From Endurance to Dressage
When Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, was here for a clinic this past weekend, I asked her if I should bother taking Izzy to schooling shows. It's not like I really want to, but I wondered if I needed to.
You all saw this moment, right? Which, by the way, is actually one of my new favorite photos. The dude's got a super sexy badonkadonk! But yeah ... this is why I don't want to show him right now. We've got some work left to do.
Chemaine felt my time (and consequently, money) would be better spent cleaning up some of the sassiness that Izzy thinks is his to share. I agreed. So for now, there are five things to work on before we're ready to hit even a schooling show.
My Five Things for a Sassy Pony:
1. Supple Izzy's back with just one seat bone at a time.
2. Get a stretch down before changing the bend.
3. Get more inside bend when he gets spooky and then firm up that outside rein.
4. Cross the inside rein over in front of my pommel to encourage him to release the inside rein.
5. Discipline the felonies while letting the misdemeanors slide.
When I rode Izzy on Monday, I made sure to run through everything on the list. While it was pretty warm, and he was well worked from the day before, he wasn't totally push button. He actually gave me some cheekiness which let me use tips four and five.
In a 20 minute ride, he obediently walked every inch of the arena, did a number of changes of bend across the diagonal at the trot, and picked up both canter leads without too much fuss. To the right, I crossed my inside hand across the pommel for a few strides, but he gave up the fight almost immediately.
My goal, while pretty dang lofty, is to have no "felonious" moments the next time we see Chemaine for a lesson or clinic. Yesterday was a bit of a litmus test. Even with a day off, which normally elicits plenty of sass, he toed the line and was well behaved.
Will these strategies work well enough to convince him that it's easier to do it my way? I hope so, but if not, I know for sure that we are getting really close to that yummy, chewy center!
For so, so long I over-used the inside rein. So of course, once I fixed that, I started to under-use it. Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer of Symphony Dressage Stables, convinced me that I really should start using it again. When I do, I get moments like this:
Izzy is by no means unusual in his cheeky attitude, and little by little, I am chipping away at it, revealing a very lovely diamond. But as with most horses, the connection doesn't just happen all by itself; I have to work hard to get it.
Izzy holds most of his tension in his back, base of his withers, and poll. Getting him to let go of all of that takes some careful riding. Warming up with just my seat bones and then getting a stretch down before changing the bend definitely helped unlock his back and neck.
To get that last bit to release, Chemaine had me try a new trick. When Izzy just won't get soft, she instructed me to take my inside rein and cross it ever so slightly in front of my pommel and hold it.
You can see why I would need to do that here:
Bending right means that he has to use his body. Instead, Izzy wants to lock his neck, flex to the outside, and swing his haunches around so that he doesn't have to bend his body.
By crossing my inside hand over the pommel, Izzy doesn't have anything to lean on. I become a human side rein. The instant he releases his neck and poll, I can also release the inside rein. Here he is just a few moments later.
You can see that he has softened so much that I was able let go of the inside rein completely to pat his neck.
Izzy couldn't pick up or hold a right lead canter a year ago. Six months ago we were still regulars on the struggle bus. Heck, even last month we had trouble getting this quality of right lead canter. It's not perfect of course, but you can definitely see some amazing potential in this horse.
Each week that passes makes me more and more glad that I've stuck it out with him. We still have some issues to address, but the good moments are coming faster and faster!
In keeping with the how many licks does it take to get to a Tootsie Roll Pop's chewy center? theme, I've thought about how many times I've ridden Izzy. According to some scientists, it takes 364 licks to get to the good part of a Tootsie Pop. I've had Izzy for two years and three months - not quite long enough to get 364 rides in on him, but I am probably getting close.
Kind of a dumb metaphor, I know, but that's how it feels riding Izzy. Sometimes I think I'll never get where I want to be, and then suddenly, some of the yummy candy pokes through, and I know I am close. Like yesterday for example - we had an amazing ride! Granted, it was 80 degrees, and he was a little tired from a lesson, but still.
Yesterday, I shared two exercises from Chemaine: suppling with just a seat bone and getting a stretch down before changing the bend. Here's a quick peek at how we warm up. There's nothing fancy here since I can't ask for a lot early on until he loosens his back.
There were three other tricks that Chemaine showed me. I'll share the last one tomorrow, but for today, here are two more: more inside bend and a firmer outside rein when he wants to whirl away from something, and kick his ass for felonies while letting the misdemeanors slide.
The video for that blooper "hop" is just below. This is an excellent example of needing more inside bend with a firmer outside rein. He loves to dive in at that exact spot. I tend to counter flex which allows the inside shoulder to be falling in - exactly what I don't want. It took a few passes, but with Chemaine encouraging me to get more inside bend while planting the outside rein, we eventually got through the corner successfully.
Chemaine pointed out that during these spooks, riders often lose focus and forget the original goal because the horse has distracted us to the point where we deal with the spook and not what we were trying to achieve. She encouraged me to look at it as a show of disrespect because he's not doing what I am asking.
One thing I've learned about Izzy recently is that if I "insist" too long and hard, he gets mad, stays mad, and then can't remember why he's mad. On those days, I might as well just give it up. Those kind of rides don't happen as much anymore because I try very hard not to let anything escalate.
As hard as it is going to be though, Chemaine told me that I have to get tough again. She explained that I need to categorize his naughties into misdemeanors and felonies. I can let the misdemeanors slide, but the felonies will require swift and sure consequences.
In the video above, some of that is me saying you will move somewhere, but a lot of it is him saying NO NO NO. While he wasn't in full felony mode, he had definitely left the land of misdemeanors. The instant he agreed to go forward, life was good.
Here's another example of not-quite-a-felony, but he got a full on spur in his guts to say MOVE IT, mister.
It's hard cherry picking all of these bad moments to show you because he was actually pretty good for this lesson. Yes, he fussed and whined at me, but compared to last month when Chemaine just sat there saying just stay with him, we actually got some good work out of him.
Every month, the gap between the good moments gets smaller and smaller. A year ago, we struggled with the canter and any type of connection, Now, even with all of the jackassery going on, getting the correct canter lead isn't even an issue. Holding the lead isn't either. He's got the moves, I just need to keep convincing him that this can actually be fun and easy.
Tomorrow, Chemaine's best trick of the weekend revealed.
I can't remember which podcast I heard it on (Freakonomics, TED Radio Hour, or maybe This American Life), but some scientists built a mechanical tongue to see just how many licks it takes to get to the candy center of a Tootsie Roll Pop. The answer is 364.
That is exactly how things are going with Izzy. We are getting closer and closer to that candy center. You know the point where you are really sucking it down and then you feel the candy shell start to give way but you don't want to rush it by actually using your teeth? Yeah ... that's where I am with Izzy. That hard candy shell is just about to give way.
Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer of Symphony Dressage Stables, was here for a clinic this weekend. While I always have great lessons with her, this one gave me a handful of nifty tricks for getting to the good stuff with Izzy. Given that it's the freaking crack of dawn which means TIRED, I only have time today to share some interesting warm up strategies.
Since my lesson last month, I've been focusing on how best to communicate with Izzy: what does he need from me to feel confident and successful. A few things have made themselves clear. I cannot ask for too much too quickly which means that most days he needs a longer warm up than any other horse I've owned.
The first exercise Chemaine showed me was about refining the flex and counter flex at the walk. Since he usually starts out with a very tight back, she suggested I ask for some suppleness with just my seat bones. Rather than flex his neck and and use leg, she had me simply sit deeper on one seat bone to see if I could move his back with just that pressure.
As he stepped away from the seat bone, I sat more deeply on the other one. It was a more subtle exercise than I've been doing, and he responded well. Shifting my weight from one seat bone to the other led to the next warm up exercise.
I like to flex him left and then flex him right, but he braces when he's tense and tight. Chemaine encouraged me to get a stretch down before I change the bend. in other words, flex to the outside, ask for a stretch down, flex to the inside, ask for a for a stretch down, flex to the outside. The stretch down becomes a reward for flexing.
And then, because Izzy's candy shell is still intact, he realized that the warm up was wrapping up and work was about to begin. The tantrum began ...
I have some funny pictures and great video of the lesson, but you'll have to check back tomorrow for more.
To be continued ...
There is one, I repeat ONE dressage show in the city of Bakersfield. Did you know that Bakersfield is the ninth largest city in the most populous state in the nation? Aren't at least some of those 400,000 people even a little bit interested in horse dancing? Apparently not.
That show is next weekend. I did something today that I've never done before, and probably couldn't ever do at a "regular" show - I sent two entries with a note saying I would call later to confirm which horse I actually planned on riding. I guess there is a silver lining to living in an area that can barely scrape together enough riders for one little show a year.
Speedy looks 99% sound, but I won't know for sure until I ride him tomorrow. If he's sound, I'd rather show him than Izzy. As I was thinking about what to do, my first thought was that he hasn't been ridden in more than a week. Immediately after, the most arrogant, get ready to be stricken by lighting thought popped into my head.
Get ready for it ...
I actually thought It's only First Level.
Really. I did. I can remember when I would have chopped off an arm, or at least a toe to compete at First Level. And now, here I am dismissing the level as though a 65% is a gimme. Trust me, it's not. In any case, Speedy is such an awesome horse that I have every confidence in his ability to tote me around at First Level no matter how little he's been ridden. He's just that forgiving of a horse.
If I ride Speedy this weekend though and he still seems off, I'm dragging the big brown horse to the show for another round of exposure. I don't feel exactly ready to start showing Izzy this year, but it's a cheap show with no gas or travel expenses.
As I was filling out the entry, my pen wavered back and forth between Intro C and Training Level 2 - Test 1 was already a given. I've never ridden the 2015 Training Level tests, so when I saw test 2, I was all what the what?!?! That thing looks HARD! Decision made - If we show, we're doing Intro Test C and Training Level Test 1.
With that in mind, I've been hard at work. While Izzy is still an idiot for every ride, the jackassery varies throughout the week. After a day or two off, I am guaranteed 45 minutes of DUDE! As the week progresses, it dwindles down to Aw ... aren't you sweet.
The thing I am most proud of is our canter work. While the holy crap moments are still there, we have a confirmed left and right lead canter. I am now just improving the bend, suppleness, and submissiveness. He was a real ass the other day to the right, but I stumbled on an exercise that fixed him right up.
Since he wanted to brace and stiffen and and throw his shoulders around to the right, I just stuck him in a ten-meter canter circle until he was begging to go straight. Each time he tried to dive in, I let him. I circled him tighter and tighter, forcing him to really sit until he was thrilled about cantering straight.
Training Level is where they have to start cantering the long side, so I am just working on strategies to help him learn that he can go straight. So Training Level, be prepared ... we're coming for you! First Level, you've got nothing to worry about. Speedy's got you covered!
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