From Endurance to Dressage
After my lesson on Sunday, I zipped across the street to watch Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, school Laurel's horse Silver. Silver was in need of a bit of a tune up, so Laurel and I stood at the rail watching.
It's easy to feel discouraged watching your trainer ride your horse, especially when she does it so well. Trainers make it look effortless to achieve what you might spend a whole ride trying to catch just one moment of. The trainer gets on and suddenly you own a Valegro.
As Laurel and I watched, we focused on what Chemaine was doing and not on Silver. As spectators, it's easy to get caught up in how beautiful a horse is moving. To learn though, I find it's of much more use to focus on the rider. It's not easy though if the rider's aids are nearly invisible.
As Laurel and I continued to watch and chat, she lamented how much her hands and arms move. I laughed and told her she should have seen the lesson I just finished; talk about wildly moving arms and hands. Then I told her that I see riding as a lot like driving a car.
When you're just starting out as a young driver, you have a million things you're trying to think about because you haven't learned to monitor your driving subconsciously. All of your corrections come a bit too late so they're a bit more dramatic. Young drivers hit the shoulder occasionally and wrecks aren't uncommon. As you gain experience though, you begin to make your corrections sooner and sooner with smaller movements that become difficult to see.
Trainers are like NASCAR drivers. Bubba Wallace can zip through the field while avoiding the wall and other cars all while going 200 miles per hour without causing a wreck. His driving ability requires complete muscle memory and lightening fast reflexes. Trainers ride a horse the same way. Their corrections happen long before the horse actually spooks. They feel the need for a half halt before the horse has had a chance to pop his head up and hollow his back. The horse doesn't get heavy because the trainer doesn't let the horse go round and round leaning on the bit.
The only way to develop those unconscious feels is to practice. The more hours you drive, the better your reflexes become. Riding a horse well needs the same kind of practice and repetition as driving a car.
And you know what? I think you can be a pretty good driver no matter if it's behind the wheel of a Ferrari or a Volkswagen beetle.
A few local friends have been asking me if I like my Pivo. I don't like it, I LOVE it! I don't have time to watch hours and hours of video though, so I tend to use my Pivo Pod mostly for lessons. Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables has been great about videoing lessons, but using the Pivo allows her to focus on giving the lesson instead of trying to teach and video at the same time. And with the Pivo, I can record the entire lesson which includes all of the non-riding conversation. It's during those chats that Chemaine gives me a lot of information.
Besides the Pivo's settings, which I now have dialed in and never adjust,
I bought a bendable tripod that I use to secure the Pivo to the fence. It wraps snuggly around the top rail of the fence and keeps the Pivo level. It's also strong enough to withstand a windy day.
A few years ago, my husband bought me a solar charger that I used at shows to charge my iPhone at night. At the last show I went to in November, someone stole it off my truck where I had set it to recharge. I've done this for several years without worry, but this time, someone thought it looked useful and swiped it. My husband bought me another one for my birthday. Since my iPhone is getting a bit old, the battery doesn't last very long, especially while using the Pivo Pod, so my plan is to use the solar charger while I am recording.
This is the part I have yet to try. I think I can wrap the charger with the foam twist tie and secure it next to the Pivo so that it can charge my phone while it's recording. This is still a work in progress though. It may takes some trial and error, but I am pretty sure it will work. I think I also need a longer iPhone cable .
Because I now have so many pieces for my Pivo, I needed a storage container to schlepp it all to the barn or my trainer's place. At a show I did in the fall, Riding Warehouse donated these cute little backpacks as show swag. It's the perfect containment system! And as an added bonus, it is hands free. I can wear it to the arena and still keep track of what my horse is doing. You know, 'cause it's Izzy.
I truly love the Pivo Pod and feel that it is worth every penny. Feel free to shoot me an email with any questions.
Things have been good in my neck of the woods. With such a mild winter, Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, has been able to come down more frequently over the past month, and I've been able to go up to her place. During our lesson on Sunday I told her that it feels as though I've learned more in the past six months than in the past decade. That's not true of course, but it's really motivating to be in a learning phase as opposed to just trying to survive.
Now that Izzy's tummy is feeling better, he's back to being a bit of a jerk. I told Chemaine that it was almost funny that while his tummy was upset, he worked a lot better. Now that he's not thinking about his tummy so much, he's thinking about how hard his job is. I liked him better when he was feeling a bit puny. Sheesh.
Now that he's once again resisting the idea of being supple, I needed Chemaine to jump in with yet a new suppling exercise. I've been doing tons of shoulder-in and haunches in, particularly on the circle, and I've even been playing around with shoulder-in and haunches in to the outside of the circle. Essentially, I am just focusing on getting the different parts of his body to move and loosen up.
Like she seems to do, Chemaine came up with a variation on the exercises I've already been doing. How she does this on the spot, I'll never know. Using the quarterline again, she had me ride Izzy in a haunches in. Every time he resisted the outside rein, she wanted me to halt. No just do a half halt, but to really and truly halt. And while halting, she wanted my leg on and for Izzy to stay in the haunches in.
It sounds easy, but when you have 400 pounds in your hands, it's not. Instead of keeping his hind end underneath himself, he insisted on dropping his back and flinging his head up. It is my tendency to try to make things easier for him, so Chemaine had to insist that I insist that he halt. Not just shorten his stride, but to HALT, DAMMIT!
Initially, I didn't really understand the purpose of the full halt. As we continued trotting up one quarterline and down another in haunches in, Chemaine helped me see that by insisting on a full halt every time he resisted the outside rein, Izzy started to anticipate the full halt which helped him to understand the half halt. And that's why she's the trainer.
As I started to understand the purpose of the full halt, I was able to be more exacting in my riding. Haunches in for bend and to put him on the outside rein, full halt when he resisted. Repeat, repeat, repeat, Change direction. The point was to show him that once he gives, he gets to go on again. When things are crystal clear, Izzy learns so much better. The more clear and consistent I was, the more supple he was willing to be.
Then we did it at the canter. And once again, I tried to make it "easier" for him, but really, I was trying to make it easier on myself. Instead of coming to a full halt every time he resisted, I tried to cheat and just collect him super short. But as usual, Chemaine saw right through me and explained that the full halt made it much more clear to him that resistance is futile. When he resisted, he had to halt with his hind legs underneath him which is much harder than just being more supple through his neck and back.
As we worked, Chemaine asked for more. More what I asked? Her response was more half halt. She wanted me to make him earn the release by using more compression in the haunches in. Eventually, we used the 10-meter circle, something we're struggling with to the right, as a reward. When he was soft in the haunches in on the quarterline (but compressed), I turned it into a 10-meter circle and gave him more room to stretch forward. As soon as he braced, I collected the canter making the last half of the 10-meter circle much harder.
This exercise, trotting or cantering the quarterline with haunches in, is an excellent way to set up lots of other movements like the 10-meter circles, simple changes, and especially the canter half pass. Near the end of the lesson, Izzy was so soft on the left lead that I left the quarterline and floated across an imaginary diagonal line in a lovely canter half pass. For about three strides, and then it was less lovely, but still pretty nice.
Show season is on its way. We're not ready, but we never are. Each week though things get less ugly, and there are actually whole minutes where things are pretty. Not just moments, but strings of moments. As we worked on Sunday, I actually heard myself say, "Do you remember when he couldn't canter on the right lead?"
And now, he has a very pretty right lead canter. The left's not too shabby either.
Newt is fixed and good to go. You might remember that Newt, my "new truck," went to the shop on Friday to fix an issue with the front end and steering. I dropped Newt off in the morning before Ford opened and braced myself for the call letting me know they couldn't find anything. To my surprise, I got a call that morning letting me know that the technicians were working on the steering issue. A full inspection had been performed, including a road test, and it had been determined that Newt's steering stabilizer was worn. The Steering Linkage Damper needed to be replaced.
A short time later, Ford called me back letting me know Newt was ready to be picked up. Frankly, I was dumfounded. I had done a Google search on the issue and was fully prepared for a month-long fight. Instead, Ford's service department admitted that it was a known problem and even though Newt is just outside of the original warranty at 38,000 miles, all of the work was performed at no charge.
As I ended the call, I let out a deep breath and felt the tension leave my shoulders. I had traded in my 19 year old Blue Truck because I was worried about surprise mechanical issues, and here I was dealing with the very thing I was hoping to avoid. Ford came through though and solved the problem in just a few short hours. My fingers are crossed that Newt got rid of its bug and will be road worthy for the next decade at least.
After a week on GastroElm, Izzy seems almost back to his usual self. He was on UlcerGard for ten days without a whole lot of improvement, but after just a handful of days on the GastroElm, he bounced back like nothing had happened. Again, I can't say whether it was just the GastroElm or a combination of the two things, but man, does he feel good.
Every day that I went out last week I noticed some additional way he was feeling better. The first thing that he started doing was trotting up to the fence for a treat, something he hadn't been doing over the past month. I also saw him playing around with Speedy, rearing up and "fighting" over the fence. On Wednesday he actually galloped around his field racing my dogs up and down the fence line.
He's no longer sensitive to grooming, and I tested him by using firm pressure. He never even flicked an ear my way. His appetite is also improved, and the shortness in his left hind is fading. The only sign that things aren't 100% is the slightly loose poop piles. He doesn't have diarrhea, but his piles aren't exactly well formed either. I'll continue to "activate" the GastroElm by mixing it with water before topdressing his feed for the rest of the week. Once his poop piles firm back up, I'll just top dress his feed without activating it. I also plan to keep feeding it as part of his daily routine. I think he needs it.
Only horse people get excited by a good pile of well formed poop balls.
As an elementary school teacher, I've learned over the years how valuable peer coaching can be. On a typical school day - a day where we aren't teaching remotely, I frequently assign peer tutors. Kids who "get it" help kids who are struggling. This partnering of kids accomplishes several things. First, kids are apt to use kid-friendly language with one another which generally enables the struggling learner to grasp the idea more easily. Second, kids are often less intimidated by their partners and are more likely to ask questions of other kids. Finally, and in my opinion of even more value, the "teacher" usually walks away from the experience understanding the concept even better than before.
"T" reached out to me early in the week asking if she could come out over the weekend to ride Speedy. Of course I said yes. She probably doesn't realize this, but T's "lessons" might benefit me more than they do her. During this weekend's lesson, I found myself really listening to what I was teaching, and I was shocked to discover that I actually know what I am talking about.
T hadn't been out to ride in nearly a month, so I had had plenty of time to think about what to show her next. What's usually fresh in my mind sounds like a great thing to teach her, but then I'll stop and realize that she's not ready for that particular exercise. So instead, I try thinking about what I needed to know in order to do that particular exercise. Those kneed to knows, or building blocks, are what I've been teaching T. They form the foundation of everything to come.
When I first left the endurance world to test out this whole dressage thing, I was essentially on my own. I couldn't find an actual dressage instructor, so I took basic riding lessons from people locally. One of them had some limited dressage experience, but she had never shown up the levels. Another trainer was great with young horses, but she had never ridden past Training or First Level either. A third trainer was actually a hunter/jumper so she left it up to me to tell her what I needed to work on next. That was definitely a case of the blind leading the blind.
In the very beginning, I wasn't ever in what you might call a "program." I wasn't with a trainer who had done it all from start to finish. I couldn't see the intended progression or how one exercise was actually a set up for later movements, and neither did my teachers. It wasn't until I met Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, that I started to understand how each level was designed to prepare the horse for the next level. Chemaine knows how each movement prepares the horse for something else, and she makes sure I know it as well. In Chemaine's "program" I started to learn that the movements at Training Level weren't the end all; they were simply the first steps needed in order to progress to the next level.
Chemaine has had me using the quarterline a lot lately. It's something I forget to use when I am riding alone. With Izzy though, the quarterline has become my best friend. So when T came out, I had an exercise planned that would help her become more familiar with the parts of a dressage court.
I set up cones on both short sides marking the quarterlines. The last time T had ridden, I had her leg yield from the centerline to the rail, but I noticed that she didn't have enough bend to make the 10-meter half circle from the rail to A and up centerline. This of course made the leg yields more difficult as Speedy's shoulders were falling out. For this lesson. I had her ride up one quarterline and down the other. The only thing I asked her to think about was getting enough bend to accurately ride the 10-meter half circles at A and C.
What amazed me was that I was able to diagnose the issue and then devise a strategy to fix it. As T rode through the exercise, I found that I was also able to see when she had Speedy's shoulders in front of his haunches and when she had him collected enough to make those half circles. And when he was strung out or bulging through one shoulder or the other, I continued to astonish myself by being able to coach her through the turns and actually make a difference in her riding.
I am not a trainer, and I don't know know everything, but I do know some things. Having the opportunity to teach someone who is dipping her toes in the dressage waters is very similar to the way I use peer tutoring in my own classroom. My student "teacher" doesn't know calculus, but he or she sure might understand how to simplify a fraction or do long division, and teaching someone else is only going to help both students understand the concept better. I wish that I had more opportunities to coach my peers. When we explain it to someone else, we generally walk away with a better understanding ourselves.
Anybody out there want to do some peer tutoring? We can take turns!
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 …
3/6-7 El Sueño (***)
4/17-18 El Sueño (***)
5/16-17 El Sueño (***)
5/23 TMC (*)
6/12-13 SB (***) OR
6/19-20 El Sueño (***)
6/27 TMC (*)
7/3-4 Burbank (***) OR
7/17-18 El Sueño (***)
7/25 TMC (*)
8/14-15 RAAC (Q) (***)
8/29 TMC (*)
2021 Completed …
10/24-25 SCEC (***)
11/7-11/8 SB (***)
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