From Endurance to Dressage
When I went to my lesson on Monday, JL asked how it was going. I gave a slightly melodramatic sigh and then lamented the fact that it's the same old crap each week. I wasn't throwing myself a pity party so I quickly added that while it's the same old crap, at least Sydney is a thousand times better than he was just three months ago. I am simply learning to ride him better and better.
Before, when he did a duck and bolt move, he would get all the way across the arena and have time to throw in a few bucks and rears. Now, I can feel it coming, and I can usually catch it before it's much more than a dropped shoulder. Occasionally, he still gets away form me, but I can put him back together quickly, and there's rarely any fear of actually get dumped (although, sometimes …).
So that's what we worked on. Packaging him up tighter and quicker with fewer and fewer unbalanced strides.
The number one rule is that he NEVER, under any circumstances, gets to look to the outside. If we're walking, he's looking to the inside. If we're standing around resting, he's looking to the inside. He does not EVER get to crane his head around to look at ANYTHING. I've got this part down pretty consistently. JL hasn't had to correct that in a while.
The next thing is to really tighten up the left lead canter. There is no more long neck, and I am not holding him up, EVER. He can carry his own weight, and he does not get to be heavy in the bridle EVER. When he even thinks about leaning on me, I give whichever rein he's heavy on a big old swing to say LET IT GO! I am getting pretty good at this, too.
I am just rocking' it, aren't I?
And now we're working on fixing the unevenness in the right lead canter. JL had me approach our trouble in a new way. We've been working on small circles to get him to let go and bend, but the transition to the canter has not followed well. Instead, she had me separate the two issues: getting an inside bend is separate from a canter departure.
That really helped me see this as two different issues. As we prepare for the right lead canter, if he's heavy on the inside rein, I can't get an inside bend which also means that I've lost the outside connection because if I try to use the outside rein, nothing is going to go through to the outside hind. It's a little bit of a case of the chicken and the egg. I can't get an inside bend, and I can't use the outside rein effectively.
So when he won't bend, I insist on an inside bend by really flexing him and moving him sideways. Before Monday, I was just trying to move his hindquarters away. We were effectively doing a turn not the forehand. JL had me think of moving his shoulders out instead while keeping his inside hind in. Then he'll truly be bent around my inside leg.
To get a feel for the movement. She had me do a turn on the haunches to the left while keeping Sydney's neck bent to the right. It was hard! At first, he simple backed up, but with some persistence, he finally stepped to the left while keeping a bend to the right.
So. My homework now is to try to pick up a right lead canter with an inside bend without his hind end drifting out all over the place!
You might remember that I decided to slim down a little at the end of the summer. I am happy to report that I've lost 15 pounds (and counting). I am happy with where I am right now, but my ultimate pie in the sky goal would be to drop 7 more. With my current level of muscle, I am not sure I can get that low, but I am going to keep trying.
This is very dressage related, although probably not the most timely of topics. I am writing this today, the day after our national stuff yourself 'til you're in a coma day to keep myself motivated and on track.
How again is this dressage related? Simply put, I haven't felt this good in a long time. When I ride, I feel secure not only throughout my core, but my legs feel steady, and my arms feel strong. My seat feels lighter and more balanced, and I have tons of energy.
I like how I feel so much that I thought I'd share with you how I got here. Not everything I do will work for everyone, but if you get an idea that you can apply to your own routine, yah! If you're at your ideal weight, feel free to skip the rest of this and have a great day.
First, while I was at a slightly chunky weight, I had an established diet that already included nutritious foods without very many of the "bad foods." If you already eat fast food, drink coffee or sodas, and eat frozen meals, my plan will probably feel too drastic for you. The premise can still work, but it might take longer.
I started out with a kind of bootcamp mentality the first few weeks, but that's because I have no self-control. I can't eat one potato chip or a simple nibble of something sweet; I am the whole bag or box. So that meant I ate only what I had planned for the day with no deviations. Since we already don't do fast food, coffee, or junk food, it was more about portion control and not allowing the occasional empty calorie food, like french fries, to be on my plate.
So what did my food choices consist of? Mostly what I had already been eating, but just less of this and more of that, with a focus on adding as many fibrous options as possible. Bagged baby spinach is my new best friend.
Monday through Friday I eat one hard boiled egg and a sliced apple (which I added about a month ago; before that it was just the egg). On the weekends, I eat breakfast later in the day which means I allow myself two poached eggs served with either a vegetable like wilted spinach or butternut squash, or a Sandwich Thins bun.
Monday through Friday I eat a Dannon Light & Fit Greek yogurt which has only 80 calories, but 12 grams of protein (that's a lot!). On the weekends, I usually don't get a snack because I am too busy riding at the barn, hence the second egg.
Whether at home or work, I usually make a sandwich made from Oroweat's Sandwich Thins (100 calories/5 grams of fiber). I add a slice of cheese (provolone or swiss), thin sliced turkey, and as much avocado, spinach leaves, and tomatoes that the bun can hold. I add a half cup of low fat cottage cheese (90 calories/11 grams of protein) on the side and two Cuties (mini clementines).
For the first two months, the afternoons almost killed me because I didn't have a snack. I finally added a quarter cup of raw, unsalted almonds in the afternoons, which actually helped me lose weight. I pre-package a week's worth of almond snacks in individual baggies which I toss into a larger baggie which all goes into my barn bag. As I drive out to the barn, I snack on the almonds which keep me feeling full and energized until dinner. A serving of almonds (¼ cup) has 160 calories with 6 grams of protein and 3 grams of fiber making the calories worth their weight.
I cook almost seven nights a week, and we go out for a sit down dinner once a week or once every other week. Dinners are where I get most of my calories, but that's because I really like to cook. I have been trying to cook slightly less savory meals (which include tons of wine and butter sauces), but when we do eat those kinds of meals, I try to throw in the greenest, most fibrous veggies I can. While not green, butternut squash is a favorite with only 63 calories, 2.8 grams of fiber, and a whopping 297% of your daily vitamin A in a single one cup serving.
I drink a caffeine free tea in the morning without added sweetener. I drink water throughout the day, although not enough. At night, I indulge in hard ciders, margaritas (on the rocks), and red wine although not usually all on the same night. Friday nights I might make an exception. I don't drink juices, coffee, or sodas. If we go out to lunch, which is extremely rare, I might have a diet soda.
Reducing my calorie intake wasn't enough. While I ride 5 - 7 days a week, clean stalls, drag sprinklers, and so on, I reached a point where the weight just hung on stubbornly. Knowing I needed to do something else, I consulted my pal, Lori (of photography fame - check out her 365 Day Photography Challenge here). Not only does Lori shoot amazing photos, but she is a fitness and nutrition expert as well. Lori had me actually increase my calorie consumption a bit (the apple and almonds were her idea) and add some different exercises to my day.
I now start my morning with a 1 minute (and growing) plank, and then throughout the day, I add a variety of one minute exercises. In my classroom, when the kids are at recess, I jump rope for a minute. When students peek at me through the windows, they always smile and wave; they dig watching me! While at the barn, I'll throw two saddle pads on the tack room floor and do 15 push ups. I also try and stop sometime during the day, usually when I get home from the barn, and do 100 jumping jacks.
Basically, Lori suggested that I change up my routine by throwing in random bursts of exercise. I look at it this way; everyone has one minute to do some form of exercise. I may not have 30 minutes to go to the gym, but I certainly have one minute! And once I found that one minute, I started finding lots of other minutes.
The more weight I lose, the more motivated I am to lose even more. Have I been frustrated at times, YES! Fortunately, my husband has been really supportive and complimentary. When I feel discouraged, he reminds me that what I do today won't be reflected on the scale today, but it will show up eventually.
So, if you have a few pounds to lose, reduce a lunch portion, choose something else to eat, or find a single minute to exercise. Speaking of which, a hundred jumping jacks are calling my name!
Speedy G is once again fun to ride! When I quit taking it personally, his unbalanced steps and resistance to bend are just things to work on, nothing else.
I followed up Saturday's ride with an even better one on Sunday. It didn't hurt that the weather was absolutely beautiful: clear blue sky, slight breeze, temperature in the mid-60s, and all of that combined with perfect footing. You simply can't ask for more.
I saw this on Facebook over the weekend; it pretty much summed up the weekend. Not only that, but it speaks a bit to today: being thankful for what we have.
Speedy started out the ride being a bit of a giraffe as a young family had arrived to play around with Bailey, one of the other horses at the barn. Speedy is slightly ADD so it was hard to get him to focus, but I got tough with him and used his distractibility to work on hard exercises that he doesn't like (turns on the forehand and haunches). Those usually get his attention pretty quickly.
Once we were really working, I was all smiles. How did we get so much better in just a few weeks? He hasn't dropped drastically behind the vertical in several rides, and he's really trying to keep the contact. We did all kinds of exercises utilizing the entire arena. It was fun to play around with turns, loops, and serpentines.
I was particularly happy with his canter work. To the right, he gets very light in my hand, but it takes a lot of inside leg. He's stronger to the left, but I need strong outside aids to get him to turn. We worked on riding the canter in a square, which lightened him up even more to the right; man, it was fun! To the left, we did more and more canter loops until I had him put together enough to ride an entire serpentine. I was freaking out happy that he held the canter through the middle loop.
After that successful exercise, I brought him down to a walk and praised him enthusiastically. I hopped off and gave him a big scratch. He looked a little surprised by the hubbub, but I know he knew he had just done something right.
I am really looking forward to several days of riding in the daylight this Thanksgiving weekend. Enjoy your own friends and families on this day of thankfulness.
When we first moved to this barn, Speedy couldn't see over the top of the wall. He would lift his head as high as he could and peer over with one eye. Since then, he has managed to shove a substantial amount of sand and bedding up against the wall which has created a small mound for him to stand on.
There's nothing he likes better than to watch me tack up Sydney. He also likes to watch me sweep the cross tie area and rake the loose hay out of the barn aisle. Sometimes I simply clean tack in the shade, and he'll stand there whickering at me while I work.
I shot this photo on a whim while I was grooming Sydney. His face is filthy, but the expression is classic Speedy G. I sure dig this horse!
A few weeks ago, I took Speedy G to a lesson as all of our improvement from the first half of the year had disappeared. He was so heavy on the forehand that it felt like I was riding a loaded wheelbarrow. JL had me shorten his reins a ton, slow down the rhythm, and add leg every single time his nose dropped behind the vertical.
I am happy to report that my little gray pony is making a comeback. I am starting to see glimpses of the horse who was earning scores in the high 60s, the horse that I thought was ready to try First Level, the horse who had finally figured out how to bend. We're not completely back in fighting trim, but we're getting there.
Saturday we worked on 10-meter figure eights. I love this exercise because it really helps me feel where he is losing his balance. He's more balanced to the left, but harder to bend. He has trouble making the turn to the right because he kind of wants to fall over. I have to really support him with my inside leg to outside rein. I love that I know what that feels like!
Once he feels a little more even in my hands, I change the figure eight into rectangles. I track right at C, track right at B, and come back down centerline where I track left to E. I switch it up all over the arena so Speedy never knows if we're going straight or making a 10-meter turn. And then, just to really shake it up, I'll cross the diagonal and do a few 20-meter circles to let him "rest."
We've also been working on the canter loops from First Level, Test 3. Last December, he couldn't hold a counter canter at all. In June, we could kind of hold it. Now, his canter is so much lighter and rhythmical that I can do the loops even in my short arena (20m by 50m). They're not show worthy of course, but he can maintain the gait. Over the weekend, I crossed X and pushed him to the left in a right lead canter. As we approached S, I felt him shift his weight back even more so that he lifted his front end to return to a correct bend as we tracked right to C.
I haven't schooled the counter canter with a trainer, and I am not 100% sure how the canter loops are to be ridden, but we are having fun playing around with them. They definitely help lighten Speedy's canter. And I think he likes doing them.
My goal right now is to get him as fit and balanced as I can before mid-December when we clinic with Christian Schacht again. That gives me just under three weeks. We've got some more work to do, but I think we'll be ready.
But best of all, Speedy's fun to ride again!
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%: