From Endurance to Dressage
Well why not? We all know how awesome Speedy is. That dude just takes everything in stride. I had a pretty rough day yesterday at work and after an obnoxious ride on Izzy the day before, I was simply not in any kind of mood to deal with his sh ... enanigans again.
When Speedy saw me pull up, he barreled over to the gate and started whinnying his head off. His lameness has improved steadily each day, so I decided that lame or not, he would enjoy toting me around the ranch.
Even though Speedy hasn't been ridden in more than two weeks (thanks to my recent move to a new house and then his lameness), I felt totally comfortable throwing on a halter and nothing else. I didn't even bother to pick out his feet or dust off his coat. I simply walked up to the gate, grabbed him, sidled up next to a horse trailer, and hopped on.
Speedy was so thrilled to be doing something with me that he barely let my butt settle onto his broad back before he stepped off smartly down the road. The dude was on a mission. If he's still lame, it's not at the walk. My plan was to just walk around the ranch, but since he was so perky, I headed out the front gate and tooled around the neighborhood.
When we got to the old golf course, Speedy volunteered a little trot, and when I realized that he felt sound, I gave him the go ahead. We trotted over to the little copse of trees where there are some whoopsie doos.
We trotted up and down with me laughing like a hyena. Even though Speedy has zero jumping skills, I aimed him toward one of the railroad ties scattered around as borders. Without even a moment's hesitation, he popped over it like he was da man! And seriously, he is!
Remember, Speedy was bareback, in a halter, and he hadn't been out in over two weeks. He has zero jump training and neither do I. We nailed that cross tie! Repeatedly!
And lest you think we're a one hit wonder, we jumped both of them, several times! Oh my gosh - most fun I've had in a long time.
Every time I start to think that I should pass Speedy on to a green rider, he shows me how much fun it is to have a totally broke and dependable horse to ride. I get on Izzy and write sale ads every day. I get on Speedy and simply have fun.
Can anyone find a way to squish those two horses together to give me a wonder horse?
I had yet another lesson on Austin on Monday afternoon. No, still no cross rails, but we did canter the poles! I think JL only let us do that so I didn't quit this hunter thing all together. She had just finished twisting and torquing on my poor legs for the better part of thirty minutes, and I was starting to hurt.
I am a good student - I listen, and I try to do exactly what she asks. For this lesson however, I found myself getting a bit grumbly as I WAS doing what she asked for, but it still wasn't right. I finally just stopped Austin in his tracks and showed her what I meant.
Within moments, we both laughed because I realized that we were using the same vocabulary but the words had totally different meanings when applied to a dressage seat and a hunter seat.
The issue was my upper body. She kept asking me to sit up, so I did. But then she asked me to press my hands into Austin's mane so that I could get deep in the saddle. If you ride dressage, you know that you can't sit up and press into the mane - your arms aren't long enough. That's what I told JL, my arms don't reach!
I showed her what sit up means to me. Look at the 'Upright Seat' - that's sitting up. JL then understood my problem and searched for a way to explain what she wanted. We discussed pelvic position: I wanted to tuck my pelvis and be on my seat bone, but she said for a hunter seat, I need to tip it forward. WHAT?!?!!?
So I did.
Rather than sit up, which to me means sit back, she asked me to lengthen my spine. Oh .....! Basically, she wanted me to do squats above the saddle. Stand up and try it. You cannot do a balanced squat if you keep your back straight up and down.
By bending your knees slightly, you adopt the posture of the picture on the far right. In fact, with knees slightly bent, you can easily roll your pelvis underneath you and even sit back farther.
To achieve a hunter seat, you have to squat down deep in your knees which means tipping your pelvis forward. Your upper body is pointing at an angle rather than at the ceiling. So when JL asked me to lengthen my spine, she just wanted me to get the roundness out of my back and flatten it.
So really the "Forked Seat" image isn't all that incorrect for a hunter seat; that rider needs more bend in the knees, and the spine needs to stretch forward to take the curve out of the lower back, but I think the pelvic angle is pretty correct. At least, that's how it felt while I was riding: deep squat through my seat and legs with weight on the balls of my feet, looking up with a flat back and opened chest.
I asked JL to take a picture of my leg in the correct hunter position so that I could see it and think about it later. She asked me to put my leg where I thought it should go. She was a bit surprised that I pretty much got it placed correctly without any help, so yah me.
For the photo above she did tweak on it just a little bit, but since my leg was in a pretty good place, she dropped both stirrups one hole. I fell apart.
It's amazing what one inch can do to your balance, but after only two or three weeks of this kind of leg position, I am still not strong enough to hold the position with the longer stirrup length. Since she didn't want me to be ineffective, JL returned the stirrups to where they were.
For the last few minutes of the lesson, she had me canter Austin over a pile of two poles. It was ridiculously fun, and Austin loved it! The whole time that we had worked on my position, we ignored his stiffness and didn't worry about any kind of a frame. I simply kept him pointed in the correct position as I played around with my position. For me, it was quite challenging. For Austin, it was thirty minutes of extreme boredom.
Even when I asked for the canter, he harrumphed about it until he saw the poles. I've never really ridden a jumper before, so it was great fun to see him lock on to the poles and relish the process of popping over them. He gave a few exuberant bucks and head tosses once he was on the other side, but my seat and balance are more than good enough to ride them out. No offense, Austin, but Speedy's got a much bigger buck.
It was a lot of fun to change up the flat work. We'll see how much more I get to do now that Speedy's back in the rotation.
No cross rails yet, but there were poles!
We started out the lesson by asking Austin to let go through his entire body; he is one stiff and heavy boy. We suspect that Austin was allowed to go in a very fake frame in his former home. He rounds his neck very nicely, but there is no connection to his hind end. But since he looks so pretty, his former rider(s) probably thought that a rounded neck was good enough.
JL isn't fooled by a fake frame and can spot it a million miles away. So even though she's not a dressage instructor, she is very good at helping riders to get their horses moving correctly from their hind ends.
I had to do several pulley halts to get Austin off my hands, and I followed that up with some rocking of the rein. Little by little he started to soften so my rocking became closer and closer to finger pulses. Once he was trotting around on his hind end without having me hold up his head, we changed direction.
We repeated the suppling exercises at the canter, and JL worked on my leg position a bit more. My leg is either a bit too far behind, or it slips slightly forward. I am definitely having trouble finding that sweet spot, but I am definitely getting close.
My right foot and ankle are also complete rebels - they refuse to stay in the correct position. Granted, the foot has had some injuries, but every time I look down, all of my weight is to the inside with no weight to the outside of my foot. To help me fix the problem, JL raised that stirrup quite a bit so that I am forced to put weight in the stirrup. Let me just say ... OUCH!
After all of the suppling and torturing, I finally got to have a little fun, and I know Austin enjoyed himself too. JL put two poles down and let us go. When we approached the poles the first time, I let Austin just go for it and so he said, OXER! He quite enthusiastically launched over the whole thing and gave a little buck of delight as he cantered off. I of course was grinning from ear to ear right along with him.
The next attempt sent the poles scattering as I interfered too much. By the third go round, I started hearing JL in my head. I've watched enough lessons to know what I should be doing even though I've never done it myself. I made the turn with Austin solidly on my outside aids, and then I rode straight to to the poles chanting, wait ... wait ... wait... He trotted correctly over the poles as I continued to remind him to wait ... wait ... wait ...
He did a very good job once I started to ride him straight for the poles while remembering to keep him straight and rhythmic after the poles as well. We only trotted over them a few times as he had already worked quite hard. In fact, he was bit short behind the next day so I simply hacked him around on the buckle so that he could stretch out his sore muscles.
We have another lesson on Monday. While I know that I am a total dork about being happy to trot poles, it really was fun to try something new. I hope there are more poles in our future. Maybe they'll even be off the ground!
Don't laugh. It was fun, and I am going to add, hard. Since Speedy is out of commission for a while and Izzy has not yet been commissioned, I asked JL if I could take a h/j lesson on Austin. She loved the idea. I don't know for how much longer I'll get to ride Austin, it might be only another couple of weeks, but I am going to take advantage of the opportunity.
My reasons are many: First, it helps out Austin's owner by keeping him in shape. Second, I want to be learning something, even it's not dressage. And finally, I have been thinking about trying a little jumping with Izzy when the time is right. It would be a lot easier to pop over little stuff with a green bean if I'm not such a green bean too.
When I ride Austin, I use his owner's Pessoa jumping saddle. I didn't even bother to adjust the stirrup length. I've pretty much just ridden him with a dressage leg, although it's not been easy in a saddle that wants to put me in a more forward seat. The first thing JL did was to raise my stirrups a hole.
JL pointed out that since I ride regularly, I already have good riding muscles, but I was going to use some new ones when she adjusted my position. Boy, was she right! The first thing she did was have me get in 2-point. She adjusted my lower leg so that it was on the horse. ALL THE TIME? I asked. Yep.
The next thing she did was to close my hip angle. In a dressage saddle, the rider sits up tall with a much more open hip angle. It felt really wrong to close that angle. She demonstrated by doing squats. The deeper you squat, the farther behind you your lower leg must go if you don't want to have your bum sticking up in the air. Try it.
Squat down just slightly, maybe four inches. If you keep your back straight, your feet will be underneath you. Go down deeper, as deep as you can. If you don't want want your bum sticking straight out, you have to close your hip angle and put more weight on the ball of your feet. Plus, the angle of the knee must also close to keep your lower leg under your seat.
The biggest chunk of work came in keeping my lower leg back so that it was under my new seat position created by closing my hip angle. When I closed my hip angle, my lower leg stayed hanging straight down, right where it would be in a dressage saddle.
Try this: Squat down slightly with your knees lightly bent. Now squat as deep as you can without adjusting the angle of your knees. That was me!!! Bum sticking out without my legs underneath me.
To help me get the feel, she had me imagine I was riding with just my thigh, no lower leg. She had me exaggerate this feeling by pointing my knee down and lifting my lower leg as high up behind me as I could and then pushing off of my stirrups with the ball of my foot.
WHAT THE HELL.
Basically, that was my response, but I did it. I did it horribly, but I laughed about it and kept working at it until JL was at least somewhat satisfied. Thankfully, there are no pictures to illustrate all of this horribleness, but I do understand what she was teaching me, and I will diligently practice as I ride Austin during the week.
A good dressage seat is much more about an open hip angle and a long relaxed leg. The h/j seat seems to be the exact opposite. JL feels that this work will actually strengthen my lower leg when I get back in my dressage saddle. Even if it does nothing, it's sure a lot of fun to mess around with other riding muscles.
I know you all like photos, so I dug up a couple to show you open hip and knee angles angles versus closed hip and knee angles. The first photo is Charlotte Dujardin, even the H/J riders have heard of Charlotte. Look at how open her hip and knee angles are. She's almost standing straight up and down. I tried to find a picture of George Morris riding, but alas, my search didn't reveal what I was looking for. Instead, we get an image of Beezie Madden. Even I know who she is.
In the photo of Beezie, her hip angle is really tight, as is her knee angle. If her leg looked like Charlotte's, her bum would be stuck up in the air, and I imagine that the landing would hurt like hell.
As a side note, I did much better at keeping my lower leg back in the canter. Since I really wanted to get off of Austin's back, I found a natural balance which included a fairly correct lower leg.
Okay. So my take away from this lesson was that the more you close your hip angle, the more you must close your knee angle which puts your leg farther and farther back. So ... for the dressage riders out there. the opposite must be true. When we open our hip angle, we must open our knee angle.
I'll keep you posted!
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%: