From Endurance to Dressage
When I rode Speedy on Sunday, I tried to keep in mind some of the work that Lois and I had done with Sydney the day before. Maybe Speedy was tired from the big gallop he had during his Saturday turnout, or maybe he was just in a better mood. Either way, we had a more pleasant ride on Sunday.
I gave myself plenty of time to ride and decided if all we did was walk, that would be okay. I just wanted a more supple horse. And so we walked. And walk. And walked some more. I focused on asking him to reach, always making sure I could see his inside eyelashes. I refused to hold the inside bend. Instead, I continued to flex and release, flex and release.
Lois said something during Saturday's lesson that flew right over my head during the lesson, but as Speedy and I walked around, I started thinking about what she had said. She said the only amount of (can't remember the word) that I need is the difference between squeezing my fingers closed, and allowing them to soften and open. While riding Speedy at the walk, I let squeezing my fingers be the amount of aid that I used in asking him for more inside flexion. He seemed to respond to the minimal aid.
After all of the walking work, I finally asked Speedy for some walk to trot transitions, and told him that I was going to use the same aid for flexion that I had used in the walk work. As always, his gas pedal wasn't working correctly at first, so I kept to the rail with no circles. At each short end, I ask him to step under with his inside hind, and on the long sides I asked for go, go, go. We also crossed the diagonal a few times so that he could start using the other inside hind as well.
Before too long, he was flexing better to the inside and definitely moving out. We did a few leg yields off the inside left left leg and did some right lead canter loops down both long sides. While he felt light in my hands for the loops, I knew he was actually quite heavy on the forehand as he took a bad stumble in the downward transition, twice! Not wanting to end on that note, I asked for a few trot to canter to trot transitions.
When he gave me a good canter to trot transition, I praised him, and hopped off. I wanted the work to be quick, if not necessarily easy. We were both much happier with the day's work. I really wish I could get a lesson with Chemain over in Moorpark, but it might have to wait until December. Until then, we'll do the best we can.
Sydney and I made the trek up to Tehachapi for a Saturday lesson. Taking a lesson with Lois requires a good half day commitment. An hour lesson takes at least five hours: 3 hours in drive time, an hour to ride, and an hour or more on either side for tacking/untacking and debriefing. I wish I could do it weekly, but Hubby and home need me on Saturdays, too.
The lesson was a good one. Lois appeared to be impressed with our progress. Our geometry had improved and Sydney was far more adjustable in his trot work. She could see the balance issue tracking right so she moved on to a new exercise. It's one that we've done many times before, but she tweaked it a bit.
She had me start to the left, the easier direction. We started by establishing a 20-meter circle at the trot. She then had me slowly change to a counter bend. We spiraled in to a 10-meter circle; her variation was to take 6-9 circles to arrive at the 10-meter diameter. I appreciated the slowness as it definitely gave Sydney time to develop his balance.
Once Sydney was balanced in the counter bent 10-meter circle, Lois instructed me to gradually return to the correct bend and move him back out onto the 20-meter circle. The result was a much more balanced horse who was really working over his topline.
We repeated the exercise to the right. Sydney definitely had trouble in the spiral part. I had to work much harder to get him to the 10-meter circle. Once he was there, I felt him soften and let go of the left rein. I gradually returned to a correct bend and moved him out to a 20-meter circle. What a huge difference. He couldn't stay on my outside rein for long, but it was an improvement.
We next moved on to the canter work. Sydney exploded into the left lead canter and was very heavy in my hands. I have done the spiral exercise a billion times with JL so before Lois could ask for it, I told her that I needed to try something. I counter bent him and made the circle smaller. With a few encouraging words from Lois, longer leg and a slower seat, Sydeny moved into the lovely canter that I can get at home. I put him on a correct bend and moved him out onto the bigger circle. Lois was quite impressed.
When I asked for the right lead canter, I got the usual oh, crap! launch. I quickly got some bend and urged him into a more normal canter. Lois had me take his unbalanced canter into the 10-meter circle by counter bending him. After going through the exercise, we were able to achieve a balanced, right lead canter.
We probably should have stopped there as the rest of the lesson dissolved into rearing, bucking, and spooking. Neither of us knew it, but Sydney had had his fill for the day. Lois wanted me to repeat some of the trot work to the right since we had just gotten him balanced through the canter. Sydney would have none of it. He shoved his barrel into my right leg and refused to bend. I started getting cranking and he responded in kind.
Not being able to see what I was feeling, Lois finally asked me to explain what was going on. After I told her, she had me work on turns on the forehand. When that continued to piss him off, we had to move to halting as he had decided to ignore my half halts. Within a few minutes, Lois saw that we had pushed him too far.
Rather than continue, she had me trot a few steps, ask for a halt, and let go. We did it several times in both directions until he was willingly halting. That was the end of the lesson. We quit on a good note and he left the arena relaxed and feeling good.
The day was quite cool with a strong breeze blowing so his neck never got wet during the ride. While he might not have been working aerobically, he was using his back and abdominal muscles to a great enough degree to be tired. And he was certainly mentally worn out. When I pulled his saddle off, I was surprised to see that while his neck might have been cool and dry, his back told a different story; the pad was soaked through to the saddle. That doesn't happen to Sydney very often, especially on such a cool day.
He lunched at the trailer before leaving. He traveled quietly and was happy to be home. I hand grazed him for a few minutes and then returned him to his stall. Both boys got some late afternoon beet pulp along with some hugs and kisses. Sydney looked content.
Oh, dear. Speedy has decided that dressage isn't fun anymore. Hopefully he just woke up on the wrong side of the stall.
Knowing that too much arena time frustrates him, I've been working him only three days a week with turn out on the days that I don't ride. Even so, our ride on Saturday felt like an exercise in frustration. He started out hollow, resistant, and braced, which is normal. I have learned not to ask for any kind of roundness until he is moving willingly forward.
Once the gas pedal was working, I shortened the reins and started asking him to move onto my outside rein. His answer? An emphatic, no. I couldn't get him off my inside left leg to save my life. He wouldn't/couldn't let go through his poll or jaw either.
I did leg yields, turns on the forehand, and even some counter flexing. He finally started spooking hard, his go-to evasive maneuver. I went to my go-to: more of the same. Nothing was working.
In an effort to get something good accomplished, I went back to the canter; I had let him do a big canter earlier in the ride in the hope that it might loosen him up. For this canter sequence, I did shallow loops along each long side. While they weren't as good as we've done, he did begin to soften his left side.
We finished up still feeling like friends. I started to take the whole thing personally, but then remembered that he isn't trying to piss me off. Something was just off. Tomorrow is another day and another chance to capture that feeling of partnership.
Have you all seen this belt? It was in the newest Dover catalog.
I just can't find a riding/show belt that I am happy with. I wear low rise breeches which means I have to wear a larger sized belt to accommodate hips that are wider than my waist. All of my belts tug on my belt loops or do this weird gape thing in the back. None of my belts fit like this.
The Embrazio Curva Belt looks like it would fit me perfectly, but I don't want to spend $60 bucks if it's really just crappy, plasticky leather. Anyone have any experience with the Embrazio line?
I am back in the swing of things, Baby! The crap that has been bothering me is still lurking, but I am ignoring it and pressing on.
I managed to get a boatload of barn time this past week and even managed to do some extra work for my barn owner. So lets look at a recent, typical day; how about Thursday?
Woke up well before dawn. Headed to work at 6:00 a.m. Arrived at work by 6:25 a.m. (who knew teachers worked that early?) Worked through the recess break, worked through most of the lunch break, and left work at 3:20. Arrived home at 3:40 p.m. Changed clothes and headed to the barn by 3:50. Arrived at barn at 4:00 p.m. Real life commenced ...
...and I finally breathed deeply as I tossed Sydney his dinner and greeted Speedy G with a quick neck pat. I dragged the sprinkler out to my dressage court and then went and threw a bridle on Marti, my barn owner's gelding.
Marti is relatively new to our barn. He has been in rehab these past few months while he recovers from a hock and fetlock thing.
Marti has been on stall rest for several months, but he finally got the okay from the vet to begin lunging and hand walking. BO has been doing the hand walking, but has been a bit reluctant to lunge a horse who has been "resting" for months. Resting, of course, means storing up tons and tons of energy. Who wouldn't be reluctant to lunge that kind of horse?
BO and I lunged him together on Wednesday, and he was mostly well-behaved. He did try a few naughty tricks, but overall, he was pretty compliant for a guy who hasn't been allowed to really get out and kick up his heels since at least early June. BO wasn't able to lunge him on Thursday and asked if I would do the job for her. I had the time and agreed to get him out.
I tossed the bridle on him while still in his stall and threaded the lunge line through the cheek piece and over his poll. He's proven himself to be a solid citizen so I had no fear of a bolt as I walked the short distance to the arena, leading him with just a lunge line. I got him in position and sent him to the left at a walk. He seemed a bit tired, and possibly stiff, after Wednesday's lung session, which had been short, but I knew he needed to move so I asked for the trot.
I glanced at my watch and figured that six minutes of walking and trotting in each direction would be sufficient. After trotting for a few minutes to the left, I asked for the walk, which he did gratefully. I let him walk for a circle or so, and then I asked for the trot again. At the end of the 6 minutes, Marti looked pretty pathetic; he had kicked up a cloud of dust in his shuffle, and his ears hung floppily. Aw ... poor guy, I thought (stupidly) to myself.
I switched the lunge line to the other side and turned him to face the other direction. I took a step back, preparing to ask him to walk to the right, and found myself being jerked clean off my feet. Marti went from a complete standstill to Mach 10. Before I knew what had happened, my lethargic, exhausted charge had bolted straight ahead and left me to finish a belly flop on my own.
Fortunately, my brain was still engaged and it was able to send instructions to my hand to open my fingers and let go of the lunge line. I picked myself up from the ground, dusted the dirt from my chest and thighs and went after my BO's wayward, re-habing pony. My BO has been dying to turn him out so that she can enjoy the antics of her horse running free. My own boys relish their turn out time and put on quite a show as they fart and buck their way around the arena.
But alas, she wasn't there to see him running hellbent for leather with a lunge line trailing merrily after. I was though, and I cringed at the line flapping around and through his feet. Oh, Lordy, please ... not on my watch! Not sure where to go, Marti doubled back to my end of the arena. After a bit of quick foot work, I was able to dog him a bit like a cutting horse would a cow. I cut him off each time he tried to bolt to the left or right. Realizing he was caught, he stood still while I walked up and pulled the lunge line free from his legs and feet.
I pointed to the right with the lunge line, and he obediently trot off to the right. For the prescribed six minutes. Sheesh ...
After giving Marti a quick hosing off and returning him to his stall, I saddled Speedy G and had an enjoyable ride. After riding the gray pony, I turned Sydney out for a bit of a gallop and then cleaned stalls and prepared beet pulp mashes. I finished up my barn time by sweeping up the cross tie area and locking up the barn. I wrapped up my day with a quick shower and then prepared dinner.
And you know what? I did it all over again on Friday (except for the belly flop). Life is pretty darned good.
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 …
6/26-27 SCEC (***)
7/17-18 El Sueño (***)
8/14-15 RAAC (Q) (***)
2021 Completed …
10/24-25 SCEC (***)
11/7-11/8 SB (***)
4/10-11 SCEC (***)
5/16-17 El Sueño (***)
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