From Endurance to Dressage
It's been pretty hot here, but we're riding anyway. It was so warm on Friday morning that I hosed Speedy off before our lesson! I also braided his mane so that he might get some air on his neck.
Speedy is a gray with mostly black skin. When he's all wet, he gets very dark. His muzzle looks almost black when wet, except where it is baby butt pink! Don't worry, his nose isn't sunburned. It's pink because it's still wet and scrubbed clean.
By the time we got to JL's, Speedy was pretty dry, but he handles the heat much better than any other horse I've had. Our lesson was just more of what we started last week, but with the work I did with Chemaine and Christian, the concept JL was teaching got more and more clear.
For the first time, I really felt what it's like to ride him from the inside leg to the outside hand. By shifting my weight to the inside leg, I was no longer fighting for an inside bend, and I was able to use my outside rein to keep him from curling under to evade the contact. JL didn't have a lot to say other than I was riding really well.
Over this past week, I finally internalized that I don't need the inside rein to turn. To really help me build some muscle memory, JL had me ride a 20-meter circle for quite a while. There are several spots on that circle that Speedy thinks are downhill - he thinks he needs to speed up. All I did was focus on pushing him sideways with my inside leg, without pulling on the inside rein, and correcting his drifting shoulder with my outside rein and leg. The inside rein just hung out.
After a few minutes on that 20-meter circle, I realized that all I was doing was riding from my inside leg to my outside hand. Deep sigh of relief.
To test my control, JL had me ride a larger circle with a longer stride. This challenged us a bit, but JL reminded me I can always slow his front end down to increase his sideways movement. Before long, I was able to feel when he was going to drop the connection by curling under. A bit of leg and a half halt with the outside rein got him back "up" with his hind end moving.
I am really looking forward to our next show, which has changed. I was going to ride at El Sueno agin, but the July 13/14 show got cancelled. Instead, I sent in an entry for the San Luis Obispo show that same weekend. I am disappointed though as the El Sueno event was a two-day, USDF show while the SLO show is only a one-day, CDS (and DASC) rated show. Ah well ... I guess I saved myself a little money.
I ride Sydney tomorrow at the Hansen Dam Equestrian Center Schooling show. We're still doing Intro C and Training Level Test 1, but I'm feeling pretty good about. Our first ride is at 9:13 and the second is at 9:48 which means I need to pull out of the barn by 5:30 a.m. to make the 2 hour (plus) drive and still have some time to tack up and warm up.
Best of luck to those of you showing today or tomorrow. See you on Monday!
The outside rein is the one aide that I know the least. It hangs out whenever I ride, but I've never really gotten to know it. Until this past week, that is.
It started with Chemaine's lesson last Friday: open the outside rein, squeeze and release the inside rein, and add inside leg all while remembering to keep weight on my inside leg. That is useful information and quite helpful, but once on my own, the outside rein remained a bit elusive.
I had a lesson with my regular trainer the day after the Tehachapi show. I shared with her what I had learned from Chemaine and Christian and she encouraged me to use everything that I'd learned. Then she also had me working with the outside rein. This time though, it was to teach Sydney to lift and turn from my outside aides.
We started at the walk to demonstrate that Sydney could do a turn on the haunches without just swiveling around my inside leg. When JL was satisfied that he was actually lifting his shoulders and bearing weight on the hind end, we tried the exercise at both the trot and canter.
I gave up worrying about correct contact, and instead, focused on lifting his shoulders up and over with my outside leg, only using the rein to reinforce the no faster idea. It was really interesting to see how quickly he picked up on the idea. The exercise goes like this: slightly counter bend the horse to the outside. Set the outside hind with the outside rein. Open the inside rein to say, "Here, come over here!" Add outside leg.
We rode a square, making the turn with just the outside leg and a little rein for support. It felt a lot like riding a cow pony; the second my outside leg went on, Sydney lifted and turned. At one point, his turns got so quick, I had to use some inside leg to keep the circle a little bigger.
After we had it at the trot, we did it again at the canter. As we picked up the canter, the idea was to get just one lifted stride. By this time, I didn't even need a counter bend. All it took was a small half halt with the outside rein and my outside leg and he lifted and turned, lifted and turned, lifted and turned. I can see why reiners have so much fun.
The lesson went great, but I was a little unsure how this exercise was going to help me in a dressage test. After riding on Thursday, I totally get how useful that exercise is. And even better, I can see how Chemaine's exercise works perfectly together with JL's.
While I was riding Sydney on Thursday morning, I was finally able to use Chemaine's exercise to get Sydney on the outside rein. Like most horses, Sydney is stiff to the left and hollow to the right. He already leans on the outside rein while tracking left, so I used JL's exercise to lighten him off it. OMG. Can you hear the angels in Heaven singing Hallelujah?
As we cantered at A, I used JL's exercise to really make the turn in the open end of the circle - right where he blew through it at last Sunday's show. As I was schooling, a car shot by and Sydney tried to bolt just like he had at the show, but I was ready for him! I used the outside rein and my outside leg and caught him just in time. Not only did he make the turn, but I was soft enough in my aides that he never lost the canter. Oh, man I can't wait until Sunday!
To the right, his limp way, I used more of Chemaine's strategy to get him on the outside rein. This is a bit tough for me as I can be too heavy with the inside rein. Instead, I opened the outside rein, pulsed the inside rein and then let it go, all the while focusing on keeping weight in that inside stirrup. It took us a few minutes, but eventually, I felt Sydney's weight shift to the outside and I worked him honestly from the inside leg to the outside rein.
Tracking right has been very difficult for us. Before yesterday, I haven't had a reliable way to get him on the outside rein so he frequently falls in. It took a lot of work to get a right lead canter because he would just pivot into the canter instead of staying out. I "fixed" that with a strong outside rein, but I was missing the weight on my inside stirrup. Now, I know how to move him over to the outside rein even at the canter.
I know we don't have all of our kinks worked out, but Thursday's ride gave me an enormous lightbulb moment. I finally felt how to help a horse get on the outside rein and keep him there. Good trainers are worth their weight in gold!
You can see how we placed. Most riders would be bummed by such a low score, but I know it was a much better test than we did last month. The last time we rode Training Level Test 1, we scored a 48% so breaking 50% is a definite improvement.
This test went just like the Introductory Test did. We came in with a few 5s, but once we got to the canter work, Sydney fell apart. For both canter movements, he blew through the shoulder at the same spot, the open end of the circle at A. The judge was very generous in that she didn't mark us off course like she could have. He left the circle completely, and I didn't get him back under control until around X. And just like the earlier test, I simply pat his neck, told him it was okay, and put him back on course.
The first time he left the B-E half circle, I focused on getting him back on track knowing that I had lost any score for the downward transition. Right at about K, I realized just in time that I needed to do a stretchy trot circle at A. With no preparation, I just gave Sydney the reins and hoped that another bolt wasn't on his mind.
Sydney loves to stretch so much that even with no help from me we still scored a 6. I am over-the-moon happy when Speedy gets a 6 for the stretchy trot; Sydney does it well with no help. I wonder what will happen when I actually prepare him? We followed the stretchy trot with a score of 7 for the medium walk and another 8 for the free walk. The trot transition was good enough for a 6. We repeated our earlier trouble at the right lead canter with another blow out and a missing transition from canter to trot. Instead of a 2, 1, 2 for the canter sequence, we at least bumped the scores up to 4s.
When we halted at X, we received a large round of applause and some verbal atta girls. It felt really good to be recognized for riding through a tough situation. I know that the crowd was "rewarding" my riding. Afterwards, I again received numerous compliments on my quiet and tactful ride. Several people asked how I was able to stay so calm even though my horse was bucking and bolting. I just smiled and replied that it wouldn't do any good to get upset.
And that's really the truth of it. Sydney wasn't being naughty to irritate me. He was genuinely anxious about what I was asking him to do. Getting upset with him would have only confirmed his fear. I didn't take it personally at all, and in fact, felt that it was my responsibility to reassure him that he was doing a fine job and that he wasn't going to get into any trouble. Hopefully, as we continue showing, he'll develop more confidence and will look to me for guidance.
Again, I am actually pleased with the test. Sydney is showing some real potential and has improved from show to show. Scores of 7 and 8 are not easy to get, and yet Sydney was able to earn them even after being upset and anxious. As his anxiety is reduced, I just know we're going to be a competitive pair.
We're going to Hansen Dam Equestrian Center on Sunday for a schooling show. I am hoping that following up this weekend's show with another right after will get him thinking about what his job is. I am not expecting total relaxation, but the only way to get there is with experience.
Here is the score sheet for this test.
Besides riding in a clinic over the weekend, I also had a show on Sunday. No need for any suspense; here's our score, but it doesn't tell the real story!
My goal for our third show of the year (fourth show in all) was much the same as last month's goal: get some amount of relaxation.
Here's how his first three shows went:
I hung his hay bag outside the trailer, filled his water bucket, and zipped up to the show office to check in and retrieve our number. When I got back to the trailer, he whinnied at me but he wasn't overly nervous. I decided to saddle him right away and was pleased with how mellow he was being. When I went to change into my riding clothes, he called for me a few times but relaxed when I came out to show him that I hadn't gone far.
Given our experience the month before, I wanted to have plenty of time in the warm up in case Sydney went Looney Tunes again. I got on at least 35 minutes before my first ride time. He was tense, but nothing like last month. I tried to just walk, but he had too much nervous energy brewing so I asked him to trot. We stayed in a pretty basic circle for quite a while. When I thought he might be relaxing, I changed direction.
Last month, I never was able to do a single trot circle during the warm up. This time, we were able to trot and canter without a massive blow up. There were a few whirls and bucks, but he came right back to me. In my mind, the show was already a success.
Everything about the Introductory Level C Test was better than the month before. My score was slightly lower for this test, but that was simply because of the canter. He was definitely forward without sucking back. Unfortunately, he was also a freight train plowing through my aides. No matter, at least he was going forward.
What was so interesting about this test was that it felt absolutely horrible. I was using a TON of leg to keep him next to the rail, but even so he was fish-tailing here and there. When we finished the test, several people came up and complimented me on keeping so calm. And even though the test felt terrible, the judge obviously saw something else. I have suspected all along that Sydney is far more capable of higher scores than Speedy ever will be. Don't get me wrong, I love my little gray pony, but he doesn't have the natural ability that Sydney has.
For this test, we started with three 5s, followed by four 6s. I have worked really hard to score 6s with Speedy and here I was fighting with Sydney and still getting those scores. At the left lead canter, our better direction, Sydney blew through the right shoulder, his oldest trick, and quasi-bolted back toward C. I brought him to a quiet halt, patted his neck, and returned to the test. Since I was supposed to still be cantering and transitioning to a trot, my next movement scored low as I wasn't in position to make the transition. But check out what happened after the error:
My anxious horse, who had just bolted up centerline, came down to a medium walk for a score of 6, and then effortlessly moved to a free walk for a lovely 8. And then, for the cherry on this sundae, he picked up a working trot in front of the judge for a second 8. That's why I am so pleased with this ride. Even though he panicked and felt the need to run, he quickly recovered and hit one over the fence. Give us a few more shows, and I think we're going to be wowing some judges!
Here's the whole score sheet.
If you've been visiting here for any length of time, you probably already know that I rode with Christian Schacht this past January. I had a pretty emotional ride with him last time which you can read about here. For this trip, I was prepared!
It certainly helped that I got to have a warm up lesson with Chemaine Hurtado on Friday. Riding with her the evening before helped remind me that I am a serious student and that I have the necessary skills to be riding with a clinician.
I was the first rider of the day which was nice because I did my warm up by myself. Speedy was very relaxed and ready to get to work by the time Christian and the auditors were in place.
As before, Christian first asked me to just ride a 20 meter circle in front of him so that he could assess my riding. I was comfortable doing that. I rode Speedy around doing my best to get comfortable and keep Speedy happy. Within a minute, Christian started giving me directions: shorten your reins, sit to the inside, soften the inside rein, make the circle smaller, use your outside leg, push him forward with the inside leg, and so on.
And while he kept insisting that I smile, smiling relaxes your body which helps your horse to relax, my stern look was actually a face of pure concentration. I wanted to make every moment of the lesson count. His command to smile was received as a poke, but I quickly remembered my experience with the Affective Filter the last time I had ridden with him and quickly found a way to diffuse the tension that wanted to build.
To the auditors, Christian explained that a smile needs to last for ten seconds to have an effect on our relaxation. While sporting a big smile on my face, I cheekily started to count down from ten to one just loud enough for him to hear me. That of course came across as quite sassy, and even I found myself genuinely smiling at my joke. Later, during a particularly difficult moment, I looked his way and plastered a big smile on my face. He seemed a bit taken aback at first, but then laughed good-naturedly with me.
Christian helped me put Speedy together in a way that I've never been able to do before. My pony was round, supple, and truly using his hind end. It was a thrilling ride. The best part for me was when Christian started asking for a variety of exercises, and I was able to do them.
The first was a leg yield. In January, the leg yield created a moment of terrible embarrassment. This time, I was able to "correctly" leg yield at the trot and canter. The last time I worked with Christian, I struggled with the counter canter. This time, Speedy and I were able to do nice canter loops. We also did some beginning lengthenings.
I've mentioned here a time or two that I struggle with feelings of inadequacy. I don't ride a warmblood, and I don't have a lifetime of riding lessons under my belt. In fact, I only started riding in an English saddle just a few short years ago. So it was particularly gratifying to hear the many positive comments made by the auditors. Most had seen me ride in January so they had a good basis for comparison. Overall, the ladies felt that I had improved tremendously in the six months since my last ride with Christian. Hearing that was welcome validation.
I am definitely looking forward to more rides with Christian Schacht!
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
*** SCEC 10/15-16/22
2022 Completed …
(*) Tehachapi 5/22/22
(*) Tehachapi 7/24/22
(***) Tehachapi 8/28/22
2023 Qualifying Scores
Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC)
Qualifying Training Level
3 Scores/2 Judges/60%:
Score 1: 62.115%