From Endurance to Dressage
Coming off nine weeks of summer vacation and returning to a full time work schedule can be quite difficult. Waa, waa, get over it! Yes, I know. I wouldn't have much sympathy for me either. The truth is, I work really hard when I do work. Most teachers do. We're not in it for the money (good thing). We don't do it for the summer vacation. We do it because we enjoy being with children and find it very rewarding to teach. It's that simple.
After two decades in the classroom (crap, I am getting old!), I work harder now than ever before. Today I graded a mandatory set of math tests that had 50 problems each, recorded the data with the district office, met with my grade level partner to analyze the results, and then graded a separate math test that was supposed to diagnose the students' current math level. I did all of this during my lunch break and after the kids had gone home. This of course doesn't even begin to describe what I did during the rest of the day.
I know you're wondering what this has to do with dressage, endurance, or even equine health. I have a point. Really, I do. What I wanted to say was that even after a week of loooong days and temperatures in the 100 degree range, I still went to the barn each afternoon. I rode Monday and Tuesday. I took a lesson on Wednesday. I checked both horses on Thursday and discovered that Sydney had whacked his hind legs in his stall and had some surface scratches to go along with his puffy leg. I am writing this on Thursday evening, but my plan is to head to the barn on Friday after work to recheck Sydney's leg and give Speedy some treats.
Even with all of these barn visits and a lesson, I still managed to cook dinner and spend time with hubby. And to top off an already long and hectic week, I also have a show on Sunday.
I will say this: I am sleeping really well!
Not mine though! I was reading the August issue of Dressage Today and landed on the "Ask the Experts" column. The letter rider was having problems at the canter. I was delighted with some of the answer and thought to myself rather smugly, well at least I am doing something right!
Since I've only had formal training in the last year or so, there were many things that I never learned until last year. Posting to the outside diagonal was one of them. Man, oh, man that took me forever to learn! I am not 100% accurate, but I am getting much better.
Back to the expert's answer ... (by the way the column I am referring to is on page 72 if you get the magazine.) Elizabeth Madlener, USEF "S" judge, suggested that the rider check her "position and be sure that you have your weight on the inside seat bone." She went on to say that "if your weight is to the inside, your horse will throw you quite naturally up with the inside hind." And of course, "if you find yourself consistently coming up on the outside diagonal [outside hind?], then you need to get your weight down into the inside seat bone and leg."
Well woohoo for me! I wasn't sure how I was doing it, but I nearly always get the correct diagonal when we return to rising trot from the canter. This must mean my seat and leg are in a somewhat correct position!
Not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, I'll take the atta girl!
But why so many lately? It's not like I am complaining about it, but I'd sure like to know why my rides have gotten better and better over the last month.
Could it be that ...
A foundation was laid that is now supporting new information? Even though I've ridden my entire life, it wasn't until the summer of 2009 that I started taking "formal" riding lessons. Up until then, I was still competing in endurance races on Montoya and Speedy, so the dressage lessons were really just to help my balance improve. I bought a dressage saddle in the spring and took Speedy G for a weekly lesson with a nearby all-around trainer. Out of necessity, the instruction focused on English tack, especially the saddle. After riding in my comfy, squishy endurance saddles, the dressage saddle was quite a switch. I spent several weeks on a lesson horse in the round pen since I was really afraid of tipping over and falling off! It was quite a humiliating experience for someone who regularly rode 50 or more miles in a day to have to ride in a round pen. And how do you just fall off? Fortunately I didn't, but it took quite some time before I felt ready to ride Speedy in the dressage saddle.
The next summer, 2010, I found a local "coach" who agreed to work with me twice a week. During that summer, I started to learn about my body position: lower the leg, relax the leg, sit back, bend the elbows, and turn the thumbs up. I also learned to post to the correct diagonal (mostly). I learned a lot of terms: contact, half-halt, inside/outside aids, free walk, medium walk, change the bend, counter-bend, square halt, and others. I learned the terms, but I wasn't able to make my body, or Speedy's, do them.
Could it be that ... I have a new horse? I bought Sydney this summer, 2011. As soon as I started riding him, Speedy got soft. Or was Speedy soft all along and I only noticed it when I rode a horse who wasn't? I thought Speedy was stiff. Whoa, Nelly! Was I ever wrong. Speedy is the complete opposite of stiff. He's an over-cooked piece of linguini! Until I rode Sydney, I didn't realize how little it takes for Speedy to bend. I think all along we had been struggling because I was over-bending him, especially to the inside. I couldn't figure out why he wouldn't stay out. Once I rode Sydney, I realized my mistake(s). And then when I couldn't bend Sydney, I realized why. I wasn't actually asking him to bend!
Switching back and forth between horses has really forced me to be honest with my body. Something I might be lazy about on one horse can spell disaster on the other horse.
Could it be that ... I have a new trainer? In just five or six lessons with JL, I feel that everything I have learned over the last two years is simply falling into place. Every time I get on one of my boys, I hear an audible click in my head and I literally say, o-o-o-o-h, that's what that means!
I filmed Saturday's schooling ride on Speedy. I liked some of it, and disliked some of it. When I rode him on Sunday, I worked on the parts I disliked, and brought in some of the new things that I've been working on with JL. And just like that, our ride improved. Instead of letting him have that really soft contact which allows him to fall behind my leg, I pushed him forward into the contact. How? When his nose popped up and he braced his neck, I brought my elbows straight back, held the contact steady, and squeezed him forward with my legs. As soon as his neck softened, he got a release, and I gently pulsed the rein to ask him to soften just a little more. When I felt him try to suck back, I squeezed him forward and widened my hands to keep the contact at the corners of mouth. I could see him thinking, AHA! That's what she wants.
Before I knew it, he was (mostly) in front of my leg and reaching for the contact. We walked, and he stretched deeply. Success!
I also rode Sydney and did much the same thing. The difference with Sydney is that he's very soft at the walk, but not so soft when we trot. When he braced and popped his nose out, I pulled back with my elbows, squeezed him forward with my legs, held steady until I felt him soften, and then gently pulsed the rein on the side on which he was heavy. Since he is much stiffer than Speedy, I had to rock the reins a bit more to remind him not to be heavy, but within minutes he was soft and balanced.
After working both directions, I asked for a walk and was pleased to see Sydney offer a nice deep stretch. And again, success!
One definition for dressage is, "the art of riding and training a horse in a manner that develops obedience, flexibility, and balance." I think the definition should include, be prepared for this to take many years. Be patient, work hard, and you'll get it!
Another confirmed case of EHV-1 has been identified. Read more ...
August 23, 2011: Confirmed case of EHV-1 neurotropathogenic strain
On August 23, 2011, a 15 year old Oldenburg mare from Sonoma County has confirmed positive for the neuropathogenic strain of Equine Herpes Virus-1. The mare is isolated, quarantined and undergoing treatment at a veterinary referral hospital. The premises of origin is under veterinary observation and the potentially exposed horses temperatures are being monitored twice daily. Epidemiologic investigation conducted by CDFA reveals minimal disease risk based on lack of animal movement on and off the affected premises. The investigation has determined the positive horse has no direct link to the May 2011 outbreak of EHV-1 in cutting horses which resulted in 22 positive confirmed equine cases in California. CDFA staff will continue to monitor the situation to ensure disease control.
Monday was the first day of school. Here's how it went.
I woke up at 5:00 a.m. Got to work one hour early. Worked through half of my lunch period. Left on time. Mostly. Arrived home, slipped into barn clothes, made it to the barn by 4:00 p.m. Temperatures were in the lower 90s with a stiff breeze, although it was similar to what a hairdryer might emit. The horses had just been fed so I cleaned my stalls and groomed Sydney. I gave him fifteen minutes to eat and then saddled up. I had a lovely ride. I cleaned him up and turned Speedy out. He and I goofed off out in the arena until he was ready to continue his dinner. I prepared a late "lunch" for both boys, or is it now going to be dessert? Total barn time - hour and a half. Got home, prepped dinner, wrote a blog post. Cleaning lady came today so there were no household chores to do.
So far, not a bad way to return to work.
The photo is from the end of a our ride. White foamy mouth - this is a good thing, right?!
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%
2022 Show Season
(r) Ride-a-Test Clinic
(Q) Must Qualify
2022 Shows Schedule
(*) Tehachapi 5/22/22
2022 Completed …
2022 Qualifying Scores
Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC)
2 Scores/1 Judges/60%: