From Endurance to Dressage
Talk about stretching beyond my comfort zone ...
Monday's lesson wasn't very much fun. JL is sticking to this challenge Sydney idea. She wants me to start being very picky with him so that he learns how to work when he's not feeling all warm and fuzzy. The "problem" with that approach is that I don't get to feel all warm and fuzzy either! Harrumph.
We started out with some basic circles to the left and right with some changes of direction. JL agreed that he looked happier and more relaxed than ever. That means he needs to be challenged. From now on, I am to focus on maintaining an exact cadence through all of our work, especially in the corners and changes of direction. No speeding up and no slowing down. This feels like an easy assignment.
Apparently JL thought so too, as she added a second element. In May, we were working on lightening his front end by doing counter bent circles that spiraled in and then back out on a regular bend. She now wants me to take that idea one step farther: she wants one or two strides done from a turn on the haunches while at the trot. It doesn't have to be a big movement, but she wants to see me keep the outside hind in place as he moves his outside shoulder away from my outside leg.
It's pretty easy to do on Speedy G, but I just couldn't get it done with Sydney. Instead of lifting and swinging over, he just spun around my inside leg like a carousel horse. I just couldn't keep his hindquarters from spinning out. Ultimately, we tried for a single step from the halt and worked up to a walk and then a trot. My homework is to try for it at the walk without letting him halt.
Throughout the lesson, JL could see that I was frustrated. I just couldn't understand what she was asking me to do, and I couldn't see where this exercise could be applied. To demonstrate, she had me ride a square, and suddenly, I saw the problem. Sydney wants to swing his hindquarters all over the place through the turn. I did this same exercise with Speedy a few months ago. I need to be able to control his shoulders which I can't do if I am letting his butt skate back and forth.
The "good" part of the lesson was that Sydney handled the stress of wrong, wrong, wrong really well. I could tell when he was feeling frustrated about not getting the correct answer (my fault), but I was able to keep him focused and feeling okay about it. A few times, he simply stopped and said, I don't get it which was great because it wasn't the old bolt and rear that I used to get less than a year ago. JL commented that many times the horses start to just back up hard when they can't figure this out. She was pleased with how hard he tried to listen to me even while he was unhappy. And that's what we're trying to teach him right now.
So for the next few days, we'll be working a bit on a correct turn on the haunches without his butt trying to beat us to the finish line!
For the past year, my lesson's have been on Mondays. For the summer months, I'm also having a lesson on Fridays. So even though I'd only been back from vacation for three days, I marched down to JL's for our first Friday lesson of the summer.
My feel is getting better and better each week which is fantastic, but the downside to that is that I see more clearly what we need to fix. Right now, there are three major issues staring us down: getting a bend to the left, getting Speedy to move off my inside leg, and now, getting Speedy to give his jaw to the right.
Earlier problems like getting a stretch and getting him to keep his face in front of the vertical are being addressed. Speedy is all about avoiding anything work-like so as we fix one issue, there's another standing in line waiting to take its place.
The three "new" things have an easy cure though. We dealt with all three at the same time by riding a figure 8 (two circles that touch). Tracking left, I have to use a TON of outside rein in order to get an inside bend. Weird description, I know. Speedy's trick is to simply lead with his outside shoulder which requires zero bend or effort to move away from my inside leg.
When I sloooow down the outside shoulder, I can (nicely!) move his hindquarters away. When he's moving sideways, I can get a nice inside bend as well. Two out of three problems "solved!" JL stressed that it is very important to ride for the next few weeks at a much slower trot so that I can impress upon him that stepping underneath is correct and dragging himself behind his shoulders is wrong.
Once we were tracking left nicely with lots of sideways steps, we did a change of direction ... and promptly fell apart. Speedy wants to travel in a very particular curve: ribs carried to left with his nose tipped to the left. It's a very awkward frame!
As we track left, his nose is tipped correctly, but I have to whale on him to shift his ribcage over onto the outside hind. Tracking right, his ribcage is essentially where I need it, but I have to crank on his head to tip his nose to the right so that his body can follow it.
To begin to correct this head tilt issue, JL had me commit what felt like a cardinal sin: I brought my inside hand up and across his withers. As long as he resisted, I kept it there and asked for forward. As soon as gave even the slightest, I asked for a walk. The point was to tell him that yes, he can do this, and the more quickly that he relaxes, the more comfortable he will be.
Quick interjection: this is not a pain issue. Speedy has had regular (and recent) chiropractic work, saddle fittings, and regular (and recent) dental care. He's just naturally crooked.
The head tilt exercise went something like this: I moved my right hand up and over and held no matter how hard he tried to get away. As soon as he softened, we walked a few strides. We picked up the trot again as I moved my hand into position. We played at it like a game. How quickly could I get him to soften and change the tilt of his nose?
Once he understood that he could "win" by giving, we put everything together in the figure eight. The interesting thing is that everything is solved by more effectively using my right rein. Tracking left I need to be firmer with the right rein to slow his outside shoulder, and tracking right I need make sure I keep his nose tilted in.
As we worked through the figure eight, I had to really focus on the right rein during the 1 or 2 straight strides of the figure eight. If I didn't get it right, Speedy careened through the corner with no bend and I fought with him until we came back to the straight. If I let him "go," we just repeated that circle, or just made it really small, until I had control.
My homework for this week is to ride him slooooowly as we practice making the turns with a correct bend. I should get four good rides on him before I head to Somis for this weekend's clinic. Oh! And good news there - I do get a Friday evening ride with a local trainer before riding with Christian Schacht on Saturday.
We landed in Bakersfield around 10:30 p.m. on Tuesday night, but after waiting for our bags and driving home, we didn't make it to bed until after midnight. When I woke up on Wednesday, I knew I wasn't in any condition to ride. I wanted to, but it wouldn't have served a purpose. Instead, I took it easy in the morning and went to the barn just to turn my boys out and see how they were. Thanks to my BO, both boys were happy and healthy.
By Thursday, I was ready to get back in the routine. SInce I am now on summer vacation, my mornings are free for riding so I got to the barn at 7:00 a.m. It felt good to be back on my summer schedule. During the summer months, I ride Monday through Friday (normally) and take the weekends off. If I only got paid for my 4 hours at the barn, it would be the perfect life!
I saddled Speedy first. As suspected, he was a bit of a stinker. Even though he'd had plenty of turn out, he still humped up his back and threw in a few bucks with a small bolt. I turned him into the fence to get a halt and threw on the lunge line. He promptly shaped up and returned to business as usual. It wasn't the best ride as he didn't want to bend (ongoing issue) and he's been a bbit stuck at the jaw to the right. No matter. We have forever to work on it.
My ride on Sydney was the best we've ever had. Right away he was nicely forward and very happy to lift his shoulders. I grinned from ear to ear the whole ride. I hope that he starts to offer that level of relaxation away from home. When he does, our scores are going to shoot through the roof!
So my first day back in the saddle was a good one. How much better can life be?
I love to travel. My first trip on an airplane was as a 17 year-old headed to the Canary Islands, alone! I did my senior year of high school as an exchange student. The Canary Islands lie less than 65 miles off the western coast of Morocco. While there, I also flew to the Spanish mainland and toured the country with a group of other exchange students.
The summer I graduated from college, I flew to Costa Rica for a few weeks, also alone! A few years later, Hubby and I took a trip to Hawaii as well as a road trip around the western US that included a few days on Vancouver Island, Canada.
In the spring of 2005, Hubby and I went back to Hawaii and later that summer, I went to Ireland for a horse back riding trip with Cross Country International, again alone! In 2010, we went to Peru, and in 2011 we went to England and Scotland. This summer, we visited Belize and Guatemala, and we're already planning on where to go next!
I tell you all of this because this trip was different from any other I've taken. I consider myself a pretty fearless traveler. Airports, food, people ... I take them all in stride and never worry. In fact, I relish meeting new people and find the differences from country to country exciting and invigorating. This trip however, stretched my comfort level in ways that I never anticipated.
I have a pretty deep fear of heights. If you're a Facebook friend, you already know that I challenged myself several times during this trip to face that fear. I can't say that I did it with any kind of grace or dignity, but I didn't let the fear stop me.
Hubby and I rappelled the Black Hole drop - kind of an odd thing to do for someone with a fear of heights. The Black Hole is actually a sink hole with a 500 foot diameter and a drop of more than 200 feet. From this photo you might think I was enjoying myself; I wasn't! I didn't know my look of terror was so similar to my look of enjoyment.
We were a group of ten: three guides, a family of five, and hubby and me. We hiked into the jungle with our equipment and water in backpacks. The guides pointed out various animals and plants while we walked. Once we reached the drop off point, the guides gave us a lesson in rappelling.
They demonstrated how the belay system would work and explained all of our equipment. When asked who would go first, I happily let the whole family descend first so that I could watch. Hubby seemed to understand that I needed to wait a while before making the descent. When our turn came, I asked Hubby to go before me so that he would be at the bottom waiting for me.
Finally, it was just me. I was relieved that only the last two guides were there to watch. I needed to be alone so that no one would pressure me to hurry. As I approached the cliff's edge, I kept my eyes locked on the guide. I had seen everyone else step over so I knew that he would be instructing me where to place my feet as I stepped out onto the cliff's edge.
As I was balanced at the point of can't change your mind, I looked the guide in the eye and whispered that I was beyond terrified. He was incredibly supportive. For every other climber, he had encouraged them to take the next step, enjoy the view, look around, etc. For me, he just held my eye contact, breathed, and waited quietly. I also took a breath and kept me eyes locked on him. He calmly told me where to place each foot and never mentioned that I should look around. Each time I placed my foot in a secure place, he told me how well I was doing and encouraged me to find the next foothold.
For the whole descent, I either looked up at my guide, at the wall in front of me, or I squeezed my eyes shut. Once I was beyond the cliff's wall, I continued to lower myself in a free fall until my arms became too tired to feed rope through. Knowing that I was at my limit, the guide yelled for me to open the rope's angle so that they could control my descent for the rest of the way. During that whole "free fall" period, my heart begged to cry, but my brain held it together.
The instant my feet were on the ground, my husband was by my side as the tears began to flow. I took several deep gasping breaths as the tension drained out of my body. It only took me a minute or so to get it together, and after that I had a great time climbing back out of the hole. The family who had hiked in with us was very supportive and congratulated me on facing my fear. I was really proud of myself for not quitting at the top. I was also quite embarrassed about crying, but I told that voice to shut up. I recognized that facing my fear and being honest about it was worth being proud of.
There were many other ways that I challenged myself on the trip: climbing the Mayan ruins was amazing. Descending the ruins was scary. There were no hand rails, and the steps were quite high and frequently narrow. I climbed every single ruin we were permitted to climb and never let myself sit one out, although I occasionally sat down to descend!
Throughout our entire trip, I found that I was challenging myself each day. We went zip-lining through the jungle canopy. Each time I approached the platform, I had to force myself to take the plunge. It never got easier, but I knew that I could do it. It wasn't fun, but I never backed away.
Even swimming was a challenge. I am a relatively good swimmer, but it has been awhile since I've used snorkel gear. For this trip, we twice snorkeled in water that was too deep to stand in. And once we were in the water, we simply followed the guide without being able to hang onto the boat. Several of the tours involved snorkeling for more than an hour without resting or touching bottom. For our first day, I had a small panic attack and had to work really hard to keep my breathing under control.
Facing that fear was so worth it! We got to hold giant nurse sharks in our arms (she was bigger than I am) as well as swim with sting rays on our chests! We saw many kinds of fish, both big and small, as well as sea turtles and all of the other things you would imagine seeing in the Caribbean Sea.
I know you're wondering what all of this has to do with riding or dressage. What I realized over and over during this trip was that it is very important that as riders we stretch beyond our comfort zone. The more we stretch, the more confidence we build. The less we stretch ourselves, the less confident, and more fearful, we become.
I think that as a rider, switching from endurance to dressage was a huge stretch that thrust me into very uncomfortable territory. Now that I am no longer a dressage "beginner," I am going to need to make sure that I continue to find opportunities to go beyond my comfort zone. Riding Sydney outside of the arena more frequently will be one way for me to stretch myself. Taking him to shows is another. I know that JL is asking me to push Sydney now so that we can help him deal with the mental stretch that he'll experience at shows and clinics.
I think the trick is to monitor how far you stretch yourself, parachuting would have been beyond my limit and nothing would have been learned. The stretch needs to be somewhat uncomfortable, but not debilitating. I think it's also important to have a good safety net. I couldn't have done some of the things we did without the support of my husband and the knowledge of the guides we used.
I hope you'll find ways to challenge yourself and to continually build your own confidence both in real life and with your horses.
Okay ... the truth is I got home late Tuesday night but hadn't felt up to blogging until today. I've just cracked my knuckles, stretched my neck, and did a few shoulder rolls; I am ready to go!
I've got tons to share, but I'll ease into it today. I need to catch you up on a few things that have been hanging around, unfinished. First: do you remember the local show I did in May on Speedy G? Since the show was hosted by a local chapter of the Arabian Horse Association, Golden Empire Arabian Horse Society, there was an Arabian High Point award, which I won. I finally went and picked up my award yesterday. I just wanted to thank GEAHS for their very generous gift!
And since we're talking about past awards, I am finally getting around to showing you my California Dressage Society plaque with my first plate affixed. It will probably take the rest of my life to fill it up!
I also just mailed off my application and fee to ride in the Christian Schacht Clinic next Saturday. His schedule was a bit wonky so I only get one ride with him instead of two like I did in January. To make the overnight a little more cost effective, I am hoping for a Friday afternoon lesson with a trainer that I like in Somis. I ride with Christian on Saturday morning.
When my ride in the clinic is over, I'll be zipping back home (2 ½ hours) to prepare Sydney for a Sunday morning show up in Tehachapi. It's going to be a busy weekend!
I also mailed in my entry for the June 30th schooling show at Hansen Dam Equestrian Center. My plan for the summer is to get Sydney out and about as much as I possibly can. Two shows back-to-back might start giving him the mileage he needs.
Whew ... I think that's everything. I really missed all of you and am very glad to be back. I've been catching up on your blogs and can't wait to hear more.
A little bit about our trip tomorrow ...
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%: