From Endurance to Dressage
This is turning out to be the most productive Thanksgiving ever; thank you Squanto and those seeking religious freedom. Who knew that the Pilgrims could help improve your contact and canter departures? As they say, don't look a gift horse in the mouth.
If you'll remember, Speedy and I had a frustrating lesson last Monday night. Our left lead canter has shown steady progress, but that right lead take off is crooked and crazy. If we were an airplane, we'd be veering all over the runway scattering ground crew and luggage.
My homework for the week was to straighten Speedy up by getting him off my outside leg so that he can support his weight on his own outside leg. The added benefit is that when he carries his own weight on that outside leg, he can't let it fly in an I-don't-wanna-shot-to-the-moon.
We worked on the canter departure on Wednesday and Thursday and Friday. On Saturday, something clicked. Speedy finally did a quiet right lead canter that was fairly straight and buck free. Even better was his downward transition - smooth as silk!
For Saturday's ride, I focused completely on his right side. After warming up, I asked him to trot while tracking right, but I put him in a slight counter bend around a 20-meter circle. Once he did that pretty willingly, I maintained the bend, but let him track left for a 10 meter circle on the correct bend. As he finished the 20-meter circle, we went back on the larger circle, still counter bent.
I've "drawn" a little sketch in hopes that you can see what I mean.
We worked this pattern for a few minutes until I was sure that he was off my outside leg and listening to my outside rein. As a test, I asked for a halt with the outside rein and bumped him with my outside leg; he halted squarely and away from my outside leg. Okay - now we're getting somewhere!
I again asked for the counter bend trot and told him to get ready for the canter. When we trot, JL has me "help" him (when needed) by alternately pulsing both reins to remind him not to pop up but rather to lift his back. I tried to achieve that same feeling at the canter: as I sat and moved my outside leg back, I started rocking the outside rein just a little to remind him to get back on his own outside leg. The first departure wasn't beautiful, but there was no bucking and the quality of the canter got really nice within a stride or two. We repeated the departure three or four more times, and each time was better than the one before.
It might not have looked great to the casual observer, but I felt that we had nailed it. Just to let Speedy know how much I appreciated his effort, we took a small trail ride around the neighborhood where he got to eat all the winter grass that he wanted. He looked pretty happy when we got back home.
Atta boy, Speedy G!
Our weather is sinfully lovely, low 70s with a brilliant blue sky. With four full days off, I am using every one of them to put some serious rides on both my boys.
I haven't really shared much on the Sydney front lately as we've just been motoring along pretty steadily. Some days I am frustrated by his inability to relax, and other days I am encouraged when I recognize how much better I am riding him. I know that our problems are actually my problems. Sydney doesn't just give it up; he makes me earn every balanced step.
I can't say it enough times; that simulator changed the way I am riding. My sense of feel has gone supernova. The stiffness in my right wrist is disappearing and my elbows have finally moved to center stage. My core is way more engaged, and I feel like it is stabilizing more and more each day.
This new body awareness has helped me ride Sydney much more effectively. We now canter every ride. We're better to the left, no surprise there, and even though it's not even close to pretty, we're also working on the right. Fortunately, Sydney and Speedy G share the same body issues. Both boys are stiff to the left and limp to the right. This is a god thing as what I learn on Speedy G can be used with Sydney.
Over the last month, my rides on Sydney have gone more or less like this: walk on the buckle one time around the arena. We then begin our trot work with a fairly loose rein, although the rein length is getting shorter each day. Our warm up includes a trot lap in each direction with a change across the diagonal. After the perimeter work, I do a three loop serpentine in each direction. I follow that with a couple of repeated passes across the diagonal and then a canter circle in both directions. By the end of the canter circles, Sydney is usually moving more forward and is ready to start bending.
I spend the rest of the ride asking him to supple his neck and ribs by doing a variety of exercises: random loopy circles, spiral in and out, 20-meter circle with a 10-meter circle at the top, and so on. On Wednesday, I decided to try some canter work after our suppling exercises. I haven't done this with him before as he tends to be anxious about the shortened rein already, and I know asking for anything else leads to blow ups.
I started left and was delighted that he picked up the canter without any fuss. This was a huge accomplishment. For me. He obviously just needed me to ride him better.
On Friday, I decided to test my new-found skills. We started as we always do: walk, loose rein trot, canter, and then on to more connected work. This time, I started shortening the rein early into the warm up. I focused on keeping my fingers closed, especially my ring finger, and I made sure my elbows were moving at my side. I also focused on moving from the elbow as opposed to moving my hands or wrists.
Right away I felt more balanced and much more secure in the saddle. As we rode, Sydney did his usual sometimes balanced, sometimes flipping his nose routine. I continued to move from the elbow asking him to soften to the inside while moving him away from my inside leg. All the while I paid close attention to supporting him with my outside rein; no running through the outside shoulder, please.
As we were nearing the end of the ride, I again asked for the canter. He made the transition willingly. But as I asked for a slightly more uphill canter, he gave a squeal, tossed his head and blew through the outside shoulder. For about three steps. I slid my inside hand down the rein, pulled straight back with my elbow, and bent him around my leg while insisting that he go forward.
My new found strength and balance surprised him and energized him at the same time. All of a sudden he rocked back on his hind end and gave me the most fabulous uphill canter. He also started giving the most adorable race horse snorts. Frankly, he rocked the canter! We made a few circles and transitioned down to trot. I immediately did a change of direction, which when he's anxious is a guaranteed way to get a blow up, but I brought him to me and sat deep on the pull. He made the turn and then gave me a brilliant and connected trot. He was uphill, on the bit, and fabulous. I just sat there supporting him.
We came back to a walk, and I praised him hugely. I hopped off and gave him a big smooch, which he loves, and hoped he felt as good about his work as I did. I wish I could convey how frustrating it has been to have a horse that I can't ride. Oh, don't misunderstand; I ride him all week long. I mean really ride him and make it look pretty.
Every other week I decide that I should just sell him to somebody who can do a better job with him. Then we have a decent ride and I think, well, maybe I can do this. I hope this is more than one of those times. I hope this is me really getting good enough so that he is hearing me and working with me. Either way, my elephant is a pretty distant memory, and Mt. Self-Doubt is looking smaller and smaller.
Can I get a hallelujah, Sister?!
I had a lesson this past Monday, but I was simply too busy to write about it. It was terrible. Speedy had a bug up his patootie and just didn't want to do it. And when I say IT, I mean anything and everything. We persevered, and we did learn something, but it was one of those time when you knew you were doing a whole lot of ugly in effort to ultimately get something pretty.
The problem was at the canter. When I came home from riding the simulator, our canter work improved immediately. It wasn't ooh la la or anything, but at least there was a hint of connection. So on Monday, JL tried to help us get even more connected and uphill.
Our left lead canter has a smoother departure. Speedy is "stiff" to this direction which makes the departure fairly straight. We ultimately need to get a better bend, but at least he canters promptly. To the right is an entirely different can of worms. This is his limp "side" and there is nothing straight about it.
In an effort to straighten him up, both literally and figuratively, I've been riding him straight around the circle. It's not quite in a counter bend, but his nose is not tipped into the circle; it points forward. We do this to get his left ribcage away from my outside leg. If I try to ride a bend before he's straight, he leans on my outside leg and tries to blow through the outside shoulder. And he bucks or kicks out.
With nose pointed forward, JL asked for a right lead canter. I don't know how I stuck to the saddle because Speedy blew a serious gasket. He bucked and bolted and kicked all four legs in all four cardinal directions. We tried a few more times and realized we needed to go back a step.
Instead of cantering, JL had me put him a counter bend and track right at the sitting trot. Every quarter of the circle I asked for a halt with the outside rein until he finally moved his ribs off my outside leg.
We did the counter bend circle for a while and then while maintaining that same bend, we turned left. Eventually, Speedy softened up and we had a nice straight horse. We went back to the canter, but it did no good. He did not want to work off that outside hind leg to the right; he bucked and kicked out for at least 20 minutes.
It was a lot of ugly. We finally called it a night. As I walked him down JL's driveway, he was higher than a kite during his version of the Arabian-Look- At-Me: prancing on rubber band legs, tail flipped over his back, neck arched, nostrils flaring, and eyes big and wide. I gave him some repeated jabs in the neck with my elbow to remind him that HELLO! Your human is under all of this stupidity. By the time we walked up our own driveway, all of his air had gone out and he looked tired, really tired. Good. I hoped he was tired. It served him right.
All of that work paid off however, as he has been much better the last few days. His canter departures still need some work, but he decided that the buck and bolt maneuver resulted in more work than he was willing to do. I rode Wednesday and Thursday and will ride later this morning as well. With a long weekend ahead, he's going to get plenty of canter practice. I'd like to have a shorter, easier lesson this upcoming Monday.
Consider the canter, Speedy G; we can do this the hard way or the right way!
Nothing says Thanksgiving like the Peanuts gang. They're all slightly dysfunctional kids, but their hearts are always in the right place. Isn't that who we all are really? A bit dysfunctional at times but overall really awesome people?
If you're more Norman Rockwell, you're probably reading someone else's blog this morning. Well actually, if you're in NR's camp, you're enjoying a fireside cup of cocoa dressed in perfectly pressed trousers with perfectly coifed hair as you politely converse with your loved ones. The Charlie Brown folks are reading blogs in their sweats while a muddy dog sits underfoot shedding dirt and hair in its wake (much like Pig Pen) while only half-heartedly worrying about whether the bottom of the pie is burnt.
As for me and mine, we're definitely Charlie Brown's people, and my list of what to be thankful for includes a dog and glad-the-ball's-not-getting-jerked-out-from-under-me moments.
I am thankful for ...
Have a great Thanksgiving, everyone!
The USDF recently launched a score tracking site quite similar to Jay Steven's CenterlineScores.com. They're calling it, USDFScores.com.
Dressage-News wrote a great article about the USDF's site here, but to save you the trouble of finding their site, I've just cut and paste the article for you to read down below.
I've posted about CenterlineScores several times; I like the site. It's easy to use, the available data goes back quite a few years, and best of all, IT'S FREE. I can't say the same about USDFScores. I wanted to give the USDF's site a fair shake, but in all honesty, it's not as user-friendly as Steven's CenterlineScores, and it's nowhere as inclusive.
First off, to use the USDF's site, you have to be a USDF member. What if you're new to dressage and simply want to verify a trainer's credentials? You won't be able to if you're not already a USDF member. On the other hand, to use CenterlineScores, simply type in the name of any horse or any rider and you have access to all scores from as far back as 1993. No membership required.
Let's say I want to use USDF's site to check out the scores of a horse from 2010. I am a USDF member, but since I am only a Group Member, I don't have access to that horse's scores. I only have access to the current competition year's scores. Once again, CenterlineScores will get me the data I need. Once I've entered the name of the horse or rider in whom I'm interested, I can look at every score available since 1993.
I know that USDFScores "is the official source for the most accurate and complete dressage scores," but I'll stick with CenterlineScores; it's more on my level.
If you're not quite sure what the big deal is, check out COTH - this is obviously a controversial topic that many riders care about. The argument over there is that USDF shouldn't provide the data for free. I am on Jay's side here; his site is much easier to use, and it's much more inclusive. Let's hope the USDF figures it out.
LEXINGTON, Kentucky, Oct. 3–The United States Dressage Federation on Wednesday launched USDFScores.com as its official source for complete dressage scores and available free of charge to members of the organization, competing against a privately developed site that has been available to everyone at no cost for more than 15 months.
The USDF said its new web site features expanded search functionality, customizable reports with advanced sorting and graphing options and access to USDF qualifications and standings. It is similar in appearance and functionality to Centerlinescores.com that was launched in June, 2011, that was funded by solely by the owner, Jay Stevens.
USDF said its Group, Participating, or Business members can access current competition year scores and additional related information. Participating and Business members will also have access to Lifetime and Regional Championship Qualifying Ride score.
“As the only official, and most complete, source for USDF scores, this site will be a valuable resource for competitors, horse owners and show managers,” USDF Executive Director Stephan Hienzsch said. “This enhanced member benefit also makes lifetime score reports available to Participating and Business members at no additional cost.”
He said USDFScores.com is a dedicated site providing a new and improved version of the USDF score check and report function that the organization had made available to members for 10 years.
“The biggest investment has been the meticulous creation of a unique score and competition data base for dressage scores earned through USDF recognized/USEF licensed competitions,” he said. “This is data that USDF staff has been processing for over 35 years and verifies and maintains on a daily basis. This is why USDF has the most complete and accurate data and where the biggest investment is for USDF.”
Jay Stevens of Centerlinescores.com said that he began work on creating the program to easily access the USDF database in November 2010. It took him about eight months to complete the project for launch in June 2011.
He described the creation of the site and its maintenace as a “labor of love” on which he had spent a great deal of time and effort but had virtually no revenue.
“I didn’t expect it to be as successful as it has been in terms of popularity and the tone of the feedback from the users,” he said.
The USDF’s Stephan Hienzschhas said that Centerlinescores.com has no authorized connection to either the old or new version of USDF score checks. USDF requires membership to access the service to its members and “as such USDF has a responsibility to provide a certain level of integrity to how member information is made available.”
Jay Stevens of Centerlinescores.com said: “The degree to which they (USDF) have tried to create an exact copy of CenterlineScores.com is really astonishing. Honestly, more disconcerting to me than the blatant copycat implementation of my screens and tables is the claim that USDFScores.com is somehow the ‘most accurate and complete’ source for dressage scores.
“Over the last year, I have fielded hundreds of support emails from riders concerned about incorrect or incomplete data on CenterlineScores.com. In all of those cases, there has not been one case where we showed data that was different from USDF’s.
“I know, because I’ve paid to pull multiple lifetime score reports when there was a question. Often, these are simply cases of miskeying of USDF numbers by someone at the show or at USDF and we are usually able to correct the errant data (riders submit copies of tests, etc.). As a result, we have made corrections to over 400 scores in the database to date, so I am confident that the historical data presented on our site is the most accurate available anywhere.”
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