From Endurance to Dressage
After the lessons were done for the day, everyone bedded their horses down for the evening and then met up at a local sushi restaurant for dinner. Each time I participate in this clinic, I look forward to dinner. I don't know that all clinicians are as social and funny as Christian is, but getting to share a glass of wine with him and hear about his life as an international judge and trainer really helps to build a relationship. Knowing him outside of the ring makes what happens inside the ring a lot more interactive.
My lesson on Sunday was in the morning. I was glad for this as I would be able to leave and head for home whenever I was ready. As it worked out, I ended up staying until late afternoon so that I could watch my pal, Sarah (of Eventing in Color fame), ride. She also rides an OTTB so it was great to see how Christian helped her deal with Hemie's tension.
After breakfast, but before anyone was ready to ride, I turned Sydney out in White Birch's rather large round pen. He trotted around briskly while eyeballing everything. I could see that he thought he should be anxious, but it was as though he couldn't muster up the energy to go totally wild and crazy. It was an interesting moment. I actually kissed him into a canter, but he never even approached gallop speed. I had him change direction with the same result.
Mostly, he just trotted around looking for a soft spot to roll. When I was ready to continue some in hand work up in the arena, he gave me a sassy flip of his hind end when I asked him to come over. I shook the lead rope at him and did some quick changes of directions, which were obviously too much work for a Sunday morning. Sydney stopped and turned to face me with a much more submissive attitude.
I hand walked the big brown OTTB around the perimeter of the arena, pausing at the C end where some large guinea fowl (?) live just below in a small pasture. He stared at them for some time, but then shrugged his shoulders (metaphorically) and walked on. We strolled around the inside of the arena pausing every so often so that I could send his inside hind leg under him as Christian had done with the lunge line. I was pleasantly surprised at how supple he was during the exercise.
Once I noticed that White Birch's ground crew wanted to water and drag the arena, I waved a quick apology and headed back to the barn. I gave Sydney a good grooming, rewrapped his legs, and checked in with the clinic's organizer. As Christian and the other riders and spectators began to arrive, I began to feel a bit nervous. What the hell?
I realized that I was feeling some pressure to be better than we were on Saturday. I felt as though everyone, including Christian, was expecting me to just get it already. Once I recognized from where my anxiety was coming, I was able to joke about it a little bit and let it start to dissipate. Because really, who would expect me to better over-night?
I saddled up and moved into the arena. I told Christian that I was anxious, and he just laughed it off and told me to track right immediately. What? was my response. I was really hoping to warm up in our easier direction, especially since I was clearly feeling anxious and needed to settle my nerves. Christian's response was that his job wasn't to make me feel comfortable at the beginning of a ride, but rather at the end, SO TRACK RIGHT!
Oy vey. So we tracked right.
I can't say this enough: Christian is a rock star instructor. Knowing how I was feeling, he had me head immediately toward C at a walk. We were going to avoid the A end of the arena. We started by leg yielding from the quarter line to H followed by a leg yield to C followed by a leg yield from the next quarter line; all at a walk.
My tension from the last hour disappeared completely as I realized that for the first time, I was actually schooling real exercises in an arena that wasn't our home field. I started to relax. About that time, Christian asked for a trot while doing the same leg yield pattern. Sydney began to barrel through my aids again.
I wasn't able to hold his rhythm with my seat, so he picked up speed until we were pretty much just careening around. Christian didn't give the melodramatic sigh of frustration that I felt as I pulled Sydney back down to a walk, but when Christian asked what had happened, I replied that I didn't have any control. But he's not running off right now, which means you have enough control, start again at a very slow jog, came his reply. And so we did.
Somehow that little reprimand reminded me of how much outside rein I was allowed to use to to help Sydney balance. From that moment, I felt confident in holding all the weight I needed to while moving that inside hind leg over. We were finally leg yielding!
The next exercise Christian had us do was to leg yield across the diagonal, an exercise that took me a few tries to understand.
As you leg yield to the left (for example), the horse is bent right as you track from F to H (black line, yellow bend). As you go through the corner at H, you have to start preparing to change the bend at M so that you can now leg yield from M to K (red line, green bend). You also have to change your posting diagonal.
This exercise was a lot of fun, but more importantly, Sydney seemed to enjoy it. And for me, the best part was that we were actually schooling the entire arena; the first time we've been able to really do that away from home.
VCC of CDS is already trying to schedule Christian's next visit. I am so excited about it already as I know we'll be prepared to learn even more exercises. This week's rides have already been unbelievable. Imagine how I'll feel after 13, 14, 15, … 20 lessons with Christian Schacht!
And that's it … mostly. We're heading to the cabin for the weekend, again, so I'll see you all on Monday!
More un-cohesive rambling …
I walked Sydney to the mounting block, got on and aimed him toward A. The last time we had tried this, he refused to enter the ring at all, and all manner of craziness ensued. This time, he strolled right on in and walked where I aimed him. His steps were slightly bouncy as he wasn't completely relaxed, but I was already thrilled with the improvement and could have just quit right there.
I explained to Christian that I wanted to warm up like I do at home with some up/up/downing (to which he cocked a doubtful eyebrow) followed by some just go wild trotting with my hands planted in his mane; if it came to that. Christian gave the okay, and I started our warm-up to the left.
As predicted, Sydney rushed a little bit, but within a moment or two, he settled right down with the up/up/down rhythm. I never had to deal with a just go wild trot; instead he settled into the trot work readily. Before I was quite ready, he volunteered a left lead canter so I went with it. We spiraled in and out a few times, and then I brought him to a halt in front of Christian.
Insert wild applause with a standing ovation ...
I don't remember Christian's exact words, but it went something like this: In 20 years of doing this, I have never seen such a big improvement in just two months [my last lesson with him was two months ago] especially from someone with an endurance background which has nothing to do with riding! If you had asked me how long it would take to achieve this degree of relaxation and suppleness from this horse, I would have said at least a minimum of 12 months. And then there was more that had to do with being stunned, shocked, and just generally speechless.
Oh, Christian, you make my heart sing. Thank you, kind sir!
Seriously. I wanted to just take a bow right there and exit stage right. We had impressed Christian. That's not easy to do. I had to offer a little sassiness to let him know that I appreciated the compliment, so I replied with something like, it's because I worked my ass off! He laughed and agreed.
Seeing how good our left trot and canter were, Christian had me change direction and track right. After a few wildly crazy spins to the right, Christian called for a lunge line and told me to hop off. Right away, sir!
I am sure you suspected that this whole thing wasn't going to run that smoothly. It didn't. Tracking right has been our largest weak spot since day one. We're getting it fixed though, and Christian was only too happy to help.
There was quite a bit of this ...
And a lot of this ...
Christian tied my outside rein to the girth to simulate a side rein and used the lunge line as the inside rein. After quite a few rounds, Sydney eventually got balanced and began to use his inside hind correctly, stepping underneath himself. Once Christian explained to Sydney what he wanted, he told me to get back on.
I took up control of the outside rein, but Christian continued to be my inside rein. From the walk, he pushed my leg in time to Sydney's inside hind leg while flexing him with the inside rein (lunge line). As I began to understand Christian's objective, we moved to the trot, and occasionally the canter. For the first time, I was able to feel how much weight I had to take in that outside rein. It took all of my strength to hold that outside rein, and I used my bucking strap for balance.
At a few points along the way, I rode the leaning canter (see the second photo) and begged Christian not to let go of the lunge line. I felt like I was on a rocket connected to a piece of thread, two items that should never go together!
Little by little, I began taking up the inside rein myself while Christian coached me. He helped me find a better rhythm for flexing with the inside rein and using my inside leg more assertively. Eventually, he removed the lunge line, but he stayed inside my little circle giving me instant feedback on when to release either the outside rein or the inside rein.
By the end of the lesson, Sydney was finally standing up on his inside shoulder and stepping over with his inside hind leg. We get this at home, but this was the first time we've been able to do that on the right side while away from home.
As we finished up, Christian was very generous in his compliments and kept repeating what good riding I had been doing. He is great about helping you fix what's wrong without blaming you as the rider. He also never blames the horse. And at the end of each ride, he always exclaims, What a lovely horse!
Day 2 tomorrow ...
I am just going to start rambling and hope that some sort of cohesive story comes out of this.
But first, there's this: Christian Schacht is DA BOMB! That man can teach, of that there is no doubt. I have now ridden with him for a total of 12 times in about 13 months. Each time I walk out of the ring, I am a different rider. I am like a dressage junkie when I am around him. Just one more hit, please, I beg. I simply can't get enough.
I left my house Saturday morning at 5:20 a.m. for the nearly three hour drive to White Birch Farm in Moorpark, California. Loading Speedy in the dark is no big deal; I wasn't sure what I'd get with the big brown OTTB. I turned the interior and exterior lights on in the trailer and with only a gentle tug of the lead rope, Sydney walked right in; good man, Charlie Brown. We were on the road by 5:50 a.m.
I pulled into White Birch right along with everyone else as planned. Even though my ride wasn't until 2:30, I wanted time to get Sydney settled into his stall so that I could watch the morning rides. I am so glad I did as I got to see Christian ride Belle, a lovely mare owned by Chemaine and Jan.
There were several great lessons throughout the morning. Jackie, Chemaine's assistant, rode a client's horse ...
There was also a fantastic lesson with an 18 year old gelding trying to learn lead changes. By Sunday, the horse could change in the front, but was still having some trouble making the switch in the hind end. It was really interesting to watch how many different ways Christian had for teaching the flying lead change. Here was one ...
Christian schooled several riders on the canter pirouette, including my pal, Jen, on her gelding Paolo.
Lunch was provided by the clinic host, Ventura County Chapter (VCC) of the California Dressage Society ...
And then of course, near the end of the day, my ride time arrived. I was actually feeling more and more confident as the day progressed. Sydney had been quite relaxed in his stall, but at the same time he looked really eager to get out and do something. Each time I walked up to check on him, he was bright eyed and willing without appearing anxious.
Since he had wigged out completely the last time we were at the clinic, I decided to use polo wraps to protect his legs in case there was another rodeo. In December, he crashed through the arena rails, effectively dismantling part of the court; I didn't want a repeat. Although I had wrapped millions of legs during my endurance years, it had been a while, and I had never ridden Sydney with wraps. No worries though; it's a skill that comes right back. And frankly he looked really handsome in his bright white polos and VCC Championship pad (earned by Speedy G).
Once saddled, I hand walked him down to the covered arena and parked him next to the auditors. He fidgeted for a moment, and then resigned himself to standing patiently. He watched the current horse and rider pair school through their lesson and occasionally he nibbled at my shirt or hair. I was getting happier and happier with his level of relaxation. I heard Christian thank the rider for his effort, and I knew that we were up.
One of the things that I really enjoyed about endurance riding was the fact that I could clean nearly all of my tack by dropping it in a bucket of water. I realize now that it wasn't because I didn't like to clean leather, because I actually do. It was because endurance tack gets really dirty after every single ride. Depending on the distance and the soil, your tack could end up being encrusted with salt, mud, clay, sweat, and foam. It was hard to keep clean.
Now that my tack doesn't get that kind of dirty, I have discovered that I actually enjoy cleaning my bridles each afternoon. It could also be that I have finally discovered a system that works for me. Let me introduce you to Effax's Leather Cream Soap. This stuff has become my absolute favorite leather cleaner and light conditioner.
I can't claim to be a leather snob because I simply don't yet appreciate the highest quality leather. I like mine soft, but I am not willing to pay $350 for a bridle to get that buttery soft leather. And, I am far more interested in function which means that the styles I prefer (currently the Micklem bridles) don't come in that super soft leather anyway. Even so, I try my best to keep my leather as soft and healthy as possible.
Here's the system that I've been using for the last several months.
1. As I fill my feed buckets with beet pulp and top them off with water to soak, I also fill my little red bucket.
2. When I am finished with my ride, I grab the soap and brush, which are hanging from my bridle rack, and the sponge which stays in the bucket.
3. I swish my bit around in the bucket to knock off all of the foam and slobber and then give it a quick scrub with the sponge.
4. I use the brush to clean the buckle of the flash. Sydney's gets really crusty from cookie slobber.
5. Once the sponge is damp, I squirt a generous portion of the soap onto the sponge and quickly wipe it all over the headstall, rinsing the sponge and reapplying soap as needed.
6. Once I've gone over the headstall, I quickly wipe down the reins with soap as well.
7. I use the towel at the very end to remove any last traces of dirt or excess soap. Since this soap is like a lotion (no suds), it's not necessary to wash it off with water.
And that's it: my five minute system for keeping my tack super clean and soft. When I am finished, my leather feels clean and soft with no sticky residue. Once I got in the habit of doing it after every ride, it was sort of self-perpetuating. I love coming out to the barn the next day knowing that my bridle is glowing with good health and ready to use.
And seriously. It takes me five minutes to get my bridle clean and conditioned. Every month or so I like to take it apart and do a more thorough job, but even that has become super quick since my bridles are always so clean and conditioned already.
I am always looking for quick and easy tack cleaning products. What do you use?
GEAHS has changed the traditional date of their annual dressage show. It will now be held in March, and they're dropping the USDF/USEF rating so that it is a more beginner friendly show. We have so few shows in Kern County; why don't you come on out and give this one a try?
Here's a PDF of the flyer if you'd like to print it and share it around.
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%: