From Endurance to Dressage
I know I said that last lesson post was (probably) the last one, but Chemaine Hurtado (Symphony Dressage) sent me one more video chunk. It's a good one which is why I want to share. The picture and sound quality are quite good, so it's a good one to watch if you're struggling with the canter.
In the video, we're schooling that pesky right lead. As you watch it, you'll be rooting for Izzy because he's so close to getting it. He did about 50 flying changes in an effort to avoid the right lead, but when he finally gets it and holds it, you'll want to cheer for him.
The best part of the video is the transformation in his body as he goes from stiff and resisting to softer and giving. Let me know what you think.
You might remember that we added another dog to our family - a yellow labrador retriever. While she is unbelievably cute, Brienne is also a holy terror. I haven't had a solid night's sleep in over a month.
Since bringing her home, we've worked on potty training - nearly there, not barging through the door - mastered, sitting on command - pretty solid, only chewing what is appropriate - good girl, and fetching the morning paper - nailed it!
My husband takes her out into the foothills every afternoon with our more mature lab, Tobias, so they can play and burn off her puppy power and his need to stretch his adult legs.
It has been a number of years since we've raised a puppy; we've forgotten how exhausting it can be. All the doors in the house stay closed so that we can see her at all times. Dog toys, of which she has at least 15, are strewn across the floor like so much carnage.
While we are especially grateful for those quiet moments when she's napping, we are equally distressed by them because we know she's only powering up for the next round.
The worst of puppyhood is the sleepless nights. On a good night, she gets me up twice. Last night was a real doozy; she had me leaping out of bed to let her out no less than four times. To her credit, she did potty each time, but that's not going to make it any easier to explain to my colleagues and students today why I feel the need to lie down and take a nap.
We haven't been to our cabin since bringing Brienne home because there was so much snow, and she wasn't house broken. It's been so warm the last week or two that we think most of the snow is probably gone by now, and Brienne is now nearly potty trained. We've decided to head up for the weekend.
And truthfully, after all the riding I did last weekend, a few days away with the dogs and my husband sounds kind of nice. I just hope she'll let me sleep a little longer!
Have a great weekend, and I'll see you all on Monday.
On Sunday, we continued with the suppling exercises. Unlike Speedy, Izzy is already in front of my leg and doesn't need to be pushed. He's unlike Speedy in a lot of other ways too, but the biggest difference is how stiff he is through his neck and back. Speedy is like trying to wrangle wet noodles. He squirts out all over the place as he tries to avoid pushing through his hind end.
Izzy fishtails his hind end around rather than softening through his neck and back, so that's what we've been working on. Chemaine had me doing several different exercises. The first was at the left lead canter.
As we cantered left, she had me change the bend until he softened, especially when he was fussing with my outside rein. Changing the bend kind of works like a big half halt. Once he softened to the outside rein, I let him swing gently back to the inside.
This is a long video, but the sound quality is good, and you will feel like you're getting a lesson. Chemaine explains the purpose of the exercise and points out where I am being effective and not so effective.
In the latter part of the video, we continued with changing the bend, but we worked at the trot. Instead of letting him come back to the regular bend, she had me use the counter bend to set him up for a change of direction.
I've used this exercise before, but the way we did it this time made a lot of sense for a horse who struggles with confidence. Once he had softened to the counter bend, I simply changed direction which helped him maintain his balance. For Izzy, as athletic as he is, changes of direction challenge his confidence when he loses his balance.
As he gets more and more supple through his neck and back, Chemaine referred to him as muscle-bound, the changes of bend will get easier and easier.
My homework with Izzy is to keep changing the bend. As he gets more and more supple, he will be able to use his body more effectively, and the right lead canter will feel easy for him.
Sunday was completely about working on my position, particularly at the sitting trot. Chemaine just picked up where we had left off: tuck your seat bone, pull your belly button into your spine, back to neutral, and repeat a million times.
The first video shows us just getting started and the second involves a longer portion of the lesson. The sound quality is excellent, so I'll let Chemaine speak for herself. Please ignore my attempts at commenting. I am very much an auditory learner (hearing myself explain it back really helps), and I need mechanical explanations. You'll hear me trying to articulate what I am struggling with or feeling so that I can get that mechanical explanation that I need.
Something else you'll hear in the second video is me trying to decide which motion is easier for me, the side to side thing or Chemaine's technique of pulling the belly button to the spine. What I ultimately realized is that by pulling my belling button to my spine, I can use my seat as a driving aid which I can't do with the side to side motion. And ultimately, I was able to feel both motions at the same time.
We later moved onto the canter, but only to continue working on tucking my pelvis and freeing up my hips and legs. Chemaine had me work on "pumping" my legs much like you would do on a swing. You know how you pump the swing to go higher, that's kind of what she wanted me to do lengthen Speedy's canter.
By allowing my legs to swing forward and back, my hips and legs got looser and softer. Conversely, by restricting that swing, I could collect Speedy's canter. It felt more dramatic in person, but you can see it a bit in the video.
At first, she asked me to ride without swinging my legs so that I could feel how much looser I had gotten over the course of the lesson. Then, she asked me to swing my legs with the canter to feel the difference. See if you can spot the difference.
I have a lot of homework to do over the next month. Our first show of 2016 should be at the end of March which is when I plan to have another lesson on Speedy. Here's hoping I can sit the trot by then for an entire circle!
Day one with Izzy was all about one thing - changing the bend. With a willing change of bend, I will be able to do anything with this horse.
Right now, he is happy to bend left, but he struggles with bending to the right. It's not that he's stiff, he just feels insecure about his balance, and this horse is all about confidence. If he doesn't feel it, he assumes he can't do it. So, everything we did was about helping him to feel balanced so that he feels confident. The dude's got a fragile ego.
For both days of lessons, Izzy was a really good boy. That doesn't mean we didn't struggle, but he was completely rideable. He threw a couple of fits that involved some squealing and kicking out, but I never lost control of him, and he never did more than get sassy. On Saturday, he did try to run through my outside rein, but before he could take the tantrum too far, I asked for a whip and reminded him that he did have to listen to my outside aids.
I was able to use the whole arena without the worry of riding a run away rocket. Instead of riding a green-broke horse, I felt like I was finally schooling a young horse in the basics of dressage. In fact, I never once though of him as a green bean.
We started out with some simple trot work and moved immediately into the left lead canter. None of our work is perfect of course, but Chemaine had nothing to criticize. His left lead canter is coming along really nicely. It's adjustable, fairly balanced, and easy for him to do. I didn't want to use our time schooling what I can already work on by myself.
We moved on to the right lead canter which is where our current trouble lies. I haven't touched the right lead since our lesson in January. We had too much missing for me to tackle it. The first thing I needed to establish was a right bend without losing the haunches to the outside. I am really proud of how I was able to work through that.
Now that we can track right at the trot while keeping the haunches in the same hemisphere, I felt good about attempting the right lead canter with Chemaine's help. Izzy can pick it up, but within just a handful of strides, he either loses the lead in the back and cross canters, or he cross canters and then tries to fix the problem by swapping leads in the front.
Chemaine's fix is proving to be brilliant. It doesn't punish the left lead canter, which he feels quite proud of, while at the same time insists that Izzy work harder than he would if he just maintained the right lead canter. Essentially it works like this:
You can see it all happen in the video. At exactly 20 seconds, you'll see the first lead change and hear me growl. As we continue to work, you'll see him get softer and softer to the inside rein. Cantering him on the left lead while tracking right is really hard work, so while we're fixing this right lead thing, we're also building a lovely counter canter (Second level stuff - go figure!).
At about 2:28 minutes, you'll see the smoothest lead change ever. At about 3:07 you'll see him easily swap in the back and a few seconds later he follows that up by switching in the front. The boy loves his left lead canter.
After schooling the canter departure and softening to the inside rein thing, we moved on to trying to get and KEEP the right lead canter. We started the work on Saturday and then built on it the next day.
Chemaine's next fix involved changing the bend - what else?! Once I got the right lead canter, I immediately changed the bend and rode the true canter in a counter bend. And rather than stick to a 20 or 30-meter circle, I used the entire arena. By cantering longer lines and making the turns more gradual, I had better control of his haunches. Once I was able to get and keep the canter, we wrapped up the day in order to revisit the exercise the next day.
To be continued.
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%: