From Endurance to Dressage
Striving for All Three Gaits
When it comes to Izzy, my goal right now is simple: I want him to be able to walk, trot, and canter when and where I ask. A few years ago, that would have seemed like a silly goal; all horses can walk, trot, and canter. At least all the ones I had ridden could.
Having brought Speedy along to where he is today, I have learned that trotting and cantering down the trail utilize a totally different kind of skill set than does ring work. Trail horses require a degree of physical fitness, at least a certain amount of bravery, and enough trail savviness to keep themselves and their riders from getting hurt.
Before I started riding dressage, I wondered how riders weren't bored to death going round and round over the same patch of sand. Boring. I now know better, which is why my goal for Izzy is that he willingly accepts my aids for the walk, trot, and canter. Ring work requires a level of precision that I never knew existed.
Just five months ago, Izzy couldn't or wouldn't walk where I asked. He balked, he bucked, he squealed, and he often refused. All of that is now behind us. When I get on now, I can actually use the walk to begin suppling his body. He listens as I ask for shoulder in, haunches in, and leg yields. None of it is perfect of course, but the walk is there.
The trot work is almost as reliable as the walk. For a good while, when I asked for a trot, a bunch of squealing and bolting was his first reply. Recently, I have begun to feel pretty confident that when I ask for a trot, I am going to get it. As with the walk, I am now able to use a variety of trotting exercises to access his body. We can do things like serpentines, changes of direction, and baby leg yields. He is still fussy in the contact and looking for me to give him a more consistent connection, but a dependable trot is (mostly) there.
The gait that remains unreliable is the canter. Although the left lead is far more submissive than the right, it's not reliable enough to be sure that I'll get it when asked. Many of the exercises that Chemaine has shown me have helped, particularly using haunches in and shoulder in, but even so, we need a bit more time to confirm the gait.
I rode Izzy twice with Chemaine, once each weekend day. The first day's lesson was super short. She watched us warm up without needing to add too much. Even last month when she was here, I needed a lot of help getting him to turn and go where I pointed at the trot. Just one month later, Chemaine remarked that he is showing some real maturity.
We played around with some baby leg yields, and I know that she was quite pleased with his progress. I need to work on my aids, but he can do them easily when asked correctly.
I love the part where Chemaine tells me to take the shoulders out a little bit (0:37 seconds), and I actually do it. The instant my aids are correct, he moves his shoulders over into the space I give him. I was really pleased with that responsiveness. Here's a screen shot from the video.
When I felt that he was loose and supple and willing, Chemaine suggested an exercise to help us develop the canter departure. Using the short width of the arena, she wanted me to do a shoulder in down the "long" side with a haunches in at the 20-meter half circle of the short end. The goal was to ultimately turn the haunches in into a canter half circle where we then returned to trot with a shoulder in down the long side followed by another canter half circle.
Nope. Somehow, Izzy knew that we were asking for something new, and he immediately threw a fit and said no. As he squealed and kicked, and whirled, and tried to bolt, I cowgirl'ed up on his butt and laid into him with the whip. I tapped his outside shoulder over and over and sent him into a spin until I heard him say yes ma'am and mean it.
Once we could go forward again, it took quite a lot of time to reestablish that dependable trot. In order to get it, I had to repeatedly give a solid jerk on the right rein every time he gave us his opinion.
Chemaine explained that he was grabbing the rein to tell us that he didn't want to even try what I was asking for. His version of sulking and sassing was to grab that right rein (no matter which way we were tracking) and bolt for the gate. Every time he grabbed it, I bumped it hard and repeated what Chemaine had said, Nope, we don't want to hear your opinion on the subject.
It was a long argument, but I eventually won and was able to pick up the canter going both directions. In this video clip, we've just started tracking left. It gets bumpy here and there, but I got it done. You can see him still thinking about grabbing the right rein as we approach the white fence and track left. That's when you'll you hear me give a loud "Good boy!"
When I finally got a canter, I told Chemaine that I wished I could get judged on my ability to cowgirl up because I can ride the crap out of a naughty horse. In her reply, which you can hear as the video starts, she jokes that she always wins the warm up!
We did school the canter to the right, but there is no video. It was wild and crazy, but again, I got it. The problem I am having is that I lose his haunches to the outside and then he steals the inside bend. Once that happens, he blows out to the left, and escapes the conversation.
Chemaine had me tackle the problem by using a very strong, short outside rein with my outside leg way back to keep his haunches in. From there, I worked that inside rein, insisting on some kind of a bend. I also focused on riding his shoulders by keeping them in front of me and straight. Sometimes I had to counter bend him with a really strong halt halt to pick up his front end and move it to the right.
The hardest part was riding out the cross cantering. When he couldn't fling his shoulders around, he tried to get me to quit by losing the lead in the back. It would seem that I've been letting him come back to trot when he loses the lead. He learned really quickly that I'll let him stop when he does that. Oops.
Chemaine's advice was to push him through it and let him go around uncomfortably. She was right. When I insisted that he continue to canter, he made the switch and fixed it himself.
It was a productive two days. I have lots to work on over the next few weeks, but Chemaine was confident that we're going to get there. Who am I to argue?
When Chemaine arrived for Day 2, Speedy and I were waiting eagerly for what she had to show us. As I mentioned yesterday, the dynamic of our relationship is changing. Now that she's got me more or less up to speed with her instructional basics, she is able to teach me more complex exercises.
It wasn't until I started processing all of the video clips from the lesson that I realized she wasn't trying to help me fix one movement or another, but instead, she was giving me suppling exercises that will improve almost every movement.
Turn on the Forehand on a Circle
This is an easy walk exercise that is great to use in the early stages of the warm up. Walk in a 15-meter circle. It's an easier exercise to do if you can see the tracks of your first circle. Now, send the haunches outside of the circle as you walk around. Basically, you'll be doing a turn on the forehand as you walk forward. The exercise encourages the inside hind to step deeply.
This is also a good one to use while warming up. The idea is to compress the stride, ask the horse to soften to the inside rein, and then lengthen. I've shared this exercise before. To make the exercise even more effective, Chemaine made two suggestions. First, think about building the tempo. If you start at a 5, compress to a 3 and then lengthen to a 6. Compress to a 4 and lengthen to a 7. In other words, we can't expect a big grand lengthening right out of the box. Give the horse time to become supple and loose. The flip side of that is don't get stuck at the same tempo.
The second suggestion she made was to count the strides. If you start at 10 strides of compression followed by 10 strides of lengthening, gradually reduce the number of the compressed strides so that they become a half halt.
Shoulder In to Forward
For anyone struggling with shoulder in, this exercise will help immensely. Speedy has a very "bendy" neck, which makes a lot of dressage work challenging because he can fake it like nobody's business.
For the shoulder in, I was getting all kinds of bend, but he wasn't stepping under and through to the outside rein, which is not entirely his fault. Chemaine pointed out that I need to be firmer with the outside rein and really use my own aids to push him over to the outside, supporting rein.
This exercise is fairly simple: start with a shoulder in, but after a few strides, go forward in the direction of the bend. Half halt, and then return to the shoulder in. It makes a bit of a stair step as you progress down the length of the arena. After only a few attempts, our shoulder in showed improvement.
I grabbed some screen shots from the video. What I like about the photo on the left is that you can really see how the exercise stretches the shoulder. I don't think Speedy has enough angle here, but you can see this is a suppling exercise. In the second photo, I grabbed the shot just at the moment he went from forward into the shoulder in. I don't think you can see it in the photo, but he had to really lift his shoulder up and over. Again, this shows how much suppling and strength building can come from this movement.
Shoulder In/Haunches In/Spiral In/Leg Yield Out
This is a very tough suppling exercise, and one that Chemaine recommended I do no more than twice a week. She said that while it is a great stretching exercise, it's really easy to over do it. The result will be a sore horse!
Start on a 20--meter circle with a shoulder in. The purpose is to bring the shoulders in one meter at a time as you ultimately spiral in. At the same time, you will also do a haunches in, but they should come two meters off the circle. Don't maintain the haunches in. Return to a shoulder in, slowly spiraling in. Do another haunches in, return to shoulder in. Eventually, the circle will be so small that the horse will be in a shoulder in and haunches in. Now spiral out in a leg yield, but think lengthen at the same time.
I should have pointed this out when I started the post, but it is really humbling to show you all these videos snippets. Trying an exercise for the first time is a great way to look and feel like the world's worst rider, especially when you then publish it to YouTube. Despite my bumbling and fumbling, I wanted to share the exercises with you because they are good ones that every horse can benefit from.
Tomorrow ... the work we did with green bean Izzy!
Walk to Canter to Walk
Even though it was Christmas weekend, Chemaine once again made the trek from Moorpark to Bakersfield to give a few of us some lessons. I know I say this all the time, but she really is an excellent trainer. If you're in the Los Angeles/Simi Valley area, you really should look her up.
All of Chemaine's students sport embroidered gear that features her logo. I've been hankering for something that proclaims I am part of the crowd, and now I have it. Chemaine brought me a "Team Symphony" decal for my truck. Here's a close up:
Equally as exciting was the "brag banner" that she made for me. Chemaine took apart some of my show ribbons and created a banner that I can hang in front of my stall at shows, or I can keep it in my office. It's so pretty that I hate to actually take it to shows because I know how dusty it will get. I'll probably keep it at home until we go to our next big show.
While that's all fabulous and much appreciated, the real point of her presence was to cram as much information into me as possible. While I've been taking occasional lessons from Chemaine for several years, it was only since this summer that she became my regular trainer. Now that I am riding with her once a month, the tenor of the lessons is changing, and things are starting to fall into place.
While I don't feel like I am in a program per se, I can feel the benefits of regularly scheduled dressage lessons. Chemaine teaches me something one month, I work the heck out of it, and she checks my progress the next month. Now that lessons aren't about trying to fix one little thing the day before a show, Chemaine can create more of a plan of attack for me. In the past six months, we've improved Speedy's canter tremendously, installed a leg yield, created the beginning of a trot lengthening, and created some actual impulsion.
For this lesson, I wanted to work on the walk to canter to walk transitions in preparation for showing the three loop serpentine at Second Level. Before we worked on that, I showed Chemaine our leg yields, transitions within the gait (specifically at the trot), and our ten-meter trot circles. Everything met her expectations. We still have work to do, but it's stuff that I can continue on my own.
Once we made it though all of that, we finally tackled the walk to canter to walk transition. I've been schooling it on my own, and the walk to canter has been going well. The canter to walk was where we were having tons of trouble. No problem is too big for Chemaine however, and this one is actually quite common. Right away Chemaine had an exercise designed to teach Speedy what I was asking for.
Essentially, the exercise goes like this:
After a few repetitions, Speedy understood the downward walk transition much better. I feel confident that when we see Chemaine next month, our walk to canter to walk should be in good enough shape to start refining it.
Chemaine also showed me a variation of this exercise that looks like this:
This exercise will prepare your horse for the three loop serpentine in Test 1 at Second Level. It goes like this:
On that note, I had a mini-consult with Chemaine about my showing plans. One of the things that makes Chemaine such an outstanding trainer is that she's very committed to helping her students achieve their competition goals, whatever they are.
I asked her if I am moving too slowly and trying for scores that aren't realistic. Through Introductory and Training Level, I didn't feel ready to move up a level until I was scoring in the very high 60s and low 70s. That has been my goal for First Level as well. At our last show, we scored as high as 66%. Chemaine reminded me that as we move through the levels, scores in the mid-60s would be a good indicator that we're ready to move up.
I have a lot of work to do in January and February. I still want to show at First Level because I want to qualify for the CDS Regional Adult Amateur Competition and both GMOs' Championship shows, but I also want to start showing at Second Level. It's looking like that goal might be a possibility.
More tomorrow, including video!
USDF's Group Member Organizations
Or, GMOs for short. I've written about this topic before, but the more people I get to know around the country, the more interested I am in learning about their GMOs.
If you want to know more about the various GMOs, USDF has a handy little feature that lets you look at the list of GMOs grouped by region. First, you need to know your region:
When you know which region you want to look up, click the link here. It's an easy page to navigate. Find your region listed, and select. All of the GMOs in that region will be listed along with the GMO's USDF number - this isn't the number of members. Here is Region 7's list of GMO's.
If you then select a particular Club Name, like the California Dressage Society, you'll be taken to a page that lists the contact information, the group's website, and the full roster. Here's the page for CDS:
The California Dressage Society's USDF number is 700 with a roster of 1297 recorded members. Central Office's mailing address is shown along with the website. Contact information is also listed. I believe that Pauls's position is a paid one, so I can always reach her when I have a question. She is also very quick to return emails.
The California Dressage Society operates like a mini-USDF. Because of the huge area it covers and its sheer number of members, CDS is divided into thirty-three chapters, similar to GMOs. Each of the chapters operates independently of one another, based on what its members want and are willing to do.
My own chapter puts on four, CDS-rated shows each summer. They offer cash prizes for Open, AA, and Jr./YR class winners and over-all hight point winners, again divided by division. The chapter also hosts an annual awards banquet where additional year-end ribbons and cash prizes are awarded. Other, larger chapters host clinics, schooling shows, lectures, demonstrations, and so on.
Like USDF, CDS offers rider incentives for earning certain scores and recognizes various levels of achievement. The new Gem Rider Award is one of those, along with Rosettes and other awards. CDS's Championship Show is held in conjunction with the USDF Region 7 Championship Show. Each year, CDS also holds an annual 3-day meeting and symposium for its members.
I have a feeling that for many of California's dressage riders, the member benefits that CDS and its chapters offer are more accessible and user-friendly than what USDF offers. I am sure that CDS is always working to grow its membership, but compared to most GMOs, it's already a colossal organization.
I would love to know more about your own GMO.
Equestrian Blogger Gift Exchange
I am going to apologize right now for three years of unimaginative and uninspired gift giving. And truth be told, my loved ones would probably tell you that it goes way beyond the last three years. I simply have no creativity when it comes to gift giving. The folks in my hemisphere are quite used to flat envelopes and jewelry sized boxes that contain gift cards.
I like gift cards. People get what THEY want when you give gift cards ... say unimaginative gift givers. Inspired gift givers still manage to give you something YOU want, but you don't know that you want it until you open it. That's when you realize that you've wanted that gift for like ... FOREVER.
So again, for the past three years that I've sent a blogger a gift, I apologize for my lack of inspiration. I just don't have that particular "gift." I am pretty sure Tracy is going to see my name for next year's blogger gift exchange, and she's going to have to draw straws to see who gets stuck with me. Don't pick the short straw, people.
I came home on Saturday to find this box sitting on my kitchen counter, and I knew immediately what it was. I quickly checked the return address to see how far it had traveled: Virginia. I find it incredibly inspiring that a complete stranger (Nicole from Equinpilot) was willing to go through the hassle of mailing me a Christmas gift from 3,000 miles away. How great are horse people? Pretty damn great, I think. You, Nicole, are better than great; you're exceptional!
The first thing I saw upon opening the box was a "packing slip" verifying the contents of my 12 Gift Sampler. I love number three, "3 Cheers for the 3rd Blogger Gift Exchange."
I peeked inside the box only to discover that it was crammed full of horsey delights. Plus, it all smelled really good. Inside were two pairs of bell boots, one for each boy. And they're made out of some super rubbery rubber that is going to be easy to put on - a huge pet peeve of mine. I don't know who in the heck some of those bell boot makers think we are, but I cannot stretch what isn't meant to be stretched!
As I dug deeper, I pulled out bag after bag of different kinds of horse treats - eight different kinds actually. Speedy G will be in Heaven. His owner is not only unimaginative when it comes to gift giving, but she (ahem, ME) also fails as a treat dispenser. I buy the incredibly boring, but also cheap, snacks in Costco-sized containers that probably taste like cardboard. But hey, nobody complains so they must be okay.
I wasn't exaggerating when I said the box was crammed full of stuff. I also pulled out a bag of tack sponges - boring, I know. However, what you don't know is that I am too lazy/cheap/boring to buy new ones. I currently alternate between two tack sponges that are so thin and worn out that my finger pokes through both of them as I try to clean my tack. Sometimes, I simply abandon the sponge and just use my fingers as that's what I'm already doing.
I now own 12 band new tack sponges. I solemnly swear to THROW AWAY my other two. No, I will not store them as back up sponges. I will not make the bag last for twelve years. In fact, I will try to use a new one each month. Try ... I said. I won't actually promise not to hoard my new treasure pack of tack sponges.
As if all of that wasn't already enough to make me feel like someone had taken the time to figure out what I need, there was one more gift, elegantly wrapped in a red and tan bow. It was actually number one on the packing slip, but I had saved it for last as it was specially wrapped.
When I slipped off the wrapping, it took me a moment to realize that I was looking at US - Speedy and me. I gasped in delight and immediately snapped photos to share with my friends and family. Nicole had found a photo of Speedy and me and somehow cross stitched our likeness. Don't ask me how as it looks like magic to me, and I don't want to know as I prefer to believe in unicorns and magic.
By the way, here's the original photo:
So once again, a complete stranger has managed to touch my life in a most unexpected and heartfelt way. I hope that Nicole can feel my deep appreciation for her thoughtful gifts. While I don't know her, it is obvious that she is a compassionate woman who is genuinely thoughtful and relishes spreading good cheer to those around her.
Many thanks, Nicole, and I hope that everyone* at Sixpence Farm enjoys a healthy and successful 2016.
*Including: you, Dottie, DaVinci, Winston, Rosemary, Roscoe, Comrade, and Sonny
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%: