From Endurance to Dressage
I know it's a little late, and all the Black Friday sales are over, but this is something that I really need. There's still time for an "e" gift certificate!
I want Izzy to be just like Speedy: patient himself, honest, a go with the flow fellow, but then I remember I've had Speedy nine years (December was his Gotcha month). It took us NINE YEARS to get here. Speedy is now 12. Izzy is only 8.
I keep asking my close friends just how long this is going to take. My friend, Jen, who, with the help of our trainer, Chemaine Hurtado, brought her home-bred Hanoverian to the International levels of dressage where they now compete successfully. It wasn't easy. She said it took her boy until he was 10 before he started acting like a real horse, and she's had him since the beginning. That's patience.
I know Izzy is making progress. When I doubt it, I read my Facebook reminder posts. While those are usually encouraging, sometimes I read a post that I could have written again today because we're stuck on the same issue.
For Christmas, I am asking for patience, and equally valuable, the positive attitude that I will need to embrace the wait, the suck, and those days that don't go as well as I want.
I am not sure that Santa has a lot of extra patience laying around that he's willing to part with, so I turned to yet another friend who is kind of an expert in these kinds of things. She gave me some things to read this Christmas weekend. Taking the time to do that is my Christmas gift to myself.
All I want for Christmas ...
Well, it depends. For me, an inch is one of the big things between me and Second Level. For Speedy, an inch is the difference between go and I don't think so.
On Tuesday afternoon, I forgot to wear spurs. I didn't notice until I was already riding. Hopping off and walking all the way back down to the barn and than back again just wasn't worth it. And then I reasoned that Speedy has learned so much in the past few months that spurs aren't really all that important anymore. I don't know where I got that idea from, but it is not true.
Speedy warmed up okay at the walk, but as soon as I asked for the trot, his hind legs decided to take the day off. I could not get him off of his forehand and there was zero attempt at any stretching of the topline. Without my spurs, the lateral work was almost non-existant. I had the whip with me, and I did use it for forward, but it wasn't the same.
FInally, I whacked him into a canter and did some collected and lengthening work to try and get him more forward. It worked to some degree, but he knew he had my number. He is going to be quite surprised when I ride him again. I won't be forgetting how important that inch is.
Showing at Second Level is a goal of mine, but teaching Speedy the movements is only half of the story. If I am totally honest, I am also holding us back.
Speedy is not the easiest horse to ride. While his rib cage is very well sprung, making him big and round, he's still not much bigger than a pony, and his gaits reflect that. He has a very quick little stride that requires a lot of coordination from his rider. I know people think sitting the trot of a big, fancy warmblood is hard, but I think it is just as difficult to sit the trot of a horse that takes twice as many strides to cross the diagonal.
I've finally reached a point in our work where the fourth hole on my stirrup leathers is just too short. It's the right length of leg for riding Izzy, but with Speedy, I'm feeling top heavy. I finally had to drop down an inch (less, really) to the next longer hole. That didn't make riding him any any easier, but I know if I stick it out, my ability to sit the trot will improve.
Who knew inches were so important?
You know how your trainer tells you something over and over or you read the same words again and again and then suddenly, one day, those words have meaning? Yeah, that happened this weekend.
When Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, was here a few weeks ago, she had me work on essentially the same thing we always work on - softening both horses and then increasing their stride. I don't know what she said that was any different, but over the weekend, I was able to put it all together in a new way.
I may have mentioned this a time or two, but Speedy is not exactly forward thinking. Getting a decent stride is hard enough, but lengthening that stride leaves me gasping for breath. For the first time ever, I was able to get Speedy to easily lengthen his stride even though we were half way across the diagonal. That's big, believe me. Usually, I have to crawl around the short side so that it appears we've lengthened his stride across the diagonal.
To increase his stride, Chemaine had me do lots of half halts to soften and then move out again while on a circle. We did it in little bursts. The one thing that was different was that for the half halt, she had me bring both elbows back while thinking about lifting his withers with my seat. Once I got him soft, she instructed me to send him forward without giving the reins away.
I don't really throw away the contact anymore, but what I finally felt over the weekend was that I can give without actually giving any rein length. It's all in the stretch down. During that moment of half halt, when Speedy would stretch his topline and lift his withers, he created space in which to then go forward.
Imagine packing a horse into a cardboard box where his nose and tail are touching the front and back of the box. If he compresses his frame a little by rounding his body and lifting his withers, his nose will no longer touch the box. Now he has "room" to move forward. That's what we did. To lengthen the stride without giving the reins, I just posted "bigger."
I am really happy with where Speedy is going these days. He is getting all kinds of new buttons installed, and he seems to really like them. It's like all these years of working on the basics is finally paying off. His canter is getting so light and balanced that it's all I want to work on. We finally have a leg yield that has some rhythm and bounce, and the turn on the haunches is helping to really supple his body.
Chemaine is coming back for another clinic weekend on January 7th and 8th. If you'd like to ride or just come out and watch, let me know!
While we're on the subject of grooming ...
I "accidentally" gave Speedy the best hair cut of his life. I mean, I meant to bang his tail; that wasn't an accident. But given that my grooming skills are not the best, I was a bit shocked at how smart his tail looked over the weekend.
It inspired me to use that thinning comb I bought from Germany to thin Izzy's mane and trim the bushy hairs from both boys' tail heads. We are looking good enough to go somewhere!
Last week, I shared a video with a braiding technique for long manes. To my surprise, it worked pretty well. Let's be honest; nothing is ever going to look as nice as braids sewn in by someone with some skill. I hate to sew, and I am sorely lacking in the "skillz" department. Girlfriend ain't got none. I may be short on skills (and patience and actually caring), but what I do have is a very patient pony who has perfectly long mane.
If you want to try this at home, you should probably watch the video and actually follow the advice given. Even though I didn't, it still turned out pretty well, which tells me it's a pretty idiot proof braid.
1. I did not wet the mane. I simply combed it free of tangles.
2. I made no effort to be neat or tidy.
3. I combined the tail of each looped braid with one of the three sections needed for the next braid rather than using it alone for a section.
4. I played around with how far down to braid.
5. I played around with how big of a chunk to braid.
6. My last braid was a disaster. A new ending strategy must be employed before using these braids for show.
What I discovered was that this braiding technique is better the longer the mane is. I also think it would look better with a thick mane. Speedy's mane is fairly long, but of only medium thickness. Even so, it worked quite well.
With thinner manes, braid less than the finger length shown on the video. If the braided part is too long, the rubber band shows when you loop the braid though. You will have to adjust the length of the braided part depending on the thickness of the braid. Thick, fat braids will need to be longer while thin, small braids will need to be shorter.
Everything about this braid was very straightforward to do, except that very last part. I was surprised at how easy it was to twist the unbraided part and slide it through the base of the loop. It didn't seem to matter if I got it through the center or not. I also discovered that you can make the braid taller and poofier by not pulling the braided end through as far. Conversely, pulling the braid through tightly will make smaller, tighter braids.
The true test for me was how long it would actually stay braided without the regular droop I get with the French braid. To put it to the test, I braided Speedy's mane and then groomed Izzy. I saddled Izzy and then took both horses to the arena. I rode Izzy for 40 minutes while Speedy stood tied at the fence. I untacked the big brown horses, put him away, and then saddled Speedy. I schooled him for the better part of 30 minutes and then checked the braid.
Considering that I made no effort to get it neat or tight, it looked pretty good after nearly two hours. The French braid never lasts that long. I need a bit more practice and some fine tuning, but this is going to be my new braid for shows.
Did anyone else try it?
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%: