From Endurance to Dressage
I rode Izzy later in the day, and to everyone's surprise, he was relaxed and super willing. He wasn't heavy in my hand, he didn't try to blow through my aids, and nothing was hard for him. Chemaine mostly just watched me ride and offered things here and there to help me fill in the gaps or firm things up.
Izzy was being so cooperative, that we didn't do a lot of new stuff. We worked on some baby leg yields where the purpose was to just show him that he could cross over with the hind leg. Chemaine didn't fuss too much if we weren't straight or if we were over-bent (see photo). It was more about moving the hind end around.
The one exercise that I really liked for Izzy was the serpentine. I've been doing these at the walk already, so Chemaine just gave me other variations to do while on the serpentine, especially at the trot.
What Chemaine most liked about the way I rode Izzy on Sunday was that I had him much more mentally engaged. Even though he was being a really good boy, I wasn't giving him the chance to look around or focus his attention elsewhere. I was always asking him to change the bend or move his hind quarters or soften to the inside rein.
Monday's ride was a different story, but we still had an awesome day!
Probably the best thing about auditing a clinic is the opportunity to see new exercises being ridden so that you can take notes. That's what happened for me this weekend at our third Casual Clinic with Chemaine Hurtado, owner of Symphony Dressage Stables.
That's what I am calling them because the purpose of the rides with Chemaine Hurtado is to show that dressage can be accessible and useful for all levels of riders and for all disciplines. We've had western dressage riders, a hunter rider, and several other ladies who don't necessarily show, but they still want to improve their riding.
I started the day off on Speedy G. My biggest concern was the leg yield. I have been struggling with that movement for months. In the beginning, Chemaine had me get control of the outside shoulder by counter bending to keep the shoulder from leading too far.
The next time she saw us, I was again struggling with the leg yield. The issue was that I had fixed the bulging shoulder which meant that I needed to keep Speedy G straight as opposed to counter bent.
For this lesson, Chemaine laughed and said there was nothing wrong with our leg yield. Speedy was crossing over just fine, but instead of his shoulders leading, his haunches were now leading. Oops. The fix was to open my outside rein and allow the shoulders to lead the tiniest bit to give room for his front legs to step over. Without a place for his legs to go, he was falling over to the outside.
This is not an example of our best riding, sheesh!, but what I love about working with Chemaine is that she is able to focus on one thing at a time and doesn't try to fix everything at once.
We also worked on some shoulder in through 10-meter circles. Speedy has been a bit of a stinker to ride lately, and I think it's because Chemaine has helped me get a lot more "forward" from him. This is all great on straight lines, but it is a lot more work for him on the smaller circles.
For the 10-meter circles he has decided that he doesn't want to bend and push with his hind end. He's happy to give me one or the other, but not both. To help resolve this issue, which ultimately makes the work easier for Speedy, Chemaine had me trot the long sides with as much inside bend as Speedy could give while still trotting forward. It looks awful, but the purpose is to show him that he can bend and stretch.
Little by little he did start to get more supple. Once he was bending, we turned off the rail and did a 10-meter circle. When we returned to the rail, I kept the exaggerated bend. Eventually, we were able to turn the bend into a shallow shoulder in by using the first track or the quarter line. By getting off the rail, I had more room to move his shoulders and haunches without him feeling stuck.
It's not a pretty exercise, but you can really see Speedy (and me) start to get it in this video.
Besides the leg yield and shoulder in work, Chemaine gave all of us a series of warm up exercises to get our horses more supple and ready for work.
1) Start with the leg yield at the walk.
2) Change the bend at trot. This exercise looks like this:
3) Compress the trot to walk to engage the hind end. It looks like this:
Another exercise Cheamine had the lower level or greener horses do was to leg yield into the canter. That exercise looked like this:
More exercises tomorrow!
I have all kinds of stuff to share about Day 1 of our latest clinic with Chemaine Hurtado, including some great exercises for suppling all levels of horses, but I need to get it written up. In the meantime, Sarah from Eventing in Color shared this super cute video from Amazon Prime. Even if you've already seen it, it's funny enough to watch again. Enjoy!
I've gone from lessons once or twice a week to only once a month which is actually two days back to back, and I ride twice each day. So in reality, I am getting four lessons a month, which isn't too bad. Chemaine will be here today and tomorrow, so I am really excited to get out to the barn.
Chemaine always packs so much into the lessons that for the first two weeks, I am busy trying to apply what she taught us. By week three, I am starting to see the gaps in our work, and by week four, I find myself ditching certain exercises knowing that Chemaine will be here soon to help me fix whatever is wrong. I am definitely in the need help category right now.
Lessons aren't a reason to go over-the-top on grooming, but knowing that a few more people will be around at the barn motivated me to take care of some chores that I'd been putting off. Haircuts was at the top of the list.
My barn doesn't have electricity, so I have to walk my clippers and horses over to the neighbor's place to use her plugs. After cleaning up both boys' faces and bridles paths, I realized that Izzy's normally unruly mane was looking particularly ill kept.
I started banding it a month or so ago in an attempt to get it to stay on one side - his is split mostly down the middle. My bands kept popping off though, so operation Train Izzy's Mane wasn't going so well. My young friend Morgan declared my bands to be old and cracked. She grabbed one, stretched it out, and pointed out the white cracks in the rubber. Well that certainly explained a lot.
I went out and bought fresh bands and re-banded Izzy's mane. The bands were doing a good job, but after nearly two weeks, I realized that most of them had finally fallen out or broken, and those that were still there were giving Izzy what looked like bed head. I combed it all out neatly and put fresh bands in.
I am not sure how long it takes to train a mane to lay on one side, or if this is even the correct way to do it, so if anyone has some words of wisdom, I'd love to hear them!
I know it's kind of silly to get excited about USDF Rider Performance Awards, but I can't help it.
When I first started on this dressage journey, an early trainer told me that most riders never make it past Training Level. At the time, I felt a little discouraged. Did that mean that dressage was so hard that riders felt forced to quit at the very earliest stages?
I wondered if I should even bother. But then I rationalized that there was no way it could be any harder than the sport of endurance. When I first started endurance riding I thought that there was no possible way I could ever get a horse fit enough to complete 100 miles in one day. Not only did I ultimately start and finish five 100 milers, I did three of them in one year on the same horse.
The percentage of endurance riders who compete at the 100 mile level is admittedly quite low relative to the number of riders competing at the shorter distances, but you don't have to be an elite athlete to do it. And I'll admit that the list of riders who do 3 hundred milers in a single year is probably really small. I am certain it's fewer than 100, and it might even be smaller than 50. Or, that's how it was when I was competing back in the early 1990s and the 2000s.
I share all of this not to leave you with the impression that I was some kind of super star in the sport - not even close. I was just a run of the mill rider with a pretty nice horse (I only paid $1,000 for her). We trained consistently, had a lot of good luck, and made good choices in vets and farriers. I also dug deep that year and persevered; endurance racing has a huge mental component.
I lost Montoya to an unusual colic in January of 2010 just a week after competing at the Fire Mountain 50 miler. She was 20 years old. Speedy had been doing some endurance races, but he wasn't nearly as gung ho about it as Montoya. I did a few more races on him during the spring, but then I decided to take a break from endurance training and racing. We entered the Just Coe Crazy 55 miler in early June (which we didn't complete) and did our first dressage show three weeks later!
I don't know if that early trainer was right or not. Do most riders top out at Training Level? I guess it has a lot to do with where you live. In a dressage desert like Bakersfield, it's probably true. In a dressage mecca like Ventura or San Diego, the majority of riders probably get farther in the sport before they start to plateau.
Either way, having earned my First Level Rider Performance Award feels like a big deal to me. I don't have the patch yet, but USDF finally posted it to USDFScores.com which means it is now official.
Endurance riders know how ridiculously hard it is to get a horse through a hundred miler. Even so, a run of the mill rider can get it done with hard work and attention to detail.
The same hard work and attention to detail can get an average rider like myself through the dressage levels. I think most dressage riders can appreciate the journey that a horse and rider team must make in order to earn their scores for any of the Rider Performance Awards. You don't have to be an elite horse and rider team to do it, but with consistent work, a little luck, and good horse keeping choices, most riders can get it done.
I am really proud of this award because I know how much work it took for us to earn it. It will be displayed with pride.
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%: