From Endurance to Dressage
Was I pleased with this test? Not really, but it was certainly better than anything we've done so far.
Schooling shows are for bringing along green horses or newbie riders. As such, the judges are usually more generous with their scores and much kinder in their comments than they would be at a rated show. Take the judge's comment for our final halt at the end of the test, "wiggly." Now if that isn't a euphemism for didn't halt, I don't know what is. Score? 5.5 - very generous. I don't mind generous scores, but I recognize them for what they are: a way to encourage new or struggling riders to persevere and keep on keeping on.
I say all of this because to see my score sheet and final score (59.58%), you'd think we actually put in a somewhat decent ride. I used to get those kind of scores on Speedy all the time, and he was at least well behaved. He might not have actually been submissive, but he was nowhere as wild as Sydney was. I am starting to suspect that how it feels and how it looks must be two completely different things when it comes to my big, brown, OTTB.
To our credit, it was vastly improved over our last few showing attempts. I actually felt like I was mostly in control of our pace, and Sydney maintained forward movement, going where I asked. That's a big deal for us.
This judge was particularly kind in his evaluation and even kinder in person when he called me over for a consultation. Here's what he told me (he also wrote it in his comments).
The test felt like a string of funky movements held together by a few strides of Hey! That felt pretty good. I was very pleased that we got both canter departures. We actually got a slightly better score for the right lead canter than for the left. The canter half circle at E-B was full of shenanigans, but I just rode through it (the judge commented, "very well handled").
Both canter to trot transitions received a score of 6.0, so I think we're definitely showing improvement there. Since our first showing attempt, our walk has been one of our strongest movements. This free walk wasn't so great (6.5) but the medium walk after the stretchy trot circle earned a 7.0. I've been schooling that so I am glad to see some improvement.
I walked out of the ring with a smile and a deep sigh of relief. The warm-up had been tension free, and we rode the test without the feeling of being on a rocket. If this is the track we're on, I'll take it!
On Speedy, I am always more interested in the score rather than what the ride felt like because too often the rides feel the same, but the scores will be quite different (a 59% one week and a 65% the next). With Sydney, I am far more interested in how the ride felt rather than what the score says. This 59% felt like a 48%.
It helps if I compare our scores to other riders as it gives me a sense of how I did compared to the other riders I saw. I didn't see every rider go, but I certainly didn't see anyone careening around on an out of control rocket, so maybe my ride didn't look as wild and wooly as it felt. Here's how we stacked up against the rest of the class.
My score tied with another rider's, but the tie was broken based on the collective marks, so yah! for us on that one. You'll also notice that Sarah (of Eventing in Color fame) gave us a good butt whipping on her lovely gelding, Hemie). Congratulations to them!
Am I happy with this test? I guess so. I am definitely looking forward to our next show because I think we can get this. Ever onward!
My first show of the season opened with a lesson from Chemaine Hurtado. Riding with Chemaine makes me so hungry for more traditional dressage lessons. Don't get me wrong, I so appreciate what my own trainer is helping me do, but she'd be the first to tell you that she's not a dressage trainer.
The hunter/jumpers don't use their seats or other aids in nearly the same way as dressage riders do, so that is one area of my training that I am missing out on completely. Chemaine worked with me on weighting my inside seat bone and stirrup, especially as we approached the corners. We also worked on opening the outside rein to encourage Sydney to move his shoulders out.
Chemained tried to keep the lesson focused, but I still felt a bit overwhelmed by all the new information that she gave me. I have so much to learn. Sigh … There was one exercise though that I really grabbed onto and was able to apply immediately, however awkwardly.
The exercise was a suppling exercise, something that Sydney really benefitted from. As I crossed the diagonal at the walk, I asked for a bend but rode straight toward the letter (a shoulder fore). In more technical terms, "The inside leg remains active at the girth. The outside leg is slightly behind the girth to prevent the haunches from swinging out. Maintain the bend and proceed down the long side bringing the forehand off the track. Once the shoulders and forelegs have left the track, increase the outside rein aid to prevent the horse from over-bending to the inside."
We did the exercise in several different places in the arena. We did it down the long sides, of course, across the diagonal as I mentioned, and even down centerline. Once I understood the exercise, I was able to use it during Sunday's tests to keep Sydney focused on me as well as to help us make the 20-meter circles at B and E.
I've known what a shoulder fore and shoulder in are, but this is the first time that someone has shown me how to use them while schooling my horse. Now that I see how to use a shoulder fore, I can see how this will help loosen Sydney up and help me have better control.
Chemaine also showed me how to use this exercise to make crossing the diagonal easier. As I approached the corner, she had me change my weight aids (switch to the inside seat bone) and then change the bend. Tracking right, she also instructed me to open my outside rein while still maintaining contact to encourage Sydney to step into the left rein rather than cutting the corner.
I just realized that I kind of forgot to share a few details that will help explain why working with Chemaine on Saturday afternoon felt so successful. I first took Sydney to White Birch in December. He was so nervous that I wasn't able to leave the A end of the arena (pretty much where I stood to shoot this photo). When we went back in late February, we were able to school more of the arena, but it took Dr. Schacht holding us in place with the lunge line. For this visit, Sydney walked right in and was happy to school wherever I asked him. In fact, we did most of our work way down there at C in front of the judge's booth!
It could simply be a result of familiarity or me being more relaxed. I hope it's actually because I am becoming a better rider. And that's where my frustration comes from. Chemaine is a great instructor, but even she couldn't fix all of my problems in one lesson. It's clear that I have several areas that need some quick improvement.
While we were working on opening the outside rein, Sydney started rushing and running off. Chemaine was very patient, but I told her that when he is that strong in my hand, I simply don't have the skill to use both reins at the same time while weighting the inside seat bone. I need to use the bucking strap to hold myself in balance while I either soften with the inside rein, or ask him to slow down with the outside rein.
As Sydney started careening around the circle at C, Chemaine needed me to open the outside rein, flex the inside rein, and weight my inside seat bone. I just couldn't do it well enough to get a nice turn. She agreed that Sydney needs me to be a better rider, but she wasn't trying to discourage me. She was just pointing out what he needs.
I asked her to hop on him so that I could see what he can look like as well as watch how she handled his nervousness. Of course, he didn't look at all nervous with her aboard, nor did he get heavy in her hand. In some ways this helped me feel better as most of the work lies with me, not with him.
I got back on, and Chemaine asked me to really focus on two things: I need to sit much deeper, kind of like a sack of potatoes; and I need to not lean forward. By sitting heavy, she didn't mean to dig into his back, but rather encouraged me to lower my center of gravity. If I can keep myself from leaning forward, I'll help Sydney to lighten his front end so that he isn't struggling with my weight and his.
Sorry for all of the rambling. This stuff bores me to read, but right now, I am writing to help process what I learned. I was able to put into practice some of Chemaine's tips the next day at the show. I know you're dying to know how that went, but you'll have to wait until tomorrow!
I am a little late to this party, but many thanks to Viva Carlos for the Mardi Gras inspired theme!
Pride - Seven great things/strengths in your riding life:
Envy - Seven things you lack or covet for you or your horse:
Wrath - Seven things that make you angry:
Sloth - Seven things you neglect to do or cut corners on:
Greed - Seven most expensive things you own for your horse/riding
Gluttony - Seven guilty pleasures or favorite items:
Lust - Seven things you love about horses and riding:
Which, according to the laws of riding, means tonight's ride will be horribly scary which is fine because that means my rides over the weekend will rock! Good rides follow bad rides follow good rides ...
Did I mention that Sydney and I are going to a schooling show at White Birch Farm on Sunday? Yep. We're arriving on Saturday to have a lesson with Chemaine, my favorite trainer on the coast, and then we're showing at the crack of dawn on Sunday.
I also forgot to mention that Jen, the show's organizer, asked me to scribe once I am done showing. Squeal! I am really excited about getting the opportunity to finally scribe. Frankly, I've been too chicken to volunteer before as I've never done it, and I don't want to screw someone's test up. Jen has assured me that I won't screw up; that's probably because I'll be scribing for the Intro Tests. Either way, I am pretty excited about sitting in that booth behind C.
But back to Thursday's perfect ride. The neighbor had a crew working in the "scary corner," so I was pretty sure we were going to be schooling some spooks. I walked Sydney down to that end of the arena where he tensed on cue, but with a stern hey! from me, he relaxed completely and never bothered to look their way again.
We jogged around the arena in both directions, picked up a left lead canter at A, did a 20-meter circle and then quietly cantered the whole arena. We did a downward transition followed by a change of direction at the trot. We did several 20-meter circles tracking right and then I cued for the right lead canter. Captain Awesome rolled into it perfectly! We cantered the 20-meter circle and then the whole arena as before. I asked for a downward at P and then came down centerline for a halt and salute.
And that was it. Best. Ride. Ever.
Oh … and then my barn owner came out with a fistful of Redd's Apple Ales for the three of us (Shelly had shown up to groom Bailey). Nothing better than a yummy afternoon drink with the girls in 75 degree weather. Life is very good.
See you on Monday!
I was really eager for Monday's lesson; I couldn't wait to show JL my newly discovered aids (right lead canter)! I already told you that she laughed about my, I am the first person to think of this epiphany. She actually seemed relieved that I can finally feel what Sydney is doing during the right lead canter; and once you really know something, you can't "unknown" it. So I am good on that score.
I did a quick warm-up to the left - some trot work, a quiet canter, a big hand gallop, back to the trot, and finally a trot/walk transition. While we need to improve the quality of all of that, at least the buttons are there. I was eager to work going to the right. I particularly wanted to work on trot to canter transitions.
Six months ago, getting a single right lead canter departure without a whirl and a bolt would have been amazing, so I am kind of shaking my head in disbelief as I write this. I wanted to work on multiple canter departures? Sometimes I feel as though we're never going to get anywhere, but then we have a breakthrough, and we're off to the next problem. Once we get this right lead canter solidly in place, we're going to be able to work on some really fun stuff!
Fortunately, Sydney was looking for ways to be spooky, but in his defense, some of the things he spooked at were scary, like the kid and dad who came racing down the road on their bicycles at Mach 10. They were loud, unexpected, and even made me jump. The red truck backing out of the driveway was not spook-worthy, and neither was the little girl getting into the car with mom and aunt. Each of these incidents gave me the opportunity to work with heavy, rushing, anxious Sydney.
We didn't get to do as many canter departures as I was hoping for, but I got to spend a lot of time holding Sydney to a rhythm without pulling back even though he was a freight train in my hands. I am realizing that it's more a sensation of being very heavy in my hands rather than trying to run off. Pulling back isn't going to lighten him up. Teaching him to hold himself up is what will fix the problem.
JL had me work on two exercises: send him sideways with my inside leg (we worked on that last week), and softened him off the outside rein with my outside leg. The second exercise, not exactly new, helped fix a slew of different problems.
Sending him sideways really works when he wants to fall in and spin around my inside leg. But what I discovered is that once he's going sideways, he gets over-bent, and I have nothing left to push on. JL's solution to that was to then use my outside leg at his shoulder to push his shoulders back in line with his body. This gave me something new to push against with my inside leg.
It's a little like moving a soccer ball down the field; you tap it with your right foot, but correct with your left to keep it moving straight down the field. As we tracked right, I used my inside leg to push him out, but once he was over-bent, I straightened him back up with outside leg. It was amazing to feel how quickly he lightened up off my outside rein.
So this is my new homework: move him sideways without using my hands at all, and then adjust and correct his shoulders with my outside leg to lighten him off my outside rein.
Before he knows it, Sydney is going to be a real dressage horse!
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 …
8/7-8 SCEC (***)
10/30-31 SCEC (***)
2021 Completed …
10/24-25 SCEC (***)
11/7-11/8 SB (***)
4/10-11 SCEC (***)
5/16-17 El Sueño (***)
6/26-27 SCEC (***)
7/17-18 El Sueño (***)
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