey begins ...
I've been checking my website's traffic data, which is something I do pretty regularly. It's quite interesting to see which blog posts or pages get the most traffic. A month or so ago, there were a ton of visitors to the post about treating Tobias for Parvo. I can only guess that someone else blogged about something dog-related and provided a link to my page which brought a lot of visitors.
Throughout January and February, I've noticed a lot of traffic to my Endurance Photos category. When I say a lot, I mean triple the number of visitors to that category as compared to every other category. Huh?!?!?!
Again, somewhere out there, someone must have created a link to my page.Thank you, but I wonder why those photos are of such particular interest?
Since someone finds those photos interesting, I thought I'd do a post about my endurance race statistics.
When I look back on my 15 seasons as an endurance rider, I recognize that I was fairly successful by some standards and just barely making a mark on the sport by others' standards. My mentor, MC, has been competing for over 30 years and has amassed more than 15,480 race miles. She's in the top 30 (at least) for rider mileage of all time.
Endurance riders have a hierarchy, as many sports do. Completing one or two or even ten rides doesn't make you an endurance rider. I am not sure when you become an "official" endurance rider, but for me, when I hit 1,000 race miles, I felt that I could call myself such. And once I completed my first 100-mile race, I felt that I finally, finally belonged to the club. But ask my mentor. From her perspective, maybe you need 10,000 miles before you get your endurance club card.
I thought I'd give you some stats that cover my "career."
Limited Distance (25 to 35 miles):
Endurance Distance (50 milers and greater):
DNFs (did not finish):
I loved endurance riding. I got to see some of the most beautiful places on the planet. Endurance riding also develops a bond with your horse that I just don't think you can get from doing any other sport.
Here's a screen shot of my endurance career's stats. Visit AERC.org to see my complete race record.
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%: