From Endurance to Dressage
I really do have the best trainer. She doesn't know everything; she's the first one to admit that. Like when I talk about my dressage tests, I have to sketch out the arena in the sand so she'll know where A, E, C, and B are located. BUT. She knows what a rider needs in order to have a solid foundation, and even better, she's willing to use what my (albeit infrequent) dressage "trainers" are teaching me to help me be a better rider. She doesn't care where the ideas come from; if they're good, she uses them. And if those ideas paint a clearer picture for me, all the easier for her!
I had a lesson on Monday. Before I could even start, she told me she had read my blog posts about riding Sydney with Christian. Oh, good! was my first reaction followed quickly by great, explain, the parts that I didn't understand! And that's what she did.
First, Do Nothing - she thinks this was Christian's way of showing me the opposite of clutching the reins for fear that Sydney will bolt, rear, spin, etc. By dropping my reins, he was illustrating the point that I didn't die by not pulling back. This also sent Sydney the message that I am not going to fight with him. Instead, I let Sydney pick the fight. Was he going to be a freight train, a balker, a bucker, a bolter, etc? By doing nothing, I only had to eventually work on what Sydney wanted to fuss about instead of everything that I was worried about.
Second, Plant the Outside Hand - In previous lessons with Christian, he had me plant my inside hand to maintain a steady bend. I get that and use that technique with Sydney quite a bit when he's being particularly naughty. It actually helps him to relax because my hand is steady and solid. But when Christian had me plant my outside hand at the withers instead (we actually did both alternately), I didn't understand when it was better to plant the inside or the outside. JL explained that planting the outside hand is like the first half of a pulley halt. It also frees the rider to focus on just one rein at a time.
In Sydney's case, tracking right is where I encounter the most resistance, especially at the canter departure. When tracking right, Sydney wants to lead with his inside shoulder, push his nose to the outside, roll inward, travel with his haunches in, etc. It can be quite challenging to get all of his "parts" headed in the right direction.
So JL had me do some work softening the inside, right rein. I put my left hand (outside rein) at the withers and grabbed the front of my saddle pad so that my hand wouldn't move. We started the exercise at the walk by halting with the inside rein. We repeated this several times until Sydney was sure of what I wanted him to do. Then we moved on to the trot.
Boy howdy did that reveal some resistance. Right away he tried to bolt, but stopped short when I didn't grab him with reins. The planted outside rein did it for me. He had a seriously, WTF just happened? look on his face. This showed me how to work through his go-to trick of grabbing that outside rein from me so that he can duck to the inside and whirl. AHA!
When he tried to do it again, I sat quietly and did nothing. My firmly planted outside rein told him, no!
Once he was somewhat willing to work with me, I softly bounced or rocked the inside rein to say, let go rather than halt. I kept my outside hand planted at his withers and used a lot of inside leg to push him to the outside rein. Every time he softened to the inside, we gave him an immediate walk break. JL insisted that I try to find a place where I confirmed for him that he had the right answer.
When I rode him the next day, things didn't go quite so smoothly. There was a lot of naughtiness in fact. Sydney tried all kinds of tricks to get me to let go of that outside rein. This showed me how inconsistent I have been with the outside rein when it's in my left hand. I stuck to my guns though, working through the exercises like JL had shown me.
Even though it sort of feels like we're moving backwards in our work, I know that honing in on our weak areas will only build us a more solid foundation. So if I need to spend the next few weeks just halting with the inside rein and then asking him to soften to it, I think it will be time very well spent.
I don't know about you all, but one of my favorite Christmas gifts to myself is riding on Christmas afternoon. And since I am on barn duty for a few days, no one complains when I leave the house for a few hours. After all, I have to clean stalls and check on everybody!
I got an early Christmas gift thanks to Tracy from Fly on Over who orchestrated the Blogger Gift Exchange. And like most of you, I started ripping the box open before I thought to take any pictures. By the way, the gift exchange was a ton of fun, and I hope Tracy will do it again next year.
While Hubby was peering over my shoulder asking who sent it, I quickly recovered my wits and grabbed my camera to document my cool gifts! Many thanks to Appy Does Dressage who writes the blog, Musings from LogDog Acres, for a boxful of awesomeness!
Inside, I found a bag of horse treats (they went into my barn bag immediately for prompt dispensation), a horse pin, a hand made wreath created from the very precious tail hairs of Appy's appaloosa, and a brand new stock tie. The blog post about what happened with the stock tie will come soon. Here's a sneak preview: Imagine Hubby, a Youtube video, an hour later …
I hope you all have a very Merry Christmas with your loved ones; the bipeds and the quadrupeds!
During the summer, I came to the conclusion that Blue Truck was getting old and needed to be replaced. After a visit to several truck dealerships and a review of my finances, I decided that Blue Truck was meeting my needs quite nicely and instead of replacing it, I just did some preventative maintenance.
The thing with maintaining a vehicle is that it never stops needing work. So, Blue Truck had another day at Le Salon. Our first stop was Big O Tires. Yet again, the tire guy assured me that I was nowhere near needing my tires balanced and rotated. Since Blue Truck only gets driven a couple of thousand miles a year, it's hard to create any noticeable tire wear.
The serpentine belt on the other hand was in need of replacement, so at least the trip wasn't a total waste of time. I have to admit to being a total girl when it comes to vehicle repairs. I know what the serpentine belt does (sort of), but there is no way I would be able to tell you if it was in good repair or not. I am trusting my "guy" when he said it needed to be replaced. And on a 13 year old truck, replacing everything is probably a good idea!
By the way, the cost for replacing the serpentine belt on a truck large enough to haul a horse trailer, including parts and labor, ran me $130.91. The tire guy kind of likes me so he gave me something like a $50 discount. Thanks, Brian.
Blue Truck's next stop was Branson's Express Lube. I've written about Ryan's shop before. Again, if you need a quick and dependable place to get your vehicle's fluids taken care of, Branson's is the place to go.
When I pulled in, Ryan knew just what needed to be done and had the work started before I was even out of the garage. For this trip, we repeated the oil change even though I had only driven 2,000 miles since my last visit; I like it done twice a year no matter how few miles I drive.
Next up was to service both differentials and the 4-wheel drive transfer case. While the guys were at it, I also had them replace my wiper blades. Branson's Express Lube is like any other oil change facility in that they also check all other fluids and tire pressure as well as wash the windshield and vacuum the crud off the floor.
While the truck was being serviced, I asked Ryan to check the brand new serpentine belt as I thought I smelled burnt rubber. There was no problem with the belt, but they did think Blue Truck's carrier bearing (part of the driveline) needed to be replaced.
Well, shoot. I guess my truck budget just got a bit bigger for this month. From my limited Googling, this could be about a $450 job. Good thing my Christmas shopping is already taken care of.
My charge for the differentials, oil change, and wiper blades was a surprising $161.48 and that included a 10% discount that Ryan so generously gave me. I guess it's a good thing the belt came in under budget.
So what does this have to do with horses, anyway? Call it a public service announcement. Having a trailer and a tow vehicle can get expensive, especially if you have a regular car, too. With some careful planning and budgeting, you can make it work, but it's important to know that your spending doesn't just end with the purchase price. Kind of like horse ownership, huh?
By the way, the trailer gets some vents replaced as well as new tires in a few weeks. There goes another $1,000 ...
I really, really do, but for the first time in a long while, I needed a break. I would get that feeling after an endurance race, especially if it was a multi-day or a hundred miler, but schooling dressage never leaves me feeling burned out. Usually.
After last weekend's clinic with Christian Schacht, I came home knowing that I needed at least a couple of days off. I was physically tired and facing a long week at work. If I didn't work full time, my "recovery" might have been quicker, but given the season (few daylight hours, Christmas errands to run, 30 fifth graders awaiting Santa, a weekend away from home while laundry piled up, etc.), I embraced the notion of a week of no riding.
I didn't last the whole week, as I mentioned on Saturday, but four days out of the saddle is a long time for me. While I puttered at the barn during the week, I mostly just let some new ideas percolate and bubble.
On Friday, my students had a minimum day which meant I was free to leave work at 1:20. Even after doing my grocery shopping, I was home by 2:45 which left me plenty of daylight to get in a light hack on both boys. I knew we were going to the cabin over the weekend and that I wouldn't be able to ride again until Monday, so the short rides would get my boys out and about without really asking anything challenging of them.
Just in case I was still feeling wore out, I saddled Speedy first as he is the most predictable of my two boys and the least likely to be a handful. To my surprise, he was pretty high right out of the gate and did his best airs above the ground impression. His tail was flipped over his little Arabian butt, and he was snorting and dancing all the way down the street. As dramatic as it looks, he's pretty easy to control if you remind him what a pulley halt is.
Since he was so forward leaving the property, I took a page out of Christian's book and sent him into a big trot down the side of the road where the ground is soft and grassy. We were only able to really trot for about 75 yards, but that was enough to mostly satisfy his need to show off a little.
For the rest of the ride, I just focused on controlling his gait with my seat only, no reins. We also leg yielded back and forth across the road quite successfully. He's getting much better at moving laterally rather than trying to squirt forward with the leg pressure. By the time we finished the loop, I was feeling motivated again and ready to tackle Mr. Hyde … or maybe just Dr. Jekyll.
I quickly unsaddled Speedy and tossed the saddle on Sydney's back. He looked eager to go so I wasted little time with grooming. My barn owners were giving some moldy hay to the neighbor for his alpacas so they were busy loading and chatting at the driveway. Sydney marched past them with hardly a look. Right away my confidence took a leap forward.
As we continued down the road, his head got higher and higher, but I reminded myself to do nothing. I let the reins drape loosely along his neck, and I began to hum a Christmas carol, another Christian suggestion. As we passed by my trainer's barn, Sydney tried to squirt forward in a pseudo bolt, but I bent him into a circle intent on letting him do what he wanted, as long as it didn't involve galloping down the asphalt.
Almost immediately, he stopped and did his giraffe impression. I just sat there with the reins hanging loosely … doing nothing. Eventually he walked on. A few yards later, he came to an abrupt halt, and I again did nothing.
Doing nothing is extremely hard to do. When a horse halts or balks, I tend to be very proactive by sending them forward, even if it is only one step. With my Arabs, this has been a very effective strategy. They aren't allowed to go backward or to the side, but as long as they make some type of forward progress, I release the pressure, pause, and continue to send them forward. Every Arab I've owned has figured out that if I ask for forward, it's best to do it as it's the quickest way to get home.
Christian had me wait it out with Sydney, explaining that eventually he would get bored and move forward on his own. Trusting that counsel was very hard to do, but it proved to be an excellent piece of advice. Several times during the ride, Sydney halted, but when given just a moment or two, he proceeded forward on his own.
While we were walking along, we heard a large CRACK! A man who was behind a solid fence and out of our sight, had cracked a large stick. Sydney did a classic legs splayed in every direction move, but he did it in place and came to a halt afterwards with no direction from me. I hollered out to the man that I was on a horse and would he give us a moment to pass. I patted Sydney on the neck and asked him to go forward again. After a moment, he walked on as though nothing had happened; I never touched the reins.
From that little spook, we approached the scary "dog hill." Sydney again came to a sudden halt and looked at the chain link fence warily. I called aloud for the dog several times, and after I was pretty sure he wasn't going to charge the fence, I asked Sydney to go up. It took every ounce of courage to let him climb up that hill on a loose rein. To keep myself from grabbing him in the mouth, I tucked my pinkies under his pad and held them there firmly. The reins were still in my hand, but I didn't touch his mouth.
From that moment on, I knew that he was going to listen. Instead of slowing him with the reins when he picked up the trot, I simply resisted with my seat and core, and he obediently returned to a walk. The only time I used my reins was to tip his nose in the right direction. I quit thinking about keeping him in a frame and simply let his head and neck be wherever he needed them to be.
Periodically, he would give a deep sigh and stretch down. I continued to hum my Christmas carol and keep my fingers connected to his saddle pad. As we approached the first turn toward home, I felt his whole body tense as he leaned towards the barn. I used the reins to tip his nose away and pressed him back onto the road with my outside leg. He continued forward, but as we neared the entrance gate to the next property, he quickly whirled back towards home. I picked up the reins and tipped his nose back toward the gate while asking firmly with my outside leg.
He wasn't happy about it, but he moved ahead. When he tried to get a bit uppity and jiggy through the trees, I again sat and resisted his trot. I was quite impressed with us both. He listened, and I didn't pull back. We walked down the last dirt road and made the turn to home.
Our immediate neighbor, the one whose property is right next to the arena, has two large labs that love to charge the fence and bark. I always call them out by name before I actually get to the fence. On Friday, the dogs were a little late to my call so we were already passing along the fence line when they came barreling around the corner, barking and running towards us. Sydney swung his to head look at them, and continued walking without a single spooky step. Go figure!
At the corner, I passed by one of our barn owners as she was working amongst the trees. The other owner was approaching with the tractor, but stopped to allow Sydney and I to pass. After we had passed the tractor, some sound spooked Sydney and he dropped a shoulder as he jumped to the side. I just sat quietly and resisted the urge to pull back on the reins. The spook only lasted for a moment, and then we were turning into our driveway, all without any real issue.
During our ride, I also tried a few other Christian suggestions that work with OTTBs. The first is to close your knees when the horse is tense. He doesn't mean to pinch with your knees, just press your upper thighs firmly against the horse to guide and support him. As he relaxes, the rider can relax the pressure. This has some sort of calming effect on horses who have been raced. He also suggested pressing your knuckles into the withers for the same purpose. I tried both of these techniques when I felt tempted to slow Sydney down by pulling back. I am not exactly sure why these tricks work, but they did with Sydney. Christian stresses that these tricks do not work with warmbloods. Probably not with Arabs either!
Doing nothing is very hard to do, but it is something that I will continue to practice. Today begins my return to daily riding. You can bet that we will find several days this week to hit the trail again.
As Friday at 1:20 p.m, I am a free woman for two whole weeks! I know I get a lot more vacation time than the average girl, but I work awfully long hours so the time off is most appreciated.
We're going to the cabin this morning so you won't here from me until Monday. I am sure we'll all be grateful for a day of blogging silence.
As an added note, I didn't ride all week until last night. I never give my boys extended time off except for when we travel. Other than that, I expect them to work for me at least 3 - 4 days each week. I don't work them much more than 30 - 45 minutes, and sometimes it's only 20, so I figure I am not killing anyone.
After such a mentally challenging weekend (the clinic with Christian Schacht), I needed a few days off. I don't think horses sit and ponder their work load, but I imagine they appreciated just standing around and resting. Both boys got turned out and checked over carefully, but other than that, nothing.
Friday's rides were vey interesting, and I plan to write about them on Monday. Until then, have a great weekend!
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%
2022 Show Season
(r) Ride-a-Test Clinic
2022 Show Schedule
(*) Tehachapi 7/24/22
(*) Tehachapi 8/28/22
2022 Completed …
(*) Tehachapi 5/22/22
2022 Qualifying Scores
Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC)
2 Scores/1 Judges/60%: