From Endurance to Dressage
Izzy and I were the last to go on Saturday. And even though Chemaine's day had started with a two-hour drive, she was just as friendly, relaxed, and encouraging for her eighth lesson as she was for her first. If you live anywhere near southern California, you really need to check her out. She's a remarkable trainer, show coach, and all around lovely person.
All photos by Edyta.
Since Izzy is still a green bean, there are too many things to list as problem areas. With Speedy, both Chemaine and I know what we need to work on. With Izzy, we're still just working on the basics: go when I say, seek the contact, and keep your shoulders where they belong.
When the first trailer pulled in and Leo was unloaded, both of my boys hit the roof. They were both wound up and way over-stimulated. There is rarely any activity at my barn unless I cause it, so for them, the day was quite exciting. It turned out to be an excellent opportunity for Izzy to experience a bit of a show atmosphere from the safety of his very own home.
By the time I hopped on, he had watched several hours of exciting action, and it was pretty warm, but he was still charged up and very forward. I ditched the whip rather quickly as he didn't ever balk or get stuck behind my leg.
For this lesson, Chemaine had me focus on three things. The first she called structure. Speedy is such a rock star that I can get away with losing focus or not riding every single stride. When he's in the mood, he'll even try and pick up the slack.
As an example, Chemaine got on him on Sunday and tried to ride him between the poles to work outside of my dressage court in a larger area. Speedy assumed she had made a mistake and veered so that he remained within the court. Chemaine laughed at how well "trained" he is. But that's what I mean about him picking up the slack; he more or less knows his job and can do it even if I am not directing him. I can't do that with Izzy.
Riding Izzy requires that I give him something to do and think about every stride. I can't let myself be lulled into a sense of ho-hum. When he feels my lack of direction, he tries to fill in the blank, but not in a good way. JL used to call it riding a loose horse. Chemaine's use of the word structure resonated more with me as that's what I do with my students. I structure the day so they are never at loose ends; they always have something constructive to do or think about.
So with Izzy, I need to keep my reins shorter and keep expecting him to soften, go forward, and so on. He doesn't get to just skate by. He needs to be actively working.
Once I had the understanding of providing structure, we worked on helping Izzy to soften to the inside rein. Like Speedy, Izzy has problems with the left rein and both shoulders. To the left, Chemaine had me hold the inside rein really steady at my knee or the saddle so that I could work the outside rein.
Chemaine called it "chainsawing," but she certainly didn't mean I should saw away at his mouth. Instead, she wanted me to give several sharp, firm pulls to very clearly tell him to get that outside shoulder back in line. While I worried about the "severity" of my corrections, Chemaine stressed that quick and firm is far better than nagging repeatedly with an aid that he can't hear or understand.
You can see from this series of photos that he is softening very nicely to that inside rein. Once I had his outside shoulder under control, I could then start to sponge or play with the inside rein. In the picture just below, you can see that the inside rein is actually loopy. And by the next picture, it is even more so. We've also lost some of the forward energy that he was carrying, but I love how relaxed and supple he became.
The third exercise that Chemaine had us a do was one where I slowly moved Izzy down the arena towards the spooky end without him knowing it. We started with a 20-meter circle at A, but as we neared the top half of the circle, I leg yielded him out towards C. As we circled back to A, I used a firmer outside rein and pushed him into the circle (think half pass), effectively lopping off the bottom of the circle.
Each time we came around, I leg yielded him farther toward C and pushed him into the circle at the bottom. Before he knew it, we were deep in the spooky end of the arena, circling. From the C end, we crossed the diagonal back to A and repeated the exercise tracking the opposite way.
Chemaine really likes this exercise because it encourages the horse to really focus on the rider, so the rider can do small leg yields to move out on the circle and then collect the horse and move his shoulders to make the circle more shallow.
Chemaine was so pleased with how well he handled being put into the spooky end of the arena that she had us try the same exercise at the canter.
Even at the canter, Chemaine had me steady the inside rein and really work that outside rein. His left lead canter is more balanced than his right.
While I love Speedy to death, he just won't ever have the same expressive gaits that Izzy is developing. Even as a green bean he wants to be uphill.
Still on his forehand, but since I am not losing his shoulder, he's a lot straighter.
Moving him down the arena in Chemaine's exercise also helps the inside hind step deeper which in turns helps him get a little more uphill.
And now you can really see that deeper stride, although I've lost the inside bend.
My take aways for the first day's lesson are three-fold: provide structure, get the inside bend by first gaining control of the outside shoulder, and work on pushing him out on the circle and then collecting him on the bottom of the circle to bring him in.
Tomorrow, Chemaine gives Speedy a bit of a butt kicking!
Now that I am committed to working with Chemaine once a month, I feel like Speedy and I are making faster progress. I can't even imagine how totally kick butt we'd be if I could ride with her every week!
For this lesson, my main goal was to work on the leg yields. I know I'm losing Speedy's outside shoulder, especially to the left, but I was also struggling with knowing whether the inside hind was truly stepping under or not.
After warming Speedy up for a minute or so, Chemaine put us right to work on the leg yields. The problem wasn't the inside hind, Chemaine assured me that he is crossing over just fine. The issue is indeed with the outside shoulder.
Speedy will move away from my inside left leg into my outside right rein pretty well as long as I am effective and steady with the outside rein. In everything we do, it is the left rein that gives us trouble. He just doesn't want to soften to it ... ever!
To help both of us figure out how to solve this, Chemaine had me try a few different things. First, as I asked him to move over, she had me ignore what he was doing with his head and simply focus on his hind leg. When I try to get him to give to the rein and step over, I usually lose all of the forward motion, and he simply stalls out.
When I kept the left outside rein steady and low, I could at least get Speedy to step under and over with the inside hind leg. And when he continued to be a brat, she had me finish out the leg yield at a walk. The purpose was to show him that he could step under with that inside leg. Chemaine said it was non-negotiable. I like thinking of it that way as it means that I am not asking for too much. Speedy simply has to do this.
Once Speedy was definitely stepping under, Chemaine had me play around with the outside rein and almost counter flex Speedy so that he had to soften to the outside rein. This is not easy to do. The idea was to keep him straighter so that I don't lose his outside shoulder.
When I got the left shoulder straighter, he threw a little hissy fit which involved kicking out, small rears, and stamping his little front feet NO. Fortunately, I've had him so long that nothing he does is in any way scary. I just laughed at him and gave him a bit of a spur.
We never got it perfect, but I've since watched the video of me schooling that leg yield, and I can at least see what I need to do. Keeping that shoulder straighter without letting him bulge out to the left will help a lot.
We also played around with the trot lengthenings, but Chemaine thought I was improving those pretty well on my own so we moved on to shoulder in. This is not something I school, but Chemaine had a great exercise for them that is an excellent addition to an exercise I already do.
Before I work on the trot lengthenings, I do a series of three, 10-meter circles down the long side. I then half halt in the first corner, use the short side to regroup a little, and then half halt and straighten as I come out of the second corner. After all of that collected work, Speedy is usually thrilled to lengthen his stride across the diagonal.
To add shoulder in to the exercise, Chemaine had me keep the bend of the 10-meter circles along the long side and just when we started to lose it, I put him back in a 10-meter circle. As we finished the next 10-meter circle, I maintained the bend and pushed him down the long side again. In this way, Speedy only had to hold the shoulder in for a few strides before he was doing another 10-meter circle.
The added benefit of this exercise is that when he drifted off the rail, I could leg yield him back without him thinking that it was a leg yield. Win-win!
After my lesson, Chemaine let me know that she was staying the night in town and could do a follow up lesson the next day. I was thrilled! That meant that I actually had four lessons this weekend.
Tomorrow, my first lesson on Izzy.
I may have mentioned that I was riding with Chemaine this month, but I didn't really elaborate or clarify. What started as a few lessons split between me and another rider across town ended up being an actual clinic, albeit a very casual one.
In all started in late July when Chemaine suggested that she could drive the two hours to Bakersfield to give me (and another rider) lessons. She stipulated that she needed at least four lessons between us (we both have two horses), but more riders would make the trip worth her time. I started sending out message to anyone who I thought might be interested. In all, we ended up with eight lessons, a full day!
I will say that organizing a clinic, even a casual one, is not for the faint of heart. I don't know if it's just riders or people in general, but we're a fickle, high maintenance group of individuals. We had riders who don't deal with the heat, riders without trailers, riders who live across town, and riders with at least one crazy horse (I am raising my hand). I have put on one other clinic, and I've certainly attended a few, so I felt pretty confident that I could pull it off, even with all of the special requests.
Chemaine and I messaged back and forth until we had her travel arrangements sorted. From there, it was just a matter of scheduling the rides. In the end, the first three rides were scheduled at a barn on the west side of town. This worked out fine as that barn wasn't too far off the highway. From there, Chemaine ended up traveling another 40 minutes to reach my barn which is on the extreme east side of town.
Even though the clinic was to be casual, I wanted everyone to feel relaxed and comfortable, so I loaded up the ice chest with a case of bottled water and snacks galore. My husband, who works for a major table grape grower, stopped by one of the vineyards on Friday night and hand picked a box of grapes for us - delicious!
While the original plan was just to have a lesson or two, I realized that if I was having company, I wanted to make sure the barn was extra clean and welcoming. During the week, I printed out waivers, made directional posters, planned for chairs, swept, cleaned out the arena water trough, and made sure that the poles that form my little dressage court were straight and accurate.
The morning of the clinic, I set up a small "hospitality" area with snacks and drinks and chairs (later manned by Chemaine's fabulous family crew). I dragged my sprinklers around for several hours, soaking the footing. When there is no breeze here, the dust hangs in the air which is a real nuisance.
Once everything was in place, I jumped in my truck and zipped over to a nearby barn to pick up our trailer-less rider. Her boy hopped in with nary a complaint and unloaded just as nicely. Since he was to be at my barn for the entire day, I had arranged for him to hang out in the turnout next door, the same one that I use for Izzy. Just as we were finishing turning him out, our first rider pulled in.
Our two riders with heat sensitivity rode first, even though the coolest part of the morning was long past. Chemaine started teaching at 7:00 a.m. across town, but it was 10:30 before our first rider was able to start. By then it was already 88℉ and climbing.
Even though it was toasty, everyone kept a positive attitude about the heat. There was a small bit of shade in the arena, so Chemaine was able to escape some of the sun when she needed to cool off. The rest of us had a lovely shaded area in which to hang out and watch the riders. Our wash rack is right next to the barn and arena, so each horse was able to have a cooling shower after their ride.
Since I was riding two horses, I rode third and fifth. The rider in between my two lessons does western dressage, so that was a lot of fun to watch. She's an excellent rider and her horse is very well schooled.
As I was cooling off and untacking Izzy, the group jumped in and put away the chairs and packed up the food and drinks. We had a late lunch/early dinner reservation at a nearby Mexican restaurant so Chemaine and her awesome teens went to my house to regroup while I drove our trailer-less rider back to her barn.
Dinners with Chemaine are always a boisterous and fun affair and this one was no different. Nine of us ended up sitting around a large round table. We shared funny stories and throughly enjoyed ourselves. And of course, every one wanted to know when Chemaine is coming back.
I am working on it, ladies!
Part 2 tomorrow ...
There are a lot of different European Warmblood Registries: Dutch Warmbloods, Holsteiners, Hanoverians, etc. Imperioso, barn name Izzy, is a Zweibrücker - a warmblood registered with the Rheinland Pfalz-Saar International registry, a region in Germany. I've shared his history here and here.
Many European Warmbloods carry a brand near their left hip denoting from which country they were approved and later registered. Lately, there has been a push to ban branding in favor of microchipping, so not all warmbloods, especially those that are imported, will have a brand.
Your warmblood's brand and registration number not only help you identify your horse, but they give you information about when and even where your horse was born. My Arabian mare, Montoya DSA had a very interesting brand that I've already written about, and so did Sydney, my New Zealand Thoroughbred.
In Germany, each breeding district is assigned a numerical code. The Rheinland Pfalz-Saar region uses the number 51 - see the lower left corner of the map. Each German breeding district uses several different brands. These brands are for the warmbloods, ponies, draft horse breeds, specialty breeds, etc.
Izzy's Registration Number:
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%: