From Endurance to Dressage
Well, we really and truly did it; Speedy G and I competed at Third Level, and we did it at a two-day USDF/USEF-rated show. Did we hit a home run? Nope, it was more of a bunt really, but at least we got on base. Even with scores below 60% (yes, really!), I am still sort of giddy about the whole thing.
I still can't believe we did it! Although what exactly "it" is, I am not sure since we didn't earn any kind of qualifying score. The four tests mean absolutely nothing. But still. Third Level!
I was hoping for more, but at least it was better than I had feared. The number one thing the judge penalized me for on 3-1 was the geometry. In the half pass, we didn't start at centerline and our 10-meter circles weren't 10-meter circles. Those two things cost me a fair amount of points.
A lot of things went very right on Saturday. Our very first centerline (3-1) earned an 8.0 and our first pairs of turn on the haunches earned 6.5 each. We also earned a 7.0 for our medium walk.
And of course, a lot went pretty wrong. Since we didn't actually make it to centerline, our first trot half pass earned a 4.5, but who cares! We did a trot half pass! The second one earned a 5.0 with the comment, "still not from CL."
The worst part was of course the flying changes. For the first one, we scored a 4.0 with the comment, "late behind."
The other one was worse, MUCH worse. The judge's comment was spot on, "late behind many, many steps" which was a kind way of saying, I didn't think he was EVER going to change! We earned a 3.0.
In total, we earned a 57.703% which was 8.5 points (out of 370) short of my goal. We've done worse, especially when first starting a new level. It felt better than the video looks though.
I had had a lesson with Sean Cunningham of STC Dressage on Friday night and then had him coach me on Saturday since Chemaine Hurtado, my regular trainer, couldn't be there. His feedback was really helpful. That night, after finishing both of my tests, I watched the videos and read over the judge's comments. I was determined to do better the next day.
While I gave a few half points (and even a few full points) back, our flying changes were much better the next day. Both of them scored a 6.0 which definitely raised the score from Saturday's 3-1 test where we had earned a 4.0 and 3.0. Both changes have a double co-efficient which means the changes earned us 24 points on Sunday compared to only 14 points the day before.
For 3-1, we improved by a full 6.5 points, but it wasn't quite enough. The brilliant 8.0 we earned on Saturday's first centerline fell to a very sad 5.0 on Sunday. When I tallied up my points, we missed a 60.0% by just 2 points. We lost that 60% down our first centerline and didn't even know it. We earned my least favorite score, a 59.459%.
To say I might have been a wee bit crushed would be accurate. After 4 minutes of cursing under my breath though, I realized that Speedy and I have another USDF/USEF show next month. And if we don't get a 60% there, we'll go to another show in August. We'll get it eventually.
We also rode Third Level's test 2 which I'll try to get written for tomorrow. No 60.0% there either, but we had fun!
If you would have told me back in the beginning that Speedy and I would make it to Third Level, I would have known that you were lying to me. How in the world could a rangy endurance horse and his grimy rider become a sleek and polished dressage team? That just doesn't happen.
I never had a formal lesson until I was an adult. I could post, but I didn't know how to change my posting diagonal. I could ride fearlessly over the toughest terrain, stick almost any buck or rear, but I had no idea how to put the finishing touches on a horse, the stuff that makes a horse truly beautiful.
And yet, here we are. Tomorrow morning we'll be showing Third Level at a two-day USDF-rated show. I should be more nervous, and maybe I will be tomorrow, but for now, I feel pretty confident. I don't expect to wow the judge, but I am still excited to get out there to find out just where we stand. What's good, what's great, and what needs more work? I am looking at this show as an opportunity to get an honest critique of our work so far.
Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, came out for a last, pre-show lesson on Saturday. This time, the lesson was all about tightening up everything in order to give us some kind of chance at getting a qualifying score.
At every moment she was shouting some kind of reminder:
Of course getting Speedy listening and willing to move his bootie can be a real challenge. These next pictures show a behind the scenes view of what has to happen before we look show ready. You have to admit that the dude is super athletic. It's just a matter of channeling it in the direction I want us to go.
Even with all of his No No Nos, I am still feeling confident. Speedy loves to show and always brings his "A" game. And like Chemaine pointed out on Saturday, If they're not being opinionated, you're not asking for anything new or hard. And the only way to get better is to ask for new and hard.
If you've got a few minutes, wish us luck. We could definitely use some. Have a great weekend!
Half pass at canter is hard. Really hard. Super hard if you're on a horse who just doesn't really like lateral work. You know, horses like the gray speedy pony. Speedy doesn't much care for the half pass at trot or canter. He's not particularly fond of leg yielding either.
After getting some good lateral work after that hard-to-name canter exercise, I thought I'd try a canter half pass with the correct bend. Since the canter half pass is still a relatively new movement for me, I don't always know how to best set it up. The flailing fail we had was probably a lot my fault since I decided to half pass from the center of my very wide arena to no place in particular.
As we came around the corner, I set Speedy up as we came down the middle of the arena. I asked for sideways and he shot forward as though he had never stepped sideways a day in his life. When I say shot forward, I mean he kind of bolted. Jerk. I immediately changed the bend, and smacked his hip with the whip and said move it, mister! in a pretty stern voice.
As soon as I changed the bend and threatened his butt with another good whack, he was all about the sideways. Unfortunately, a canter half pass with the wrong bend is not going to score very well.
Not wanting him to think that a canter half pass has a wrong bend, I tried it again, but the next effort was out of the corner and back to the rail. That he can do. I am fairly certain his "success" had a lot to do with the fact that I was aiming at tree (I don't have letters) and riding it like renvers along a diagonal line.
If the canter half pass is broken, it's totally my fault. That's what you get when you play around with something without using it correctly. Stuff gets broken. Good thing I have a good trainer and a lesson (hopefully) this weekend.
Enjoy your weekend!
On Monday afternoon, Speedy and I had a lesson. There is only one to go before we make our Third Level debut.
I know which movements are required at Third:
With Speedy tacked up and ready go, I dragged him over to a shady spot and quickly pulled up test 2 on my phone. My eyes raced through the movements but jerked to a halt when I read numbers 7 and 8, "K-E shoulder-in right" immediately followed by "E-H renvers left." Huh? I gave an audible uh-oh realizing that I needed to start hooking the movements together PDQ if I had any chance at earning that first 60%.
When Chemaine pulled in, I quickly filled her in on the reason for my sudden panic. I didn't know test 2 and needed some quick help. As I finished my warm up, Chemaine was quick to point out that our trot work had improved over the week and that our shoulder-in had a better angle. As I ride it, I hear her in my head shouting MORE ANGLE! I think it has helped.
While we have a better angle, and we can "do" a renvers (haunches out), I needed help riding them one after the other. Chemaine's advice was this: first, ride the shoulder-in. To develop the renvers, open the inside rein (which becomes the outside rein) to draw the shoulders into the arena. Change the bend, and then keep the haunches on the rail. And all of this happens in just a few strides.
The rest of the lesson was spent schooling the half pass, both at trot and canter, followed by the flying change. Speedy still wants to get charge-y after the change, so Chemaine showed me a new exercise that both gets him to sit and helps him wait for the flying change.
In test 1, there is a medium canter down the entire long side followed by a 10 meter circle at V. The flying change comes between X and R. To keep Speedy balanced, Chemaine had me do a walk-canter-walk transition anyplace I would do a half halt, so between the medium canter and the start of the 10-meter circle, I asked for a simple change but stayed on the same lead. Instead of a flying change, I asked for a simple change. We ran through this pattern a few times in hopes that Speedy would start to memorize the pattern of half halts.
Here's how the exercise went:
Our left to right change is getting pretty reliable. The other way is to still kind of wild and wooly.
We have just over a week to polish everything as much as we can.
But honestly, this horse is so much fun to ride that we'll have fun no matter how many movements I botch. It's a good thing that I have a trainer who embraces the idea that dressage is a long process where horses and riders develop over time.
Right now, Speedy and I are schooling both the half pass and flying change as diligently as possible. Our first show, only CDS-rated, is in less than three weeks. The judging at this show is pretty tough however, and always proves to be a good barometer for how we'll do at a USDF-rated show.
While we're working hard, I am super careful not to over-school the movements. Speedy tries so hard that if I keep asking, he assumes he's making a mistake, and that makes him very grouchy and resentful. The flying changes are now there, but they can still be a bit dramatic. Not this one though, it's a pretty quiet one.
Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, was here on Sunday for a lesson. Right from the start I told her that we need to continue cleaning up the lateral movements, namely the half pass, and getting those flying changes a little less ... exuberant.
I have to laugh at myself really. Last year at this time, I was dreading the show season. The move to Second Level simply terrified me. While I would stack my horsemanship skills up against anyone else's without feeling a moment of doubt, my dressage skills are still in the development stage. I can ride a horse a hundred miles, but 40-meters of medium trot in front of a judge turns my legs to jelly.
We made it through Second Level with decent scores though, even winning some honors along the way, but all season long I felt certain that someone was going to get wise to my subterfuge and point it out to the rest of the world. Even after working hard on it, I still feel like a bit of a hack.
This year? I can't wait to get in the show ring. We're probably going to lay down some questionable tests that will likely earn us some scores in the 50% range, but I am totally fine with that. I know that if I continue to work hard, Speedy and I will get those two scores we need to earn our bronze. With such a simple goal, the season seems more than manageable.
Instead of focusing on THIRD LEVEL - insert ominous tone, I've been breaking the three tests down into manageable chunks. For test 1, all we need to add is a more energetic shoulder in, a short half pass in trot, the flying changes, and a bigger medium trot. Right now, it's all there. It might not be fabulous, but it doesn't have to be. We only need to be satisfactory. Can I get an amen for mediocrity?
For test 2, we need to maintain everything from test 1 while making it better. We also need to add in a bit of renvers and show a clear release of both reins for 4-5 strides over centerline. That may or may not happen for our first show. By late in the season, it'll be automatic.
Since not getting overwhelmed is my strategy for the year, I haven't paid much attention to test 3 (yet). On Sunday, we did school the canter half pass to centerline to the half circle. For a horse that anticipates the flying change - looking at YOU, Speedy!, this series of movements is likely to be a bugger. I am honestly not worried though. Speedy and I haven't taken any shortcuts through the levels, so the foundation is there. And every week, we get better and better.
My homework for the week is to work on Speedy's lateral suppleness by doing extreme leg yields across the entire diagonal. I am to follow those with half passes that also cross the diagonal. Making them as steep as I can get them will serve us well when we have to do them from the centerline to the rail. They'll seem practically "easy" then.
Chemaine also showed me an exercise to help with the canter half pass. In it, I am to ride a circle where the shoulders transcribes a smaller circle than the haunches, and then the haunches will transcribe an even smaller circle than the shoulders. She called it a waterfall: first the shoulders, then the haunches all the while "falling" in on the circle to make it ever smaller.
I am constantly amazed at how hard Speedy will work for me. He wasn't bred for dressage. He doesn't have a naturally uphill balance. He's just a nicely put together Arabian gelding who was bred to be able to do whatever his rider asks, and if she says please, he usually gives it to her.
That doesn't mean he'll do it opinion free though. I've learned to ask and then hold on!
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
2022 Pending …
2021 Completed …
10/24-25 SCEC (***)
11/7-11/8 SB (***)
4/10-11 SCEC (***)
5/16-17 El Sueño (***)
6/26-27 SCEC (***)
7/17-18 El Sueño (***)
8/7-8 SCEC (***)
10/30-31 SCEC (***)
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