From Endurance to Dressage
Well, we earned our lowest score ever, and that's saying a lot. For Training Level Test 1, Sydney and I earned a dismal 47.920%. That's low. That's pretty much as low as you can get.
Our warm-up was an effort to just not explode and take out the rest of the riders. I didn't even try to trot. I simply insisted on a calm walk without his head twelve feet in the air. His back was so hollow that his belly almost touched the ground, but I kept working him. Eventually, I just walked down to the show ring, and since I was the first rider, I was able to finish warming up in there.
Surprisingly, as soon as we got in the ring, some of his tension melted away and he actually started to relax. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough. The only good thing about the test was that we actually got both the left and and right lead canter departures. For the left lead canter we earned a 5 with the comment, needs more forward stretch. For the right lead, we scored a 4.5 with the comment, spooking, good recovery. (The next rider's horse had started fussing near A which caused us some big trouble. We earned a 2 for the downward transition).
I have never earned so few sixes and have never seen so many fours and fives. My test wasn't available to study before my second ride, but it didn't matter. I knew what it was going to show. Instead of worrying about it, I walked back up to the warm-up ring for a minute since there were four riders between my first and second rides. All I did was ask him to walk and relax. And surprisingly, he looked pretty good.
My plan for the second test was to be much more insistent that he focus on me. I can't push him too hard or he'll have a melt down, but I knew that I needed to be much more assertive. I walked back down to the ring and picked a spot to just let him stand. To his credit, he stood rock solid for three full tests. He chewed his bit and shook at flies, but his feet never moved.
When our time rolled around, I walked him into the arena (there was no alley) and down to the judge. We chat for a minute, and then she rang the bell. I continued walking and then at about B, I asked for a trot. The test was still far from good, but finally, we made it through a test that was actually worth scoring. We earned a 57.50%, a full 10 percentage points higher than the first test. We had no 4s and ten 6s! We also had three 6.5s on our collectives.
The best improvement was for impulsion. On the first test, we scored a 4.5, but for the second test, we bumped that up to a 6. In fact, my collective marks rose from 38 points on test 1 to 47.5 points on test 2, a 9.5 point difference! The judge wasn't effusive with her comments, I'd been warned about that, so her very short, Better test. Will be a nice team! was very welcome.
There were other things that went quite well. Sydney trailered there and back like a champ. He was stabled in the show barn completely alone and never fussed about it. He ate and drank like a pro and slept quietly all night. I brought him into the barn aisle to tack up, and he stood ground tied pretty nicely while I saddled and bridled. He stood by the mounting block very relaxed and didn't move when I got on.
During the warm-up, a less experienced rider lost a bit of control and came at us head on. Not knowing which way she was going, I stopped. She came so close to us that she brushed my inside leg. Sydney stood rock solid, for which I was extremely grateful. She apologized profusely, but since no one was hurt. It was fine.
So now, the venue part of the experience is not an issue. I can depend on him to load politely, travel well, and settle in to a strange stall. That's at least one part of showing that I can put in the no problem column. Getting him to focus on me while in the ring is the next hurdle. If anyone knows how long that takes, please feel free to share.
It must happen to everyone. I am sure of it. Do we all eventually see through the smoke and mirrors of dressage? I think I am finally there. It looks easy, effortless almost, but dressage is hard. Really hard. Most of the adult amateurs that I see are struggling. Very few of us are out there hitting balls out of the park. In fact, most adult amateurs are still stuck at home waiting, trying to get good enough to show.
I have never appreciated Speedy G more than I did this weekend. That dude's brain and temperament are worth their weight in gold. If I ever sell him, his price is going up. Way up. We may not be riding at the top level, but he is certainly doing his part to get me going somewhere. The problem with dressage is that having a strong to desire to be good is not enough. To be good, it takes a rider who knows what she's doing, a horse with the right temperament, and the financial means to get where you want to go.
Sydney helped me see three things at Sunday's show: 1) I am actually a pretty decent rider, 2) I have a solid horse in Speedy G and not so much in Sydney (yet), and 3) for the most part, money is not what's keeping us from going to shows. I am guessing that you're guessing that things weren't all rainbows and unicorns for Sydney and I this weekend. It wasn't a total disaster, but I am starting to feel a bit like quitting with him. I enjoy this horse, truly I do, but I don't know if showing is what he wants to do.
He did many great things, but he was a total ball of tension in the ring. Let me count how many times the judge used the word tension in our first test: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 - five times. I am sure there would have been more, but to change it up, she used words like needs more stretch, needs more forward, wavering, spooking, and sashaying (really, she used that word!).
The problem is. I don't give up. Ever. I can't think of one single time that I have ever given up on something that I actually cared about. Okay. In college, I did sign up for a ballet class, went one time, and promptly quit. But that was just a whim. I didn't really care about ballet, and who starts ballet when they're nineteen? See. Justified quitting.
In reality, the show wasn't a deal breaker, but man! Sydney's progress away from home is really, really slow. He was better than last time, but only marginally. We started out with a lesson on Saturday afternoon with Chemaine Hurtado, my away-from-home trainer.
Basically, she schooled me through the walk and trot in various parts of the arena. We talked about what JL and I have been doing, and then Chemaine worked to try and fill in some of the gaps. I need to weight my inside hip to knee, and I need to open my outside rein to encourage Sydney to fill it up. We did some suppling exercises such as shoulder in and counter flexing with haunches in and haunches out.
There were some oh, crap! moments during the lesson, none of which caused me to even blink, and there were also some nice moments where Sydney was connected, balanced, and doing what he was supposed to be doing. Just nine months ago, he wouldn't even enter at A, and even when he did, he was a rocket that careened out of control.
For this lesson I worked wherever I wanted in the arena, with tension, but still, we worked. He never bolted. He never got away from me. He never made me feel afraid. Chemaine pointed out that if some of her other students had been riding him, they would have been quite terrified. He wasn't an easy ride. The difference is that now I know how to keep him under control. He bucked, hard, and he did some pretty impressive aerial maneuvers, but I never lost the contact, never tipped forward, and never panicked.
For me, this is important. The better rider than I can be, the more likely it is that I will be able to coax more from him. And honestly, I wasn't the reason for his tenseness. I just need to figure out how to show him that he doesn't need to be tense.
More tomorrow ...
I am heading down to Ventura in a few hours for tomorrow's show. I am having a lesson today in the late afternoon with Chemaine Hurtado. Hopefully, she can be eyes on the ground and help me ease Sydney's tension by giving me some help with my aids, especially my weight aids.
On Sunday, I am riding Training Level Test 1 at 9:00 and Training Level Test 2 at 9:35. Going as early as possible is a good thing as there will be less commotion for Sydney to deal with.
In other news, I've been on barn duty for most of the week and will be glad to hand the reins back over to my barn owner. Getting to the barn by 6:15 to help feed, water the arena, and clean stalls makes for a busy morning! I also filled water troughs, raked and swept the barn, turned the other two horses out, and brushed on fly spray.
Oh, I also rode my two horses and then went to work in the afternoons. It's been a busy week.
Sorry to bore you all with this, but I had the BEST ride on Sydney yesterday. My goal for the summer has been to get a consistent right lead canter departure even when he's tense or anxious. I can't say that it's perfect yet, but damn! We're getting so close!
The funny thing is that in an effort to nail down the right lead, the left has just turned into butter. With what feels like no effort on my part, the left lead canter is light, balanced, and extremely adjustable. Our walk to canter transition is smooth as silk and the downward is just as pretty.
So here is what happened on Thursday, but first, let me set the scene: both gardeners were in full work mode next door. The weed-wacker was screeching, and the riding mower was rumbling along. The bug guy was creeping around the property spraying in all of the dark, scary places and popping into view randomly. The neighbor was bustling around the barn doing this and that.
I walked Sydney into the arena shaking my head no. Just, no. It would be best to just skip the ride and try again on Friday. In the past, all of this activity would have caused a nuclear melt down. Sydney was looking, and his body was pretty tense, but I decided that this was a perfect opportunity to try out what we've been schooling for: tension at a show.
He was so tight through his back that as I asked for the trot, he almost felt lame. Instead of worrying, I just asked for more trot and started rocking the inside, left rein. He continued to giraffe his neck, but I took a firm hold of the outside rein, added leg, and ROCKED the inside rein. Within a minute, he put his focus back on me, and started to relax.
I sent him into a left lead canter where the last bit of tension fell away. We came back to a walk, I praised him, and then asked him to pick it up again. He was still listening to what was going on all around him, but my attitude was this: I am here to make sure you are safe. There is nothing to worry about it. He decided that it was all no big deal.
Without delay, I changed direction and went to work softening the inside right rein while keeping him straight. JL had suggested I do some 10-meter circles before the canter to remind him what it feels like to bend his neck and let go through the poll, so I did a few of those.
When I felt like I had a good feel in both reins, I gently the rocked the inside to remind him that we were going right, and I cued for the canter. He picked it up right away and was light and soft and listening.
After a short walk, I again worked the inside rein at the trot and did some more 10-meter circles. At one point, he tried to volunteer the canter, but I quietly asked him to wait for my cue and had him come back to the trot. I felt like it was taking a bit of a risk, but I decided to ask for the canter in the first corner.
I say this is risky because cantering into the corner requires more bend than picking up the canter in the second half of the circle at A. It is also a tighter space with less room for shenanigans. When I ask for the canter away from the rail, we have more room if something goes haywire.
As I was doing the 10-meter circle, I followed my little mental checklist. I made sure he was solidly on the outside rein, I rocked the inside rein so that I couldn't see his left eye, and then I sat up and quietly asked for a right lead canter.
BOOM! There it was. Light as a feather with no resistance or any tension. We cantered for a few moments, transitioned quietly to the trot, and then I asked for a walk. As soon as Sydney halted, I leaped off him and gave him a huge hug. I was so proud of us both that I was nearly in tears.
Sydney loves whole head hugs, and will happily lean into my chest as I kiss the top of his head. I know he knew how happy he had made me. He stood there for the longest time just basking in my gratitude and praise.
We may not get any of this fine work at Sunday's show, but that's okay. It will happen eventually, and now that I have the correct feel, I can be of help to him rather than feed his worry.
I had a very good lesson with my trainer yesterday, the last one before Sunday's schooling show. Our entire purpose was to finesse the aids I need to use to help Sydney pick up a right lead canter when he's stiff, braced, and anxious.
As boring as it is to read (I apologize), I needed to break it down so that the process is easier for me to apply. It now looks so simple. If you have a horse who is crooked, drops the inside shoulder and "rolls" his body, these steps might work for you.
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.
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 …
11/7-11/8 SB (***)
2021 Completed …
10/24-25 SCEC (***)
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