From Endurance to Dressage
Many thanks to Tracy over at Fly On Over for nominating me for the Sunshine Award. Tracy, a life time rider, has started a new adventure with her new equine partner, Miles. I am so eager to read more about their journey!
The Sunshine Award is for people who "positively and creatively inspire others in the blogosphere." The nominee must do the following: thank the person who nominated her, nominate ten bloggers of her own, answer the ten questions given to her, and post them and the Sunshine Award button to her blog.
I love blogging, and I love reading others' blogs. The blogosphere is an awesome community of supportive, friendly, and genuinely thoughtful people. I could easily choose more than 10 blogs to receive the Sunshine Award, but rules are rules. Here are ten blogs that you should check out.
First, I would like to give a shout out to Mia over at Avandarre in Dressage. Mia is a quiet blogger, but she never ceases to inspire me or offer words of encouragement.
Second, I'd like to introduce you to Tara of Collieful Living. Tara is a military wife who also manages to have an equine life.
Third is Amanda of Keeping it Low Key. Amanda's blog is interesting to read for the same reason as Tara's. She's also a military wife who manages to balance her (sometimes) life abroad with her horses.
I am sure Sarah at Eventing in Color will be nominated many times, but that's because she's such a great person and equally wonderful mom to her OTTB. Check her out!
Austen, who writes Guinness on Tap, is also a blogger you should check out, especially if you're a dressage rider. She writes very openly about her successes and failures on her own Irish Thoroughbred.
The Longest Format is a relatively new blog about Hannah's forray into endurance riding. She was an eventer, and may still be, but for now she's trying something new!
Calm, Forward, Straight is another dressage blog that I follow. She could use an encouraging word right now though, as she suffered a nasty broken bone just recently. She definitely needs a Sunshine Award about now!
Mel, over at Boots and Saddles is always a good read especially if you like reading about endurance, dressage, or vet school.
I recently started reading Tales From a Bad Eventer. She's funny, and seems quite knowledgeable. Definitely pop over and give her a quick read.
And finally, you might try reading A Riding Habit. Bonita writes about her dressage experience from Down Under (Australia, I think).
There's a long list of other blogs that I read, but most have already been nominated! You might try reading She Moved to Texas (one of my favorites) and A Horse Crazy American in Germany (another serious favorite).
And now to answer the ten required questions:
Mares or Geldings: I am fine with either. I had only had mares until I acquired Mickey Dee in 2001. Since him, I've bought two other geldings (Speedy G and Sydney).
English or Western: Why is there never an endurance choice? (That always bugs me). The answer is English, of course. Growing up, it was always bareback, and once I became an adult, it was endurance. While I had a borrowed western saddle, I never felt any affinity for that riding style. I quickly bought several endurance saddles, one of which is modeled after a dressage saddle. That would be my Tucker Equitation.
Do you prefer "younger" or "older" horses? I bought Speedy G as a three year old and said, never again! At 42, I am simply not bouncy enough to bring along those baby Arabs. I don't get much enjoyment out of senior ponies either. If and when a new equine enters my life, I'll be looking in the 8 - 10 year old ranger range.
Do you prefer riding or groundwork? Riding, of course, but I love to do groundwork. It's essential for a good riding relationship. You always need respect from your horse while on your own two feet.
Have you trained a horse from ground zero? Yes and no! I've had many green horses, and I raised a foal from birth to two years old. I haven't taken a foal to riding status, but I've done all of the chunks in between. The closet I've come to starting and finishing a horse was Mickey Dee. He came to me as a recently gelded six year old with a lot of baggage who was only somewhat halter broke. I helped him become quite the model citizen.
Do you board your horse or keep it at home? Right now, I board at someone else's home, but I've done it all.
Do you do all natural stuff or just commercial stuff? I use whatever works and am usually skeptical of the all natural route. I like my products to have FDA or vet approval. I don't use too much extra anyway. The only products I use on my horses are Pyranha fly spray, Scarlex wound spray, betadine scrub, Mane and Tail, and Eqyss Solution (for manes and tails). And that's it.
All tacked up or bareback: Tacked up, but I do enjoy hopping up on Speedy G for short rides sans tack. Sydney isn't dependable enough to try that yet.
Equestrian model? I don't think I have any one particular equestrian hero, but there are many riders I admire: Steffen Peters and Hilda Gurney come to mind. I've seen Hilda ride several times over this past year and have actually spoken to her in passing. I like her matter of fact way of riding and her down to earth attitude.
What's your one, main goal while being in the horse world? I don't really like this question as it suggests that leaving the horse world is an option. Having horses is a way of life for me. I may change what I do with them, but I won't ever lose interest in horse ownership. The day may come where I am physically unable to ride, but even then I would volunteer as a scribe, sponsor, or owner of aged lawn ornaments.
Blog awards are more like "games" rather than any kind of actual "award." They're just an entertaining way to get to know each other, but I like playing so thanks again, Tracy, for the nomination!
Mia, over at Avandarre in Dressage, commented a little while ago about goal setting. You can read her comment here, but you'll have to scroll down to the bottom.
I always think I have goals, but after reading Mia's comment, I realized that my goals aren't very specific. Instead, they tend to be more nebulous: compete at First Level, make it to so many shows a year, go to a clinic. And when my goals are more specific, they cover things like: qualify for the regional show, earn enough scores for such and such award, and so on. Mia helped me see that I might benefit from some actual riding goals.
Sydney needs to get off the property, but shows and clinics are awfully expensive, especially if he's going to be a freakazoid the whole time. So after I got back from the clinic and debriefed with JL, she formulated a realistic, workable goal that I really like.
I have been planning on participating in the next Christian Schacht Clinic for some time but was planning on taking both horses for both days. If you've ever ridden in a clinic, you already know how expensive they are. If they're expensive for one horse and rider team, imagine the cost of taking two horses!
So here's JL's plan: IF I can get the right lead canter consistently without any theatrics on a regular basis by the end of November, Sydeny goes to the clinic. If not, he doesn't get to go, and I save myself $400. I love this plan.
I am sure you're asking why this particular goal? Simple. The right lead canter has been a tension inducing moment for Sydney. Mastering, or least getting control of, that moment in time will be a good indicator of my control over-all. If I can control the right lead canter, I'll have much better control over the rest of his body.
I don't know if it's too quick to make a judgement, but we haven't had a right lead canter bauble since we got back from the clinic. I've got five more weeks to decide, but things are definitely looking up.
Last thing on the clinic, I swear! (Well ... there might be one more thing!)
I was so excited for Monday's lesson. I actually felt as though Sydney and I had taken a huge step forward. And it's only partly due to the clinic; JL herself played a big role. She has been working very hard to help me help Sydney rebalance himself so that we can pick up that right lead canter nicely. The key has been to keep a steady feel on the outside rein while not letting his haunches escape to the outside.
When I rode on Sunday, I started out with Susanne's exercises. After doing the walk work, I went right into the up, up, sit exercise. For those of you working on your two-point, consider trying this exercises as it gives you a moment to release your muscles in the sit phase of the exercise. Even so, up, up, sit is hard work, but it is amazing how it helps the rider maintain a softer rhythm.
After that exercise, I juggled my way around the arena, and then I did some seat massaging. That's the one where you land your seat bone in a different spot. By the time I had run through each of the exercises, Sydney was super relaxed and ready to canter.
As I shortened my reins to prepare for the canter, I was shocked to realize that we were tracking right, his more difficult direction. All of the exercises that we had done had worked to soften and balance him so much that it felt like we were on his better direction. I decided to go for it and was rewarded with a solid right lead canter that was free of bucks and squeals. Holy crap.
When I got to JL's on Monday for my lesson, I told her about the exercises and asked if I could just show them to her and then go straight to the right lead canter. She agreed of course, and was quite pleased with how much better put together we were.
So there I was juggling and dancing in the saddle. Sydney gave lots of happy snorts and played the good pony. And just like I knew he would, he picked up a lovely right lead canter. I was grinning from ear to ear.
JL was really happy with our work. She tweaked a few things here and there, like my tendency to over-ask for the canter, but overall, Sydney and I had finally reached a place where there was no drama. After all of the smoke and bombs of the last few weeks, a drama free ride was a deep relief.
Before we finished, I brought up one finally point of Susanne's: the rider's shoulders must always stay above the pelvis. I know this is a problem for me. Occasionally, especially at the canter, I get left behind. JL had a brilliant solution. Instead of just thinking about keeping my chest over my pelvis, she had me think of not letting my chest and belly over extend. If you're sitting down, lean back, that's how I over-extend.
During the canter, your pelvis kind of scoops forward. If you let it, your spine will allow your head and shoulders to stay behind the motion forcing you to whiplash your shoulders into place. That's what I've been doing.
She had me think instead to stop my hip angle from over-opening. As Sydney cantered, I followed with my seat, but at the last moment, I resisted at the top of the stride and kept my hip angle from over-opening. This kept my shoulders and chest above my pelvis and kept me from "whiplashing" back into position. His canter got nicely uphill and super quiet and the downward transition to trot was really smooth.
The whole lesson only lasted about a half an hour. Sydney was relaxed and happy and cantering both directions without falling in or bucking or rearing. Before I ever grouse about a lesson again, I am going to give it a few days to allow the information to actually sink in. And if you ever get a chance to audit one of Susanne von Dietze's clinics, I strongly suggest you do it. All I can say is ... wow.
I am writing this three days after the clinic, but by the time you read it, I will have had a lesson and ridden several more times. I hate to post things so out of order, but I really need to write this right now while it is fresh in my mind.
I didn't get to ride for the first few days after the clinic. This is a good thing as I came home frustrated and disappointed. By the time I was finally able to ride, I had had a chance to talk to JL about the clinic and come up with some riding goals for the next six weeks; that's a post for another day. I also had some time to let go of my frustration and move forward. In the end, I had a great ride on both horses.
I ended up using several of the exercises that Susanne showed other riders. I didn't take notes, so my explanations are probably going to be a bit off, but the exercises do work. The biggest component to doing the exercises correctly, is to do everything to the horse's rhythm. That means you can move any part of your body almost any way you want to as long as you stay in rhythm.
Exercise 1: Up, Up, Down
This exercise can be modified by doing a down, down, up rhythm as well. Essentially, you rise for two beats and sit for one. The purpose of the exercise is to firm up your lower leg and control the rhythm of your posting. Sydney loved it and responded immediately by releasing a great deal of tension and asking to stretch over his top line.
Exercise 2: Juggling
I didn't actually see Susanne show this to anyone, but I watched her do it, and she later showed it to me while we were in the the barn. Basically, as you trot, you send one hand up and then the other hand up, back and forth. Don't pull on the reins, just lift your hands alternately to the rhythm of the trot. This helped me focus on maintaining the rhythm without needing to pull back. Both horses responded really well, Speedy especially.
Exercise 3: Land Your Seat Bone in a Different Place
Holy hell! This is the best exercise I have ever done on horseback. I can't believe how it instantly released my lower back and the tension around my pelvis. I can't guarantee that I did it exactly right, but I don't care as both of my horses loved the sensation.
Susanne had all kind of visual images: imagine your seat bones are providing a massage; where does he want you to land?, and so on. As I rode, I kind of danced with my hips to the rhythm of the trot so that I truly landed in a different spot each time. Susanne's explanation was that this encourages the horse to lift his back as you aren't pressing down in the same place every time you sit.
Exercise 4: Move Each Part of Your Body Individually
I didn't do it exactly like Susanne instructed. When she asked riders to do it, it went like this: at the trot move just your head to the left, center, right at the rhythm of the trot. Then pick other body parts; move your rib cage to the right, center, and left; move your shoulders to the right, center, and left. You can go all the way down your body to even include your legs. Instead of doing it like this, I just did my whole body to the right, center, and left. It was incredibly liberating to dance to my horse's trot rhythm! I also did shoulder rolls, one of her other exercises, and hip wiggles (my words). Basically, you should be able to move your body all around your horse to his trot rhythm.
I might have looked goofy doing all of this, but both of my boys moved better than they ever have before! It was so much fun that I didn't want to quit riding. And it wasn't just relaxing for me; both of my boys moved better as I was moving. Instead of toting around a block of wood, my boys were carrying a rider who was matching their own movement. I was helping them to keep their balance!
But ... there's even more!!!!! I'll share my Monday lesson tomorrow.
By the way, Speedy finally felt completely sound about 10 days after Jaime pulled the shoe and re-shod him. I think it's safe to say that little pebble was the problem. he is a bit of a diva for sure. The princess with her pea has nothing on my boy!
I didn't love the clinic. I wanted to. I thought I would, but the connection between teacher and student just wasn't there. I enjoyed watching Susanne von Dietze teach, and I kept going, wow - that's an interesting idea as she coached other riders, but when it was my turn, nothing.
I know everyone else was on fairly quiet, well behaved horses so it was easy to hold your arm here and look to the left, and so on. Susanne's work focuses on helping the rider balance and get in touch with her body by performing numerous exercises. Susanne couldn't do any of the exercises with me because I was on Mr. Hyde. There was no way I could hold my hand anywhere but on the reins as I fought my freight train.
The problem is, I went to the clinic hoping that the clinician could help me work Sydey through his away from home anxiety. I knew that he was going to behave exactly as he did. That's been his M.O. for the past year; Dr. Jekyll becomes Mr. Hyde.
And when I say he was Hyde, I mean it. He bucked, squealed, ducked, whirled, and bolted about every 8 seconds. A very kind rider gave me the best compliment I think I've ever received. After I rode, she said, "no one could have ridden that horse and made it look easy." I appreciated her honesty. He was a complete pain in the ass for both days, but I stayed on through every dirty duck and whirl.
I am not sure we learned a whole lot. When I got home, I spent an hour and a half debriefing with JL. Based on what I was able to tell her about the experience, we were able to put together a good over-view of what had happened and why. Between the two of us, we plotted out a solid course of action for the next two months that I am really excited about. JL's opinion of clinics is that if a rider takes away even two things from the clinic, then it was a success. Our discussion and resulting plan was thing number one.
On top of that, here are two additional things that I found useful:
Susanne von Dietze said many other things that were helpful: always think of helping your horse; move as much as you want to, but do it in the rhythm; and keep your shoulders over your pelvis so you don't get left behind the action.
I guess the clinic was useful. I wish that I had walked away feeling empowered and more knowledgeable. Instead, I left feeling defeated. It was only after discussing the whole thing with JL that I felt energized and ready for more.
Here is an interesting series of photos that my pal, CT, shot on Day 1.
When I started the lesson, Sydney immediately bolted and bucked and threw a fit. He couldn't walk because he was so tense and tightly coiled; all he could do was jump and spin. No matter how much anyone says to simply release the reins and let him reach and stretch, it ain't gonna happen. Instead, putting him on the small circle so he can go as fast as he wants is the only way to get him to start reaching with his hind legs.
I just have to be able to stick all the bucks and whirls until that actually starts to happen!
I wrote this the other day. Since coming back from the clinic, I have had more time to think and practice what I saw. Holy cow! I learned a lot more than I thought. Before you tell me to sell Sydney, give me a few days to tell you more!
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 …
8/7-8 SCEC (***)
10/30-31 SCEC (***)
2021 Completed …
10/24-25 SCEC (***)
11/7-11/8 SB (***)
4/10-11 SCEC (***)
5/16-17 El Sueño (***)
6/26-27 SCEC (***)
7/17-18 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