From Endurance to Dressage
Yes you are, Dude! A star, that is. Have I mentioned lately how incredibly lucky I am to have such a super cool pony? I know I occasionally refer to him in a less than positive way, but today, I am taking back every single negative thing I've said about him. He was AWESOME at Sunday's show. Just spectacular.
While our tests went well, that's not really what I mean. That boy was a complete Steady Eddy when he had every right to be a bit fussy. Here's a photo from halfway to the truck and trailer from the show arena. And these rings were not part of the warm up.
Can't see him? Center of the picture. Here's a closer shot.
Still can't see him? Here's an even closer shot.
Getting closer ...
Oh! There he is!
Yep. Speedy G had to stand by the trailer completely alone with no other horses even remotely close by. I had to leave him by himself so that I could check in and get my number. He never whinnied or hollered, and he never paced or fretted. He just watched the trail that was off in the distance and then nibbled on his breakfast. After our rides were finished, I left him again to retrieve my score sheets and ribbons. Again, he was a perfect angel. In the warm-up, he was quiet and did his job without a single woohoo moment.
Right now, I wouldn't trade his fabulous mind for anything. It makes showing a whole lot easier when your horse is well behaved!
Speaking of showing, how'd it go? It went smashing, thank you very much! If you live anywhere near the Hansen Dam Equestrian Center, you should think about hitting one of their schooling shows. Show Managers Claudia Roberts and Michele Purpora-Tardi are the most gracious of hostesses. When I checked in at 8:00 a.m., Claudia welcomed me with a big hug and thanked me for making the long trip. She asked how the drive went and asked if I needed anything. She and her volunteers were eager to help in any way possible.
Everything about this venue is fabulous. The volunteers were all friendly and helpful. The spectators were good natured and applauded everyone's rides. The other competitors were sociable and very upbeat. the warm-up was filled with smiling, courteous riders who all watched where they were going in a polite and amiable fashion. The footing was lovely, and the judge even took time at the end of my second test to offer some verbal feedback that was very much appreciated.
As I was gathering my score sheets to leave, I was again thanked for coming. Wow. No DQs in that bunch, and I will certainly be back for the rest of the series!
Unfortunately, the third event has been moved to June 24th which is the same day as the first Tehachapi show. Since the Tehachapi series is CDS-rated, I'll probably have to miss the third Hansen Dam show. Bummer ...
More on the show tomorrow.
Yep. We're headed to the Hansen Dam Equestrian Center this morning for a schooling show in southern California. I washed the truck yesterday afternoon and filled the tank. Speedy had some relaxing turnout followed by a pleasant trail ride which included a lovely canter stretch, and then he too got washed. I scrubbed my tack, loaded the trailer, and readied my clothes for the morning departure.
My first ride, Training Level Test 1, is at 9:57 a.m. and my second ride, Training Level Test 2, is at 10:34 a.m. Wish us a safe ride and success at the stretchy trot circles!
I had a great lesson with JL on Speedy G Wednesday night. We’ve been a bit hit and miss over the last two months due to time off and bad weather so it felt good to be back on track. I had originally planned to take Sydney since I rode Speedy G in this past Saturday’s clinic, but I just didn’t feel as though the clinic pulled us together. We did too many things that were different from JL’s instruction so I felt like we were at loose ends. JL “re-grouped us,” and my confidence returned.
I needed "re-grouping" since we’re going to a schooling show at Hansen Dam on Sunday. I like this venue as it is quite pretty and feels very much like a rated show. I take each show seriously whether it is a three-star event or not, so that discombobulated feeling I was packing around wasn’t sitting well with me.
JL and I spent some time talking about the clinic. We discussed what she’s been working on with me and how that meshed with the clinician’s ideas. I can’t imagine working with a trainer who I couldn’t be honest with. When I read or see dressage type “stuff” that seems contrary to what JL is showing me, I feel perfectly comfortable asking her to explain where she’s coming from. Without fail, her explanations always make perfect sense, and I find that her methods do indeed fit perfectly within the dressage pyramid.
Once we talked about where we’re going, we got work. JL knows which tests I am working on and agrees that we’re where we need to be. Wednesday night’s lesson focused on getting that elusive inside bend that we’ve been missing. See, at the beginning, I didn’t know how to use my outside aids, leg or hand. Everything I did came from the inside hand and leg. It has taken many months to learn how to be effective with my outside hand and especially with that outside leg. JL agreed that now we can start getting some inside bend.
Right away she was pleased with my work as Speedy G never drifted outside or spun out with his hindquarters. I was able to keep both his outside shoulder and butt where they needed to be. Now if I can only get Sydney there, too!
The exercise we worked on was trotting an oval. There’s always a bend in an oval, but there’s also a straighter side which allows for half-halt opportunities. When Speedy comes out of the tighter end of the oval, he likes to pick up steam. I know it’s coming, so the trick is to prepare for it and catch him before it happens. This shape is similar to using a dressage court's corner to balance.
Once I had him going in a relaxed and balanced frame using my outside leg and rein, JL had me start working on getting some flexion at Speedy’s poll and jaw. To the right required much more work. Of course. He likes to cock his head with his nose pointed out. To correct this, I bent his head and neck into the circle so that JL could see both eyes, and then I added inside leg. I held this bend for a few strides and then put him back on a correct bend. Oh, wow! That worked wonderfully. Any time his head came up or he twisted his neck to the outside, I just bent his neck back to the inside, added the inside leg, and then brought him back to the correct bend. If he dropped his head too low, I added inside leg and raised the inside hand. When I felt him move off my inside leg, I returned my hand to a lower position and used less leg.
The best part of this whole exercise for me was that I maintained a very steady contact throughout the flexing. Speedy never got bumped in the mouth and none of the “flexes” grabbed him in any way. I think he actually liked the exercise. He certainly got softer and “bendier” on the inside rein.
I also liked how JL helped explain when I needed to flex him. In the beginning of the exercise, she would tell me inside leg, bend him into the circle. When she asked if he felt softer, I replied that yes, he did, but I wasn’t sure when to add the inside leg and flex the neck. JL took the time to explain what I would feel when his neck was stiff and when he lacked “bend” in his ribcage. A little explanation followed by actually doing it, and I understood perfectly what we were doing.
Will this all go effortlessly at Sunday’s show? Probably not, but I am okay with that. We are definitely taking lots of steps forward right now, and I am definitely happy about that. Go, Speedy go!
Yesterday I wrote about the number of trainers and clinicians that I’ve used during my limited time as a dressage rider. That post was kind of prelude to this one which is the one I really wanted to talk about.
The March issue of USDF Connection, the official publication of the United States Dressage Federation, had an interesting article entitled, “The Carrot or the Stick.” The piece was written by Kelly Sanchez, “a moderately rejection-sensitive writer based outside Los Angeles. She contributes regularly to The Chronicle of the Horse and to Dressage Today.”
The article’s point was to help the reader understand what type of teaching works best for them. The author gives examples such as needing to be yelled at, needing to watch it being done, needing time alone to practice for your-self, and so on.
This article really intrigued me for several reasons. The first is that I am a teacher myself and know that students come with many different learning styles. Some need gentle guidance, some need tough love, and some need a combination of the two. Others just need quick directions and then prefer to practice on their own. Other students need to be watched over every second or they drift off task and can’t remember what their job was.
I think that being a student myself has helped me to become a better teacher. I enjoy the role of student and find opportunities to put myself in that role. I’ve taken many continuing education courses and frequently participate in workshops and trainings. My favorite “classroom” experience of course is in the arena. I know what kind of student I am, and I know what kind of instructors I prefer.
First of all, I don’t need to be friends with my instructor, but I do need friendly interaction. I want to feel as though my instructor has a vested interest in my success and as such cares how I feel. I don’t need, or want, my hand held, but I do need to feel comfortable asking questions. If an instructor is going to trivialize my questions, we’re not a good fit.
In elementary or high school, there are academic standards mandated by the state. Students don’t have a choice in what they’re taught. As an adult, I understand that I need to have a firm grasp of the riding fundamentals, and I hope that my instructor insists on teaching what is required in order to have a solid foundation. But. My instructor needs to understand my goals. Aside from safety first, having fun is an important aspect of my riding education. Don’t get me wrong. I am not there to goof off, but riding is not my career choice. Riding is a hobby. I want to learn in a way that allows for some fun at the same time. A little levity after something difficult or challenging goes a long way toward making the day fun.
I also want to be successful, but not at the expense of enjoying the process. If that means I never make it to Grand Prix, oh well. That also means that I want to be as successful as possible with the horses that I have. Again, that probably means that we’ll never make it to the Grand Prix level, but I am okay with that. I’ve spent a great deal of time forging relationships with my guys so their feelings about the journey are also important. Our success as a team might come more slowly because I don’t get it, or because they don’t. Either way it’s okay with me, but I need my instructor to understand our limitations and do the best with the materials on hand, me and my horses, imperfect as we may be.
And finally, I need an instructor who will let me make mistakes. Let me try. If I fail, okay. If we always wait until we’re “100% ready,” we’ll never be ready. That’s one reason I love to show. I KNOW I am not going to get 10s on my score sheet, but let me see what I can get so that I know what I am doing right and where we need to improve.
I had a lesson with JL on Wednesday, and before we even started, I let her know how much I think of her and appreciate her teaching style. Riding with other trainers has helped me see what kind of instruction I need in order to achieve the greatest amount of success. So, thanks, JL! You're an excellent teacher.
My experience with trainers and coaches is steadily growing. I’ve now worked with Clinician #1 - whose name I can’t remember, Trainer #1 - local, Coach #1 - local, Trainer #2 – kind of local, Trainer #3 - Leslie Webb (2 lessons only), Trainer #4 - JL, Clinician #2 - Peggy Klump, and Clinician #3 - Betsy Shelton. Eight teachers in three and a half years. Too many? Not enough? Just right?
It’s hard to actually count the first Clinician as a trainer because the circumstances for that lesson were not of the regular sign-up-for-a-spot variety. You see, the local Arabian club, of which I was a part, wanted to bring in a dressage clinician. Although to this day I’m not really sure why as only three or four of the members even participate in dressage. Anyhow, I am a good sport and knew that spots needed filling so I offered to bring my endurance horses for lessons. I paid for two spots even though I didn’t know the first thing about dressage. I figured a lesson would be fun and who knew, I might even learn something. So, I saddled Speedy G in my full endurance tack and entered at I don’t know where as I’d never been in a dressage court before. We may have actually stepped over the rail to enter, good trail practice and all that. What must the clinician have thought?
That was actually my first formal lesson outside of the handful that I received from my grandma when I was a little girl. She had a small farm where she boarded horses and gave jumping lessons. Those lessons didn’t last long although I have a few memories of learned skills. That’s where I learned to pick hooves although it was a scary lesson as I watched someone cut out too much frog and to my young eyes at least, it looked as though the horse had been hurt. I also learned to open a horse’s mouth in order to ease in the bit. That was also scary as I was quite leery of the many teeth I saw. No one showed me that there were no teeth on the horse’s bars. You can read more about my experiences with my grandma here.
Anyway, my first “real” lesson came from that LA Trainer who had to school a woman on a young Arabian decked out in endurance gear. That was in September of 2008. The thing about that lesson though was that it opened my eyes to a whole different way of using my horse. I was genuinely intrigued with the concepts of dressage and knew that real lessons could help me become a better rider. I called Trainer #1, and while I didn’t yet aspire to become a dressage rider per se, I did commit to lessons once a month. Six months after the clinic, I bought a Wintec dressage saddle, and a year later, a better Wintec dressage saddle. Twenty-one months after the clinic, I rode my last endurance ride, and then I bought an even better dressage saddle. I was all in!
Somehow, through a spur-of-the-moment offer to fill up a dressage clinic, I left one discipline where I was competing successfully to begin a new one that I knew nothing about. Life sure does take us funny places, doesn’t it? And who knows? Someday I may write about taking my thoroughbred to a barrel racing clinic to help fill up a spot!
Click photos for captions and larger view.
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%: