From Endurance to Dressage
Well that answers the can he or can't he question from the other day. If you don't have a trainer, and if you go through periods of huge self doubt, you really need to get one. Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, really knows how to bring out the best in a horse and rider team without giving the rider false expectations.
She never came right out and said Speedy will be brilliant at Third Level, so quit worrying because in all likelihood he won't be. Instead, she helped me tackle the lateral work problem. The first issue was that Speedy was stuck on my inside rein and leg. As I started the trot half pass, Chemaine instructed me to ride a 10-meter circle while pushing him away from my leg. Then I went back to half pass, but every time I felt him heavy on my inside rein and leg, I repeated the 10-meter circle. We did a lot of 10-meter circles, but the exercise worked.
The next thing Chemaine helped me address was lightness. Speedy has been so heavy primarily because I am driving him to the bit. She laughed when she said that I've crammed him so far into the box that he can't get anymore into the box. She said I now need to let him go and see if he'll hold himself where he needs to be.
The exercise went a little like this: half pass, let him go, collect him, let him go. Repeat, repeat, repeat. And of course, the exercise worked. While the half pass didn't look brilliant, Speedy was finally soft in the bridle and moving laterally. I am sure he felt as relieved as I did.
Since my arena is short and wide, riding the half pass can be tricky as I run out of room. Chemaine gave me yet another new exercise that helps with the geometry while continuing the lateral work. It goes more or less like this:
The last thing we worked on was the flying change. Surprisingly, the change wasn't the thing I felt we needed to work on; I've had those more or less under control. In fact, we got them without too much fuss. Chemaine, never one to leave me without something new to work on, suggested we put the canter half pass and flying changes together.
Guess what happened? Yup. Speedy and I got the flying change out of canter half pass the first time. I am not sure who was more surprised, me, or Chemaine!
Speedy wasn't a bit surprised. He knew exactly what he was doing.
If I am frustrated and dejected with where Speedy and I are, I am on Cloud 9 with Izzy's progress. After nearly four years of work, Izzy has finally decided to join my team. My mom and her husband were here over the weekend and even she commented on how obvious it is that he loves me.
My mom is a generous soul. She knows how much I need to ride, so even though they had driven nearly the length of California over the past week, she happily agreed to sit on the mounting block and shoot pictures while I schooled Izzy.
As I rode, I described what I was working on. She loves horses and thinks dressage is pretty cool, but she doesn't yet recognize all of the movements. I am sure it didn't help that we weren't doing them spectacularly either. But even so, it helped her to know what I was at least trying to do.
Right now, my rides on Izzy are no longer about teaching him how to be a good equine citizen. I am now schooling most of the movements from Second Level and even some from Third. The more complicated the movement, the happier he is.
Most days, I can now school the walk pirouettes, the counter canter, and the trot half pass. He loves it all. The turn on the haunches still throws him for a bit of a loop, but if I start it big, he really starts to sit for the second or third stride, and suddenly it's a full pirouette.
The counter canter hasn't come easily, he loves to throw in a flying change, but he now understands it. I simply have to reassure him that I won't let him fall. As long as I have a solid hold on the "inside" shoulder and remind him to stand up on it, he relaxes into the counter canter and holds it easily. We can now do a full lap around around the arena without losing the lead. The flying change is next!
None of what we're doing is fantastic. His stride is still a bit short, but he's begging to stretch, and he is 100% with me. He doesn't check out anymore, and he wants to work. He's enjoying himself, and he genuinely likes what we're doing. I can't tell you how grateful I am that I stuck it out with him. There were many days that I wrote for sale ads with every intention of posting them.
Those days are gone; I've finally decided to keep him. Check back with me next week though. I am enjoying this version of him while it lasts!
This is the first time that I've wondered whether Speedy can actually do the work I am asking of him. From Intro through Second Level, I knew he could do the movements. How hard is it to do a stretchy trot circle or lengthen your stride just that little bit more?
Over the years, plenty of doubters have questioned whether or not Speedy could move up the levels. He's an Arab, it will be too hard for him. His back is too long. His back is too short. His croup is too high. His neck is set too low. A lot of doubters.
All along, I've defended him saying that every horse can walk, trot, and canter. That's really all that First Level asks for. For Second Level, we finally needed to stretch ourselves a bit. It wasn't easy; we had to dig deeper than we had before. Even so, we got it together and came out of the season with more "wins" than I ever thought we'd get.
Now we're schooling the movements from Third Level. The changes are coming; I am definitely feeling what we need to do to make them happen. They're not easy, of course, but Speedy's getting the idea. Over the weekend, he actually threw in a change before I asked for it which means we're making progress toward a new and different problem.
It's the lateral movements that are killing us. He just can not get the half pass at trot. To the right, we've got something that looks passable, but it's practically in slow motion. To the left, forget it. He simply will not soften on the left side.
Chemaine said something the other day that really stuck. When I can get the correct bend, I can get out of the way so that he can bring his haunches around for the half pass. That idea is what helped me get any sort trot half pass to the right, and the canter half pass? Forget about it. I can't get anything.
Right now, I am beating myself up. Am I asking for too much? Are my expectations simply too high? Does he need more strength? Am I going too fast? Was Second Level the best he can do? And the hardest question I ask myself, can he even do Third Level?
The whole thing is made even more discouraging since Izzy's trot half pass, walk pirouettes, and walk to canter are all already better than Speedy's. Izzy is far more talented, but it all comes with a lot more drama.
I really want to get Speedy to Third. He deserves it. I just don't know if he can do it.
I try to keep things on topic here which usually means all things equine. Occasionally I wonder off though and share about a vacation we've taken, or I'll write about my dogs. I don't consider that to be too off topic though as horses and dogs just go together.
Last weekend, my husband and I headed over to Bakersfield's annual Via Arte, an Italian street painting festival. Bakersfield's event is always held at the Market Place, an upscale, outdoor shopping and entertainment center. A large section of the parking lot is cordoned off where artists, both local and visiting, transform the asphalt into works of art with chalk.
The school where I teach is one of the only schools in Bakersfield that employs a real life artist, as opposed to me with my rudimentary kindergarten ability to draw. My teaching credential says I am qualified to teach art to kids, but who are they kidding?
Thank goodness for Miss K. She's an amazing art teacher, and our students love her. Do you know who Miss Frizzle is? Ms. K dresses just like her except her dresses are art and holiday inspired and well, just better. Ms. K and her team enter a lot of chalk art festivals as professionals, no adult ammies here. As often as not, she'll report back having won the people's choice award or even best in show.
When we got to the festival, I dragged my husband past each artist's spot scanning the crowd for Ms. K. When I finally spotted her resting in the shade, I squealed in delight. She had done the BEST piece of art.
Ms. K explained that the original painting, done by Domenichino in 1602, was of Giulia Farnese, the pope's mistress. She is pictured with a unicorn which represents virginity. The painting is entitled, A young Lady and a Unicorn. Via Arte's theme for 2018 was Italian art. I think Ms. K and her team nailed it.
Ms. K always includes two secret images in her work, a Mickey Mouse and a goldfish. I found the goldfish pretty easily, but I needed help for Mickey. Check out the unicorn's hooves and the base of the mane. Did you find them?
Hey, not so far from equine related stuff after all.
A year or so ago, we tried putting Izzy in a double bridle to see if that would make things more clear (and more comfortable) for him. It was an amazing success for about three days. Of course the wheels fell off the bus very quickly, but the whole experiment gave me some good information in general.
Now that Speedy and I are tackling Third Level, we're finding things to be hard again. I can't get him sitting enough, or soft enough, or pushing powerfully enough. During one particularly tough ride, it occurred to me to stick him in one of Izzy's ported bits. I didn't, but at that moment I realized why riders use a double bridle at Third.
When Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, came for my most recent lesson, we talked about how Speedy was bridled. She agreed that a double was likely in our future, but not yet. We both agreed on that. I suggested adding a flash, and she agreed.
One of the ways he's been "getting away from me," is by gaping his mouth hugely to avoid the contact, especially when asking for the flying change. He's always opened his mouth a little bit when he's being fussy, but it was never enough for me to clamp his mouth shut with a flash.
Chemaine put it this way: I've always been very nice to Speedy by riding him in a loose cavesson with no flash. Coming from an endurance background where comfort is king, I've never chosen my dressage tack based on what is "normal." Even though a flash is pretty standard for most dressage horses, I didn't use one. I reasoned that if Speedy didn't need one, why use it? I always figured that if you use all of your tools from the start, you run out of options pretty quickly. Well, now Speedy needs a flash.
From the first ride in the flash, I had much better control, and Speedy wasn't able to avoid the contact. I could see him really thinking about things rather than trying to just bolt through it all. For now, I have the cavesson and flash set as loosely as they can be while still doing something, but I am certain both will need to be tightened.
I'd rather wait as long as possible before moving to a double bridle, and If I am the only rider doing Third Level without one, it won't bother me in the least. I am sure Speedy won't mind either.
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 …
5/16-17 El Sueño (***)
5/23 TMC (*)
6/12-13 SB (***) OR
6/19-20 El Sueño (***)
6/27 TMC (*)
7/3-4 Burbank (***) OR
7/17-18 El Sueño (***)
7/25 TMC (*)
8/14-15 RAAC (Q) (***)
8/29 TMC (*)
2021 Completed …
10/24-25 SCEC (***)
11/7-11/8 SB (***)
4/10-11 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