From Endurance to Dressage
I think that I like clinics even more than showing. First of all, I get to ride for a lot longer which makes each dollar better spent. But aside from that, clinics are about learning so there aren't any feelings of competitiveness., at least not from me.
My best friend has been able to travel with me this summer which has made showing and doing clinics a lot more fun. She has even schlepped my big brown horse's crap around for lessons - and that can be about as fun as watching paint dry.
As we were preparing to load up to come home, Best Friend walked him over to the shade so he could cool off. I was tossing a few odds and ends into the trailer when I glanced up and saw them standing in silhouette. She was busy talking to Izzy and goofing around with him. I snapped this picture as she laughed, exclaiming that he is big enough to stand under.
Later that evening, my trainer posted this next photo on Facebook. It's a bit blurry, but I love the absolute quietness of the moment. To me, it is the epitome of what dressage should be, harmony between horse and rider. Since we're only walking in the photo, there's a good chance we were past the naming of the presidents and recalling the contents of my refrigerator.
Have a great weekend!
After my lesson with Dr. Christian Schacht, I had a chance to talk to him about it over a glass of wine. You know you've found an awesome clinician when he's willing to have a casual conversation about your ride, the day, and life in general.
I asked him how he knew that I needed to just think about something else while riding, and I was curious to know how often he'd used that strategy with other riders. To my surprise, he didn't know it would work, and he'd never done a lesson quite like that one before. In fact he offered a sort of apology because it wasn't really what you'd call a "dressage" lesson.
Typical lesson or not, I felt like it was the best lesson I'd ever had from him, and there have been many from which to choose. I rode with him again on Sunday, but that lesson turned out to be more like what you'd expect. While more traditional, he still incorporated exercises from the day before, and even threw in a few new ones.
#1 - What's in Your Refrigerator?
I explained this one yesterday, but in case you missed it, it works like this: think of the answers to questions that force your memory to recall information. For me, a simple Q and A wasn't sufficient as I frequently multi-task at work. So riding and answering a simple question wasn't enough.
Answering a two-step question proved to be much harder. Diving a number that left a remainder was so hard that it literally took me minutes to solve even the simplest problem. Think of 35 divided by 2 - nearly impossible for me. The more steps the problem took, the less I focused on my riding.
The refrigerator question was particularly challenging for me because I had to visualize each shelf to identify what was on it. I wasn't able to simply recall that there is juice and butter. My brain had to create a picture of the shelf. The more detailed the picture was, the less aware of riding I became.
#2 - Count to 20.
This isn't a novel strategy, but it worked wonders for me. Christian instructed me to count strides. To help, he counted aloud for me: 1, 2, 3 ,4 5 ... 10 ... 11 ... 12 ... 13 .... 14 ..... 15 ...... 16 ......... 17 .............. 18 ............... 19 .............................. 20 ... walk. Like magic, Izzy was walking when Christian said 20. I didn't do a single thing except follow his counting rhythm.
When I repeated the exercise and counted aloud, it didn't work. When I did it silently, I discovered that I could walk at any number as long as I started to slow my counting early enough. Christian also insisted that I count when my butt was in the saddle as opposed to when I rose. He also limited the count to 20. After twenty, the rhythm doesn't hold true.
#3 Bend and Go.
The third exercise was challenging enough that it felt as though my brain's wires were getting crossed. It forced me to go back and forth between left and right which always throws me off. By trying to to differentiate between left and right, I quit micromanaging my horse's stride.
The exercise was simply a series of changes of bend. It distracted me because of the confusing elements, but its real purpose is to supple the horse. I didn't worry about whether my horse was supple though as I was too busy counter bending, pointing my belly, and counting.
Simply begin by trotting a 20-meter circle tracking either left or right. Every three strides, change the bend and your rising diagonal, but turn your belly in the direction of the bend. For example, trot three strides tracking right, change your posting diagonal, change the bend to the left, and point your belly to the outside. Trot three strides, change your posting diagonal, change the bend, and point your belly to the inside.
It's a hypnotic exercise that requires a strong coordination of the aids, especially the use of the outside thigh. When the horse is counter bent, you will need to use the outside thigh to make the circle. After doing this exercise for a few minutes, Izzy got super adjustable and felt like putty in my hands.
This was a great clinic primarily because it restored my confidence. I had been having a sort of crisis of faith. I was constantly second guessing my ability level. I was quickly feeling like a completely incompetent rider who had no business bring along such a nice horse as Izzy.
Christian showed me that the problems were not my riding ability. In fact, the only time he corrected my position was to insist I sit taller and back in the canter, and that I lower my hands. Other than that, he felt my position and application of the aids was fine (at least for where we are right now).
Getting even that small amount of validation was huge. I don't need to be the best or even great. I just need to know that I am at least effective. And as we all know, getting a diagnosis eliminates a lot of the worry.
My diagnosis? Over thinking it. Prescription? Quit thinking about it so much.
I haven't ridden since Sunday (tired plus tons of life stuff to deal with), but I am looking forward to trying this all out on my own. Let me know if you try any of these exercises. I'd love to hear about it.
Best friend and I drove down to Moorpark this past weekend to ride in yet another Christian Schacht clinic. As usual, I walked away with a big hunk of WOW to try and digest at home.
Although we had a hiccup to start with, the clinic went super well. When I loaded Izzy to head to the clinic, I groaned in frustration when I saw his shoeless front foot. Best friend and I did a frantic search for the shoe, finally finding it buried in the dirt. I threw it in the trailer and called my trainer, who was also riding in the clinic. Within an hour, a farrier called me back and agreed to meet me at White Birch to tack it back on. Many thanks to Roger Bishop for saving the weekend.
Izzy did all of the traveling and over-nighting almost as well as Speedy. He loaded and unloaded like a champ, and stabled like a pro. He ended up sleeping in the show barn all alone, and while I doubt he was celebrating his solitary confinement, he handled it without a peep. He ate and drank well, and seemed much more confident about the whole experience.
My plan for the clinic was to figure out how to correctly ride this horse forward. I've been struggling with that. Christian does all of his lessons the same way: he asks you a few questions about your horse (how old is he? what's his breeding? and so on), and then he might ask you what you'd like to work on. It doesn't mean you'll get to work on what you want, but at least it's out there. After introductions, he simply sends you on your way.
I've ridden with him so many times now that I just ride the best I can and wait for him to start talking to me. For this lesson, I got a huge surprise. Christian's first words to me were to ask if I could recite the names of all the presidents. I laughed and said that I could name some of them but certainly not all of them. What the hell? was my first thought. What does that have to do with dressage?
As I trotted and cantered the circle at E/B, he asked me to just name the ones that I could. I opened my mouth and nothing came out. I mean nothing. I teach US history for Pete's sake. And then all of a sudden I remembered George Washington and then slowly, a few others began popping into my head. After I got to Clinton, Christian started peppering me with basic math problems. What's 22 times 3? Double it. Multiply it by 6. Divide it by 4. And so on. I was still trotting and cantering.
As before, my answers were slow and quite often wrong. I felt like someone with a brain injury. I knew I knew the answers, I teach fifth grade after all, but I just couldn't get my brain to work the answers out. I felt like a drunk trying to tie my shoes.
Finally, Christian asked me to name what was in my refrigerator. I was so relieved. I had just gone shopping that morning so I knew I would get the answers right! And then I didn't. I couldn't think of anything that was in my refrigerator. "Lettuce!" I said. But then I realized that I hadn't bought lettuce. Holy hell. What was going on?!
After some more prodding and coaxing, I was able to come up with a few items that truly were in my refrigerator. It was then that Christian asked me how my horse was going. What horse? OH MY GOD! You mean the compliant school master I've been jogging around for the past 15 minutes?!?!?!?
Okay, school master might be an exaggeration, but not by much. Izzy had settled into a workmanlike trot that was rhythmic and forward. He hadn't squealed, bolted, bucked, or misbehaved. In fact, Christian had me ride Izzy on the buckle as he crackled a plastic cup and dropped a sheet of paper as we walked by. I had seen none of it.
So what had happened? Christian explained it like this: my seat is fine and my aids are correct. I just need to get out of my own head and let my horse do his thing. According to Christian, and I don't doubt him for a moment, I am ALWAYS wondering what Izzy is going to do wrong, or I am wondering what needs fixing. ALL OF THE TIME.
That's what's been holding me back. Christian got me riding my horse without thinking about riding my horse. As soon as I just let my body do the work, Izzy was able to do his job. Christian went on to explain that I am riding a horse who is extremely sensitive to my every thought. If I am worried about how we're doing, Izzy is worried. If I am wondering if he's going to race around, Izzy is wondering why we're going so fast.
So. My take away from Day 1 is to quit thinking so much about riding while I am riding. To help myself do that, I need to be thinking about something else - like what is in my refrigerator. Getting out of my own head seems to be a key to our success!
Tomorrow - a few exercises that really helped.
It was hot yesterday. My car read as high as 109℉, but it was probably only 102℉ officially. Although Izzy looked as perky as always, I was tired after this weekend's clinic, so I didn't even bother to put on breeches. I showed up to the barn in shorts, a tank top, and wildly inappropriate flip flops. A clinic write-up is coming, I swear, but for now, I need to go on a bit more about how awesome my new barn is.
Regino, or Reggie for short, lives at the ranch and serves as an all-around fix-it guy. He runs the tractor, fixes stuff that breaks (ahem ... Izzy!), and takes care of the landscaping. Basically, he's fabulous. I mentioned that the arena was getting a teensy bit uneven and would it be possible for it to get smoothed out some time over the next few weeks and viola! - the ranch owner passed my request on to Reggie, and before I knew it, it was done.
Yesterday, Reggie noticed that I had both boys out on the lawn letting them graze, so he asked if I wanted him to drag Izzy's turnout. I didn't even have to ask, he volunteered. Having a dedicated "staff" is amazing.
I puttered around on the two front lawns while Reggie smoothed out Izzy's holes; he had at least three. While Reggie was at it, he scraped down the dried-out manure piles and spread them as well.
Before he drove the tractor in, he laughed about first needing to pick up all of Izzy's toys. He said he likes to heap them up in a pyramid shape because he knows that Izzy enjoys dismantling the pile. Notice the newly built pyramid.
While Reggie was still smoothing things out, I put Izzy on the other side (it's crossed fenced), and fed him his beet pulp and Platinum. When Reggie drove the tractor out, I locked the outside gate and opened the dividing gate to let Izzy have both sides again. Reggie came over to watch.
Izzy left his beet pulp and immediately went to investigate Reggie's handiwork. He sniffed the newly leveled ground, came over to both of us to give his approval, and then made his way back to his dinner.
Reggie and I both laughed at Izzy and hoped the work had met my big brown horse's expectations. The way in which he checked it out left us no doubt what he was doing.
Sometimes, being in shorts and flip flops is as productive as being in breeches and boots - right place, right time.
Most equestrians, especially those who compete in events sanctioned by USEF, know that Saturday was International Helmet Awareness Day.
Not to be a Negative Nancy here, but I sometimes wonder if it's not a case of the minister preaching to the choir - Amen, brother, preach it!
Almost everyone I know already wears a helmet, some of them thanks to me. The people I know who don't wear helmets tend to be western riders. I live in cowboy country (believe it or not), and most of the folks in my area don't wear a helmet. That got me thinking. Maybe the helmet awareness groups need to tweak their campaign a little because it seems as though a large segment of riders aren't embracing the notion that helmets save lives - or at least prevent brain damage.
As I was walking through the office hallway the other day, I am a teacher, I noticed two new posters hanging side by side. They were big ones, like two feet by three feet at least. There was a big brain in the center of each with text filled thought bubbles scattered around the outside. The title for each poster was the same: Every Concussion Deserves a Discussion.
At school, we deal with a lot of kids who don't always make good decisions. They flip over stuff, jump off stuff, and try their best to prove they are indestructible no matter how often that we remind them they are not. The posters are to remind the staff that a bump on the head can be more serious than just a goose egg.
Maybe shouting from the rooftops that we should all wear helmets to protect ourselves from death and serious injury isn't the most effective campaign.
I am a pretty big NASCAR fan. We watch the race every weekend. My husband roots for Bakersfield native, Kevin Harvick, while I root for the #48, Jimmie Johnson. Along with most NASCAR fans, I am also a Dale Earnhardt Jr. fan. For those who don't follow the sport, Earnhardt took a few good hits over the course of a couple of weeks earlier in the season.
If you don't follow NASCAR, you probably don't know about the MANY safety features built into those cars. Much of those came as a result of Dale Earnhardt Sr.'s death while racing at Daytona in 2001. Drivers wear helmets and are locked into position with a HANS device - among many other safety features. Even with all of his safety gear, Dale Earnhardt Jr. suffered a concussion that is severe enough that he voluntarily pulled himself from racing for the remainder of the season.
Dale started experiencing dizziness and other symptoms while driving and decided to see his doctor knowing that he was in all likelihood eliminating himself from championship contention. Not racing is a good way to lose your sponsors and even your spot on the team. Even NASCAR's most popular driver is at risk of losing his ride.
Dale has been very public about his condition which I think makes him an even better role model than before. If someone as blue collar and testosterone driven as Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is willing to talk about the dangers and lasting effects of traumatic brain injuries (TBI), the helmet awareness people need to get HIM as a spokesman. That might get the attention of our non-helmet wearing friends.
Dale Jr. is the perfect guy to lead the drive toward embracing the concept that every concussion deserves a discussion. Maybe that would encourage more riders to wear helmets.
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
*** SCEC 10/15-16/22
2022 Completed …
(*) Tehachapi 5/22/22
(*) Tehachapi 7/24/22
(***) Tehachapi 8/28/22
2023 Qualifying Scores
Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC)
Qualifying Training Level
3 Scores/2 Judges/60%:
Score 1: 62.115%