From Endurance to Dressage
Happy three-day weekend, everyone! I know most of you are as happy as me about this weekend - three whole days to ride and play with my boys. I have a lesson with JL today and another with Lois on Monday. And what of Speedy G?
I know it sounds like Sydney is getting all of the attention right now, but he's not. Speedy has been getting his fair share of saddle time, too. Early in July, JL suggested that I give Speedy a break in August. Originally it was because I was very frustrated with him, and I needed a break away from him. As it turned out, whatever little thing that had been between us, slowly melted away and our friendship was re-established. So rather than give him the month off, we've been just playing.
While I ride, I've been really focusing on feeling for whether he is balanced or not. And since I am focusing on balance, I am not really working on any particular element of a test. If he wants to trot, I just try to help him be as balanced as possible. The same is true if he wants to canter. Go for it, dude, but let's be really balanced. This has helped him enjoy the work because I am not working on anything specific.
Tracking right into a corner is one place that he struggles with balance. I can tell because that's where he'll pop his head up. To help him, I've been increasing the bend as we head into the corners, pushing his inside hind leg in as much as possible, and even slowing down into the corner when necessary.
He's getting more and more balanced and seems to appreciate the support. At least, that's what it feels like as he is less resentful and happier in his work. I suspect that the reason the right lead canter has been more difficult is because he is not as balanced tracking right.
While riding on Wednesday afternoon, I was having some trouble getting a balanced left lead canter. Before (as in before we started having fun), I would just repeat the circle over and over asking for the left lead canter until we were both pissed at each other, and I wanted to hang up a for sale sign while Speedy wanted adoption papers.
Instead, I stopped asking and did a couple of leg yields off the left leg. We came down centerline and leg yielded to M twice. The second time we got to M, I pushed him into the corner, came by C, asked him to go deep into the next corner and then scooped ever so gently with me seat. Viola! Left lead canter.
Oh, my goodness! You should have seen the look on his face. He knew he'd been played. I could tell he was wondering how in the holy heck that I had tricked him into getting such a quiet transition. We made one circle, and I called it a day. It was a pretty hot afternoon, 97 ℉, and we had been working for a while. Hot or not, just getting that transition was enough to earn an end to the work.
I can't wait to do more this weekend. Enjoy your Labor Day holiday. See you all tomorrow.
JL is a very supportive trainer. She doesn't pressure me to move up or move back down. She doesn't discourage me from trying things, and she listens when I bring her information from outside sources. She's happy to hear what another trainer thinks I should do and can usually break down the new idea into smaller bits that I can work on.
I hadn't seen her a few weeks due to her vacation and a ridiculously hot day that forced us to cancel a lesson. Even so, she was eager to hear how my lesson with Lois went and she happily watched my video of the T1 test.
Rather than being critical, she pointed out every positive aspect of the ride that she could; his walk was lovely, his halts were nice, there were moments of roundness, we got the canter departs (mostly), I kept my sh*t together when he wanted to toss me around, and so on.
Her analysis was that it is now time to get really, really picky about lightness. No more am I going to do the carrying. Lois described it as Sydney being the strong partner while I am the smart partner. Someone other than me needs to start doing the heavy lifting. I was relieved when JL mapped out our new strategy since it was EXACTLY what Lois had described. I ride with Lois this next Monday which means another field trip for Sydney - just what he needs!
The first thing JL and I worked on was getting some yes, ma'am! kind of halts. JL wanted him halting and backing off the bit in one stride with as little pull as possible. We started with a pull of 7 or 8 (a made up number to reflect "volume") followed by quick pulls of 8 and 9 until he finally halted. We did that over and over until he started offering halts that required pulls of 5 or 6, and then we aimed for a halt that took just 2 pounds of pressure. We got it, too!
Once he was listening to my halts, we worked on softening by maintaing the 2 pounds of pressure with added leg. And when I say leg, JL kept repeating, spur, spur, spur, spur! Whenever he made me hold more than 2 pounds of pressure in my hands, I halted him hard enough so that he started thinking he better back off the bit quickly! Little by little, he got lighter and lighter in my hand.
When I say 2 pounds in my hand, that's just the number that I assigned to what felt like a light contact. Once he passed that amount of pressure, the number goes up. If he's really heavy, we call it a 10 even though I am probably really holding 50 pounds in my hands!
After he was trotting with a light contact and moving forward from my leg, we worked on backing with the leg from a standstill. I held the two pounds of pressure, but kept spurring until he backed up. To both JL's and my surprise, he did it perfectly the first time we asked. Frankly, we were both shocked!
It's a tricky exercise for me as I really want to pull back. Instead, I just kept my hands steady and bumped his sides with my spurs until he backed up away from the bit pressure.
Riding him is such a different thing from riding Speedy who is NEVER EVER heavy. I can ride Speedy with just my pinky fingers; he's that light in the bridle. This of course comes with its own set of challenges, but at least he's never the freight train Sydney can be.
So for now, my homework is to get him halting quickly. Once he is no longer hanging on me, I can ask for roundness by using leg, leg, leg to get him to back off the bit.
Oh, and another bad habit that both Lois and JL have called me on (having several trainers kind of stinks when they're BOTH picking on you!): I keep a continuous squeeze going rather than bumping with my legs. When I do that, Sydney just ignores me. So an additional piece of homework is to ask with my legs and then release and then ask again more firmly, increasing the "volume" of the thumps until I need to do a barrel racing whack, whack, whack kind of thing.
This new approach feels good. I don't feel like it's a step backward. JL and Lois both think I'm ready to step it up a bit. Okay, ladies, bring it on!
I showed this video to JL at Monday's lesson. While she agreed that I don't ride like this at home, she was quick to point out the many, and I use that term loosely, good points. The thing she most liked was that I rode him much better than a year ago when he was this high and wild at home. So while it's still an ugly video, it's a lot less ugly than what it all looked like this time last year.
So here's the video for Training Level Test 1. It is better than the first ride, of that there is no doubt. I tried to lower my hands for this test, but I can see that I have reverted back to a very old habit; I didn't allow my elbows to bend at all, and I locked my wrists. Sheesh.
I will say, it is much easier to relax your joints when you're not riding a jack hammer. I am not saying that Sydney is to blame for my poor riding, but he sure didn't make my job easier. The good thing is that ugly as it is, the ride doesn't look as bad as it felt. I still hate to show it to you though.
Our score for Training Level Test 1 was 56.875%. I can't wait to see what we'll be able to score when we both relax a little.
We had a lesson with JL last night, more on that in a few days. She watched the second video (posting it tomorrow), and while she agreed that I don't ride like that at home, there were still some good moments: he actually walked and he looked a whole better than a year ago. She also pointed out that at the show, Sydney had two gears: high and low with nothing in between. She has a great plan for developing his middle gears. That made me feel somewhat better, but still...
This video truly makes me cringe. I can't believe what a terrible ride I gave him. My only excuse was that Sydney wanted to take flight and do the ride at Mach 10 (high gear). After watching though, I can see that if I just let go a little, lower my hands, bring them closer together, and increase the bend, he might relax a little and listen.
I also have to say that this judge was quite generous, in my opinion. I spoke with another rider who felt the opposite, she had expected higher scores. So what do I know? If you think I'm just being too hard on myself, feel free to stroke my ego in the comments, but I am sure you're going to cock an eyebrow in surprise at a few of the 6s that he bestowed on us.
Enjoy, even if you have to cover your eyes in a few places and squint through the blurry footage (not sure what was wrong with the camera). Oh, our score for Introductory Test C was 55.000% (better than that 48% we got a few months ago.). I really miss riding my speedy pony!
I am not sure it counts as a success or not, but we lived, I didn't get dumped, and I feel encouraged. I also have video, but I am positively loathe to show it to you as it is that bad.
Hubby brought Tobias, who was a very good boy, so I had some good moral support. I was also blessed to have Lois Quinn coach me through both warm-ups. She had me watch the video of the first test as soon as I had finished so that I got some immediate feedback. This is a good strategy. Not that I usually have access to video, but when next I do, I'm going to watch it if possible.
So, where to begin?
Here is what went really well:
Before I show you the pictures of our warm-up, please don't be too critical. Here is the issue: at home, Sydney (after 18 months of work) is submissive, happy in his work, and usually quite relaxed. I am now struggling with how to ride a forward, nervous, powerful horse who is worried about doing the wrong thing while not at home.
Lois is working with me to break some pretty strong habits: I want to pull back when he rushes off, and my hands go all over the place as I try to maintain the contact. Learning something new in the warm-up (who does that?) is really hard, but I take my dressage lessons where I can get them. Lois had me trying to establish a rhythm while insisting that Sydney maintain the pace I set without pulling back.
To do that, I posted the pace I wanted. If he hurried, my task was to halt him in one stride and then RELEASE the frickin' rein immediately. She had me working on giving my hands forward with my thumbs on top. You won't see that in the photos though as I struggled with releasing my death grip on the reins. Ultimately, she wanted us to trot with a loop in the rein so that he understood that carrying himself while maintaining my pace was a good thing. I cannot tell you how often I do that at home. That is ultimately how we fixed the bolting at home; I just rode with a loose rein.
We got it sometimes. Other times, I was riding a stiff freight train. After watching the video, I can see that I need to learn a new feeling of give when Sydney is high and tense. I have a lesson with Lois next Monday. The weather where Lois lives is much more wintery than here, but I hope to go up at least once a month for as long as the snow holds off.
Overall? We actually warmed up which is a HUGE improvement. Having a coach at a show is such a huge advantage. Lois helped me help Sydney have an experience that wasn't exactly fabulous, but at least it was controlled and calm.
With that, here are some photos of our warm up. Video of the first test will be up tomorrow, but be forewarned; you will cringe for me when you see it.
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 …
4/10-11 SCEC (***)
5/16-17 El Sueño (***)
5/23 TMC (*)
6/12-13 SB (***) OR
6/19-20 El Sueño (***)
6/27 TMC (*)
7/3-4 Burbank (***) OR
7/17-18 El Sueño (***)
7/25 TMC (*)
8/14-15 RAAC (Q) (***)
8/29 TMC (*)
2021 Completed …
10/24-25 SCEC (***)
11/7-11/8 SB (***)
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