From Endurance to Dressage
Coming from an endurance/trail riding background, my idea of how much weight I want in my hand is zero. Endurance horses aren't ever on the bit. Instead, they carry themselves in a long and level frame. They need to use their heads and necks for balance, often at speed over rough terrain. When I made the jump from endurance to dressage, two of the hardest things for me to learn were to put weight on my seat bones and maintain contact with my horse's mouth. Those were two things I never did as an endurance rider.
During Saturday's lesson, I had a very surprising epiphany that I instantly shared with Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage. One of the things we had been discussing during the lesson was how to convince Izzy to let go of his under neck muscle so that he could reach for the bit as opposed to pushing back against it. Izzy's getting much softer in the trot work, but in the canter, what I feel is that he'll soften for a moment, and then immediately hollow his back and throw his head back up.
During one of those moments of lovely softness that turned to shite the very next stride, it occurred to me that Izzy had reached for the bit, but when he didn't find it, he hollowed his back and threw his head up for balance. It was as though a massively huge bell went off in my head. I think Izzy sought the bit much like you do when you take a step down but don't find the step. If the step isn't where you expect it to be, you lose your balance and scramble for the handrail before you tumble ass over tea kettle.
I think that Izzy is putting his metaphorical toe out there looking for the step. If he doesn't find it quickly enough, he jerks his foot back and continues on braced and hollow. Sean and I discussed the idea that some horses, especially insecure ones like Izzy, actually need a heavier contact to feel safe and supported. I don't like that much weight in my hand, but I am beginning to wonder if Izzy needs that support from me.
I played around with the idea a few different times this week. I am trying to ask Izzy to let go a little bit with the promise that I won't let him fall. When I felt the desire to get him really light in my hand, I resisted and instead settled for lighter.
Long ago I realized there is no one thing that will make Izzy an easy ride, but I am slowly learning what makes him tick. Each time I figure something out, our relationship benefits. This idea that Izzy needs a heavier contact is one I am going to play around with for a while. And maybe, if he feels like I am providing a shorter step down, he'll begin to better trust that the step will be there.
And hey, if nothing else, my biceps will get a bit of a workout.
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%: