From Endurance to Dressage
Speedy and I are on a roll! Monday's lesson was another great one. I was hoping that JL would simply believe me when I said our canter had improved and would just let me go back to 20 meter circles. Um, no, was the answer I got. If he's so much better, show me! Well shoot. Back to cantering the arena fence with nose on and hip away.
I started out by picking up the canter on the circle which is easier than on the straight. Right away I had to slam him down to a halt. It's not fun, and it borders on scary. On a circle, Speedy doesn't really change his pace; on the long side he sees open ground and tries to bolt. JL was very pleased that I didn't let him get away with it. However ... repeat, repeat, repeat.
I finally asked what the heck was wrong. JL asked how much inside leg I was applying. Hmm ... none? Problem discovered. I love Speedy to pieces, but he is SMART! Over the last few weeks he has learned that he can't "bulge" his ribcage out against my outside leg, but now he's doing the opposite thing. Essentially, when I apply that outside rein, he has been fishtailing to either the left or the right with his hind end which allows him to ignore the outside rein. Neither is acceptable as he doesn't have to work if he's not square on his butt.
As soon as I realized that he was now fishtailing in when I applied the brake, I was able to to control his pace more effectively. I asked for the canter, moved my inside leg back, and he swapped leads. Darn! repeat, repeat, repeat.
After some trial and error, I was able to ask for the canter while applying my inside leg just a hair to keep him from swinging in while I asked for a slow down with my outside rein. The first time I did it right, he came to such a hard stop that I was nearly tossed over his front end. This illustrated very clearly that my previous outside rein aid was ineffective because he had just let his butt fall in rather than sit back. Once I was able to keep him in a much narrower channel between my legs, neither falling out or in, he got my HALT message loud and clear!
From that moment, our canter got much better. Throughout the whole lesson, JL kept remarking on the improvement in our canter departures. Apparently it was quite obvious that I was keeping him straighter and had a much more consistent contact. In fact, the whole right lead canter has improved so much that we are now better to the right than the left. But, of course. There's always something.
So the idea that I am working on right now is narrowing the channel between my legs to keep Speedy on the straight and narrow. And metaphorically speaking, if there was a horse that needed to be on the straight and narrow, it would definitely be that gray pony!
So here's where we are.
We're making forward progress. We obviously have a long way to go, but the good news is that we are on the right road.
Just a few months ago I was feeling really, really frustrated. I just couldn't see any forward progress at all. I would think that we had made progress, but then the same crap would present itself again and again. I watched a video from my first ride on Sydney and was so discouraged to see that we looked better on that ride than we do now, a year and a half later.
I started looking at how much I was spending on a horse that was turning out to be a bad fit for me. I wasn't afraid to ride him anymore, but I just didn't seem to be a good enough rider to really ride him well. Selling him seemed like the smartest thing to do. I placed a very lean ad on an online site and decided to leave the whole mess in the Divine's hands. Seriously.
Do you know what happened? Within a DAY of posting that ad, I had one of the best rides I have ever had on Sydney. Of course. I immediately thought about pulling the ad, but then I didn't. One good ride couldn't change a year and a half of not really getting anywhere. I continued to look at him as a sale horse, but I reasoned that I might as well learn what I could from him while I waited for the right interested buyer.
I felt good about my decision and was absolutely honest about giving the issue to the Man Upstairs. I quit "outlining" what I wanted to happen. I never even revisited the ad to see if anyone was showing interest. I simply let the whole thing go.
Hand your problems over to someone else, and all of a sudden you're free of the burden. Figures. Since placing that ad, my rides on Sydney have gotten really, really good. That's not to say that he's soft and round as soon as I get on, but within just a few minutes, he is bending and moving away from my leg, and we are cantering every day.
On Sunday, I rode him in the "scary corner" where little Tommy was climbing the tree right next to the arena. Tommy and I were chatting about how many gifts under the tree were for him while Sydney and I cantered around and around. Take that you puny, little elephant!
After Tommy disappeared to do little boy things, Sydney and I continued to work. I asked for a right lead canter and got a whole lot of oh, my - that's not right. I brought him back to a trot and just focused on rebalancing him to the right. I focused on pushing him sideways, sideways, sideways as we worked on a 20-meter circle. After a few minutes I realized that he was nicely balanced and hitting the rail at exactly the right spot.
I asked for a right lead canter and was pleasantly surprised by what he gave me. At first, I needed to sponge the outside rein to keep him straight, but then I was able to switch to sponging the inside rein to encourage a bit of flexion. It was a lovely, balanced canter. His downward transition was soft and quiet and he immediately stretched his neck down at the walk. I had a huge smile on my face and realized that I had made all of that happen.
So where are we? Sydney is still for sale until he isn't. God will let me know if something changes. My shoulders feel a lot lighter since I ditched that burden of worry. Sydney's demon seems to have been defeated (or was it my own?), my elephant seems to have moved to a new home, and Mt. Self-Doubt is suffering from erosion. Today, all is right in my world.
Hubby and I spent Sunday evening at JL's Annual Barn Party. What a great time (for me, Hubby was a good sport, but still, not his regular scene.) I am sure it was similar to a lot of barn parties: tons of hors d'oeuvres, dinner, and a ton of yummy deserts, especially that red velvet cake.
Several of the ladies hauled in old VHS tapes from jumping shows dating back to the 1980s - hysterically funny, and at a times, a little bittersweet. Suzy had even put together a video montage in honor of Honor Bound, the equine friend we lost a few weeks ago.
The real fun started with the traditional I-Want-THAT! gift exchange. You know the one: everyone gets a number, you pick a gift from the pile, or you steal something cool from someone else. I will admit that I love to steal and don't care one bit about what I get to take home. It's the stealing that makes it so much fun.
I "stole" a cool Dover gift certificate and then later a super cute horseshoe necklace from my pal, Cha Ching's mom, who later worked out a deal with her niece to steal it back from me. Karma, right?
It was a really fun party! It was also fun to get to visit with everyone without helmets, breeches, and a horse tugging your arm off. It's always surprising how everyone cleans up so nicely!
I can't really say that Speedy and I are new to dressage any more, we've ridden through three show seasons, but we are still a low level team. Even so, I am proud of what we accomplished this year. It might not seem all that grand to the majority of dressage riders, but we'll take it.
Here is what Speedy G and I accomplished for the 2012 Show Season:
1. We earned first place at Introductory Level at the California Dressage Society's Central Regional Adult Amateur Competition with a score of 67% as judged by Hilda Gurney. Admittedly we were the only rider in the class, but the score speaks volumes. We also placed 10th at the same show at Training Level, Test 3 with a score of 57.2% (last place). Not my proudest moment, but in retrospect, even qualifying at that level felt like an accomplishment.
2. We earned the Tehachapi Mountain Chapter (of the California Dressage Society) Adult Amateur High Point Average award for having the highest average score from at least three of their shows. Our three score average at Training Level was 61.19%. We were awarded a cash prize of $100 as well as a certificate.
3. And finally, we earned the California Dressage Society's Rosette Award (along with about 1,600 other people). Plates are awarded to CDS members who achieve scores of 60% or better at Introductory Level C or above at any CDS Recognized show (5 scores or more). This year, Speedy and I earned 4 scores over 60% at Introductory C, and 7 scores at Training Level for a total of 11 scores over 60%. The plates (small brass plates that get nailed to a wooden plaque) will be mailed in February.
I noticed that CDS also awards the Henry Burchard Memorial Trophy to the owner/rider on a single horse who applies and receives the highest number of scores of 60% or better during the competition year. Fiona Cameron won the award on Laurio with 15 scores. We weren't too far away from that!
I've highlighted my name so that you can spot it out of the more than 1,000 others that are listed!
These awards are all small potatoes, I know. It's not like we won a USDF medal, but every bit of validation is appreciated. I wanted to share these little Yukon Golds with you to prove that you have to start somewhere. Just three or four years ago I was an avid endurance rider who had never had a formal lesson in her life. I could blast through a 100 mile ride (in 20 hours), but I didn't know anything about posting on the correct diagonal and had no idea how to get a correct canter lead.
And here I am with three show seasons under Speedy's girth and we're already earning some atta girls here and there. If you're still on the fence about showing, get off and jump on in. Seriously, if I can do it, anyone can!
I seem to buy a surprisingly large amount of my riding wardrobe from my local Target; I wrote about the great sock find here. I also buy my everyday riding socks as well as all of the unmentionables there, too. The active wear department seems to be synonymous with riding wear.
My favorite Target finds are riding tops. I have a few official riding shirts, but they were either gifts, or picked up from a clearance bin online. I am hard on my shirts so I have a hard time plunking down $50 for a top that's going to get really dirty, repeatedly. So each summer I hit my local Target for 4 or 5 sleeveless running shirts. They don't shrink, they move with you, and they're cheap!
I was doing some Christmas shopping over the weekend and happened to pass through the active wear department. Right away my eye was drawn to a hot pink running shirt with long sleeves. I bought three or four of these shirts last winter and loved them! When I saw the price tag, $14.99, I also grabbed the purple one right behind it.
I like these shirts because they hug your body like a second skin. A vest goes over them really nicely, and if it's a bit colder, they layer really comfortably under a sweater or jacket. Now, if only Target sold breeches, I'd be set!
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